We have come a long way since the tragic death of a young boy killed by an enraged bull whilst watching the brutal sport, Jallikattu. In 2006, the sport was banned after the boy’s father filed a petition to the Madras High Court but every year around the season of harvest, we have this burning ember emerge to spark debate on its varied perspective. Now two more people have been killed while engaged in the sport.
The game has been a cultural tradition in Tamil Nadu for just under 4,000 years and we are respectful of all cultures and traditions and we seek to align these factors in our pursuit to improve animal welfare. However, the 12 conditions that the Supreme Court laid down in 2008 to continue Jallikattu have not been abided by, such as people practising the sport need to give reassurance that the conditions set out for conducting the game would be strictly adhered to and enforced. One of the conditions says that the Animal Welfare Board of India should be informed prior to arranging Jallikattu and the organisers should seek the district collector’s permission to conduct this game. The Supreme Court has also asked for double barricading the arena and fixed galleries for spectators viewing jallikattu. All these conditions were laid out but not abided by, which led to the complete ban of the sport.
If the ban is to be lifted, people need to understand and ensure that the welfare of animals is closely tied with the welfare of humans and any welfare concerns surrounding bulls involved in jallikattu ought to take cognisance of this. From an animal welfare perspective, World Animal Protection would like to reinforce that welfare of the bulls taking part in jallikattu must adhere to the five freedoms which include freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom from discomfort, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom fear and distress.
We are in favour of preserving indigenous varieties of cattle and have nothing against the upkeep and maintenance of local breeds. As an organisation, World Animal Protection recommends using the native breeds of cattle because native breeds are more comfortable in the local environment.
A key point in this whole debate is that Article 51(a)(g) in the Indian Constitution states: “It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and have compassion for all living creatures.” This constitutional provision provides a very strong pointer on how all animals, including bulls used in Jallikattu should be treated.
Indian culture and tradition have always promoted the idea of ahimsa, non-injury to any living being and compassion has been the central characteristic of all our historical and cultural tradition which has taught us to respect and worship animals. Perhaps a holistic approach to Jallikattu which entails people’s sentiments on their culture and how their behaviour affects the animals in their care can be a way forward. As an organisation, World Animal Protection has always undertaken community work to enhance animal welfare.
A better synergy between man and animal, combined with the needs of sentient animals like bulls that are important in our folklore and mythology is what World Animal Protection hopes will emerge from the ongoing debate on Jallikattu.
Shubhobroto Ghosh is Wildlife Project Manager – India, World Animal Protection