Swearing by ‘tradition’, some votaries of animal fights this Magh Bihu have chosen to defy the Gauhati High Court’s ban on buffalo and bulbuli fights. With reports coming in of buffalo fights unofficially organised at Aahotguri and bulbuli fights in Hajo, the respective district administrations need to be held to account how court orders have been allowed to be defied in such brazen manner. It is obvious that organisers carefully stayed in the background while some people were pushed forward to pit their animals, the idea being that the police will have a hard time laying hands on such offenders. A pernicious mentality seems to be gaining ground that the courts have no right to pronounce upon matters like people’s faith and tradition. The finger of suspicion points to a section of politicians and their henchmen surreptitiously inciting people to such defiance, what with elections round the corner. After the doloi of Hayagriba Madhab temple in Hajo went on an indefinite fast against the Gauhati High Court’s recent order re-imposing the ban on bulbuli fights, several local organisations joined the protest by locking the temple main door and shouting slogans against ‘ture lovers and outsiders’. The allusion was clearly to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) successfully filing an appeal in the High Court to re-consider its December 22 order last year allowing bulbuli fights at the Hayagriba Madhab temple.
The AWBI, however, is an advisory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Thanks to its relentless, principled championing of animal rights, the AWBI is being targeted by local organisations not only in parts of Assam and Tamil du presently, but has also embarrassed the Union government by approaching the Supreme Court against a recent Central notification. That notification issued on January 7 last permitted bull taming and fights like jalikattu in Tamil du and bullock cart races in some states ‘in the manner by customs of any community or practiced traditiolly’. So a piquant situation has arisen with the Central government standing firm against cow slaughter but going soft on bull fights and bullock cart races in the me of ‘customs and traditions’! The political motive is not difficult to see behind such contradictory stands, particularly in a state like Tamil du going to the polls this year. Chief Minister Jayalalitha has upped the pressure on New Delhi by asking for an ordince to allow jalikattu, and by all likelihood, the NDA bigwigs are taking her demand seriously, with the AIADMK’s clout in the Rajya Sabha and several big-bang reform legislations pending. After the AWBI, the ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India’ and other groups moved the Supreme Court against the Centre’s notification, the apex court had stayed the notification last Tuesday, asking the government to respond within four weeks. While passing the interim stay order, the Supreme Court refused to be swayed by arguments like the ban on jallikattu ‘will have a sociological impact and devastating effect on indigenous breeding and economy’, as well as the stay order being ‘a result of the fogged vision of the city-dweller about what happens at jallikattu where farmers worship bulls and breed them as a matter of pride’.
Back in 2011, the Centre had banned forcing bulls to perform by a July 11 notification, but the Central directive was flouted and such events held openly across the country. When the matter reached the Supreme Court, it passed a landmark judgement on May 7, 2014, clarifying that bulls must not be used in jallikattu, races, fights or any other type of performance. During the hearing, it was clearly established that the bulls were deliberately disoriented and terrorised by punching, hitting, stabbing and dragging them by the tail or iron nose rings, administered alcoholic substances and kept hungry, and thereby angry. In four years from 2010 to 2014, the media reported about 1,100 injuries to humans and 17 deaths during dangerous jallikattu-type events. Following the Supreme Court ban order, the Assam government last year directed all district administrations to prohibit animal races and fights in the State. But the Executive and the Legislature have been showing little will when it comes to moulding public opinion on issues that require society to respond in enlightened manner in tune with changing times. Self-seeking leaders are more content in taking the easy way out by following, rather than leading public opinion. The responsibility is being almost single-handedly borne by the Judiciary. It is high time that cruel, repugnt practices like animal fights be dealt with in stern manner to enforce court rulings; the onus is on the government.