Backed by the Central government, the Tamil du government’s ordince to permit holding of the bull-taming sport Jallikattu — is an out-and-out regressive step. It is now likely that ‘popular’ demands will be raised in some other states, Assam included, that the Supreme Court’s 2014 verdict be revisited. The message has gone across loud and clear that if there is an ‘Arab Spring’-like public upsurge, as witnessed in Tamil du presently, the Centre can be made to buckle down on a matter of principle. After Tamil du chief minister O Panneerselvam petitioned the Prime Minister in New Delhi to legalize Jallikattu, the Attorney General on Thursday said that the state government has the power to ect a law to treat Jallikattu ‘as a traditiol sport’, provided the animals are not harmed or cruelly treated. The Tamil du assembly is now all set to pass the Act in the coming session next week; protesters are not mollified however, demanding that the Central government should amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and thereby bring about a ‘permanent solution’. The law prohibiting cruelty to animals lists animal sports like bull fighting and bull racing, as well as using animals in performances. After the Union Environment Ministry banned the use of bulls in performances across the country in 2011, the Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that spectacles like Jallikattu violate the law. Last year, the apex court refused to revisit that judgment after the Centre issued a notification lifting the ban on Jallikattu with certain restrictions. It is still hearing appeals against the ban by Tamil du officials, while the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals India (PETA) are supporting the ban. Meanwhile, public perception seems to have gained ground in Tamil du that this is a matter of identity, that concern for animal rights must not be allowed to prevail over age-old cultural and religious traditions, that the Centre and the apex court are woefully out of touch with popular sentiment in the state. Youths and social organizations, mobilized via social media, have been at the forefront of the ‘Occupy Mari Drive’ movement in Cheni to press for overturning the ban during Pongal celebrations, with politicians of all hues desperately trying to cash in.
Not one to miss such an opportunity, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi has now linked the Jallikattu ban protests with opposition to the Uniform Civil Code, tweeting that ‘Hindutva forces should learn a lesson’. Owaisi is known for his rabble rousing ways, but there are other disputes which can be impacted by the Jallikattu U-turn. The Supreme Court is also hearing the matter of right of women to enter Lord Ayyappa’s shrine in Sabarimala temple, while the Kerala government continues to breathe hot and cold (depending on sentiment of domint groups) over the issue. In Assam, the Supreme Court’s ban order has been flouted openly; this year too, ‘unofficial’ bull fights were organized during Magh Bihu in districts like gaon, Morigaon and Sivasagar. As many as 25 such bull fights were held at Ahotguri, watched by thousands of people. The arguments put forth were the same — that this is a tradition since the days of Ahom kings in the 18th century, that there can be no giving up of cultural identity on court diktat. And even though bulbul fights were not held at Hayagrib-Madhab temple in Hajo this year, public complaints were loudly ventilated that local business has suffered due to loss of tourists as fallout of the ban. Similar arguments are trotted out for Jaliikattu as well, that it helps support the Tamil rural economy and preserve genetic diversity of local bulls, that it brings in sponsors to a macho sport. But the Supreme Court’s verdict was handed down on the basis of incontrovertible scientific evidence that the sport was cruel to bulls and caused them much trauma. The concerted attempt to overturn progressive laws on animal rights because such scientific conclusions do not suit public sentiment, is not a trend that governments can afford to encourage. If public emotions are allowed to override sound jurisprudence and the rule of law, it will open a Pandora’s box that will bear no closing.