Why Should Delhi Decide on Jallikattu?

The last couple of weeks has seen some passionate debate on Jallikattu and other forms of traditional animal sport in India, including the Kambala practiced in Karnataka. The row began with the announcement by the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar that such traditional practices may be allowed to continue from the beginning of the year, at the same time making certain that animals are not subjected to any form of cruelty. After close to two weeks of swithering to make a decision, the Union Government has finally given a go-ahead, even as the Tamil Nadu Government has approached the Supreme Court for a review of the ban. 

Many animal rights activists and their supporters have lashed out at the Union Government for its decision to lift the ban, despite the Supreme Court order prohibiting bull fights and other forms of animal sport. But there has also been strong support to lift the ban from many other quarters, especially those in support of continuing the traditions

Earlier in 2014, the Supreme Court, in what was termed as a landmark judgement, had ruled that animals such as bulls could not be used for bull fights, races, and other such performances. This meant that Kambala of Karnataka, Jallikattu of Tamila Nadu, bull races held in Maharashtra and elsewhere had to be stopped. What is interesting is that the Supreme Court order also quashed the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, a state act that permitted Jallikattu.

Are these sports really cruel on the animals? Do they violate animal rights? We will not get into these questions here. These questions pertain to the subject of ethics, which are not always universal. Different cultures and societies have different standards and interpretation of the subject, and what entails ethical behaviour varies. Laws, framed based on the foundation of ethics, as a result, also vary across societies, cultures, and nations. 

So, the question we want to address here, is not if Jallikattu is morally right or wrong. The question is - who should make the pertinent laws and who should take these decisions?

The Supreme Court order was based on the provisions of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which applies to the whole of India, excepting the state of Jammu and Kashmir. With so many diverse ethnicities and societies across the Union of India, it is hard to understand as to why a matter such as animal rights that can be so subjective and at the same time vehemently contentious is governed by a single overbearing law. 

It is impossible to assimilate all the various and often conflicting interpretation of ethical treatment of animals into a single homogeneous act or legislation, and an overbearing law such as this will inevitably impose one cultural interpretation of the subject, on the rest of the states and its peoples. With respect to people, the states being the more proximate government entities are more competent and better placed to legislate and take decisions on such matter. The entities that make a law, interpret it or take decisions based on a law, should be as close to the people or the society in question, as possible.

In the case of Jallikattu, the Union Government that enacted the legislation, and the courts that interpreted it, ordering the sport to be banned and quashing an act passed by the Tamil Nadu government, are much far removed from the Tamil people. Hence the decision to hold such events and festivities should be left to the state governments and the communities involved, rather than laws and orders coming down all the way up from the Delhi establishment.

The media, as usual, has made it a ‘national’ debate. With mounting pressure on the Union Government to permit Jallikattu before the beginning of Pongal festivities, it has now come up with an alteration to the 2011 notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests by granting exemption to such sport. As per reports, the Animal Welfare Board of India may challenge the order in the Supreme Court. Whether the ultimate outcome will favour the animal rights activists or those in support of the tradition is a different matter, but it still leaves us to the mercy of the Union Government’s laws and its interpreters.

Eventually, the law, whether in its nature favours the present case for Jallikattu or otherwise, should be discussed and enacted by the Tamil Nadu legislature. Similaly, a law on Kambala, irrespective of whether it approves the practice favouring tradition or bans it considering arguments of fair treatment of animals, should be tabled, debated and then approved or rejected in the houses of the Karnataka legislature. A single law for the entire Union is not only unfair and insensitive to various peoples and their accepted standards and societal norms, it is also quite impractical.

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