In a sharp rebuke to supporters of the controversial bull-taming sport Jallikattu, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the decision on whether the sport can continue would on a legal basis, and not as a matter of upholding tradition.
“In 1899, 10,000 girls below 12 years of age were married. Should we allow it today because it was a tradition at that time?” said a bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice R F Nariman about Tamil Nadu’s plea that Jallikattu should be allowed because it is a centuries-old tradition.
The SC is currently hearing pleas from animal activists against the Centre's decision that allowed the controversial bull-taming sport to be held in Tamil Nadu earlier this year. The court had stayed a notification in January to lift the ban, and had issued a notice in its stead.
However, the Centre in its affidavit justified its actions. “Apart from bring a part of Tamil Nadu culture and heritage it is also integral to the religious beliefs and sentiments of several communities,” it said to drive home its point that a custom practised for over 100 years is a law or right.
“To conduct Jallikattu is a part of the right to freedom of religion and such a fundamental right cannot be overridden by the provisions of the statute (law on prevention of cruelty to animals),” read the NDA government’s affidavit filed in the SC.
Jallikattu is a traditional sport in the Western districts of Tamil Nadu, specifically centred around the Madurai region. Held during Pongal, the celebration of Tamil new year, the sport differs from its more famous Spanish cousin -- the San Fermin festival -- in that the animals are not killed, with many villages considering it inauspicious if the bull is harmed.
But critics of the sport have argued that the bulls are tortured, fed liquor and have chilli powder thrown into their eyes before the start of a fight to spur it on.
All major political parties in Tamil Nadu have been lobbying to repeal the ban, with many saying that it is a fundamental part of Tamil tradition, and that activists have no ground to challenge it because the animals are unharmed.
However, over the years, dozens, man and beast alike, have been killed during these bouts, with hundreds more seriously injured.
The apex court will begin its final hearing on August 30.