Prime Minister Modi is facing severe criticism for what is widely perceived to be his personal failure to bring back jallikattu as promised in time for this year’s Pongal festivities. After Modi tweeted his Pongal greetings to the people of Tamil Nadu, he was mercilessly pilloried on social media. The buck stops with the prime minister and he is paying the price for the ill-considered statements of assurance issued by two cabinet members (environment minister Prakash Javadekar and the junior minister for road transport, highways and shipping, Pon Radhakrishnan), senior BJP leader H Raja, and the BJP’s state president Tamizhisai Soundararajan to the effect that jallikattu will make a comeback during Pongal.
Modi is to blame for not stopping Javadekar from rushing through with a notification which tweaked the July 2011 environment ministry list of animals banned from being exhibited as performing animals. The January 8, 2016, notification was an absurdity which obviously had not been vetted by Modi’s cabinet which includes distinguished lawyers like Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Maneka Gandhi, an animal activist who, with Ozair Hussein and Raj Panjwani, authored the authoritative Animal Laws of India. How did this notification get past Jaitley and Maneka unless this was Javadekar’s unilateral decision? Is the country to believe that Modi and Jaitley gave their assent to a notification intended to overturn a Supreme Court order and which was so bad in law that it was bound to stumble and fall at the first challenge?
As the news about his ministry considering various options to conduct jallikattu during Pongal began to gather momentum, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) – the statutory body constituted by an act of Parliament – wrote to Javadekar saying the board collectively and unanimously stood by the July 2011 notification, and that in view of the May 2014 Supreme Court order which banned jallikattu and all other sport using bulls, the sport should not be permitted. Within two days of the AWBI writing to Javadekar, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi wrote to the government advising it not do anything that may be construed to be disrespecting or overturning the Supreme Court order.
Disregarding the advice from AWBI and the written warning issued by the AG, Javadekar issued a new notification on January 8 which said that his government, while not removing bulls from the list was however exempting jallikattu bulls from the list of animals which may not be trained, exhibited or used for sport and entertainment. The regressive, half-clever notification drove the local BJP into a frenzy of self-congratulatory celebrations. In a flight of fancy laced with sycophancy, state BJP leaders not only went to town with ‘victory’ posters in different parts of the state, they also asked the people of Tamil Nadu to celebrate this year’s Pongal as “Modi Pongal”.
The AWBI, animal welfare organisations like CUPA, FIAPO, PETA and PFA and animal welfare activists rushed to the Supreme Court on January 11 to file their petitions seeking a stay on the notification. Supreme Court stalwarts K.K. Venugopal, Aryama Sundaram, R. Venkataramani, Dushyant Dave and Siddharth Luthra appeared for the petitioners. The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Dipak Mishra, which heard the petitions on January 12, was not amused and the notification was stayed promptly. Unwilling to see reason even then, sections within the government and a powerful jallikattu lobby outside the party and government wielding considerable influence over the BJP began frenzied attempts to bypass the January 12 Supreme Court order. Loose talk, wild allegations and lies tantamount to slander about animal activists and the five reputed senior advocates who argued the case against jallikattu in the Supreme Court began doing the rounds and Tamil news channels added fuel to the jallikattu fire which the BJP had lit with such cynicism simply as an election gimmick. Some Chennai-based petitioners began to receive menacing and threatening calls.
It was at this time that Nirmala Sitharaman, minister of state for commerce and industry and who was in Chennai, came up with an equally ill-considered suggestion which only fanned the frenzy. Knowing well that by taking up the cause of jallikattu so close to Pongal and inviting the wrath of the Supreme Court, BJP ministers and party functionaries had caused incalculable damage to the image of the prime minister, the party and the government, Sitharaman, in a last minute desperate effort to save face, tried passing a camel through the eye of a needle. She passed the buck to the Tamil Nadu government and with great ingenuity invoked an obscure and little known provision in law which empowered state governments to promulgate an ordinance. “State government has power under the Constitution, as entry 28 of the state list empowers states to promulgate ordinance on fairs and markets. As jallikattu can be categorised as a ‘fair’, the state can issue an ordinance, the minister said.” Nirmala Sitharaman’s memorable contribution to the drama entering its last and final phase was renaming jallikattu from ‘sport’ to ‘fair’; all this just to diddle the Supreme Court!
Four questions for Modi and his ministers
- If the BJP which calls itself a “party with a difference” can overturn a Supreme Court order with an executive order, how is it different from the Congress which too had earlier overturned the Supreme Court order in the Shah Bano case?
- Why have a judicial system and courts and why make a pretence of rule of law if Supreme Court orders can be treated with scant respect by the executive and overturned by whims and caprice?
- Why constitute the AWBI as a statutory body if the government will not allow it to fulfil its constitutional mandate to act as the government’s advisory body on animal welfare and animal welfare laws?
- Why appoint an attorney general if the government will not heed the advice of the highest legal officer of the bar in the highest court of the country?
In the last fortnight, the BJP undermined and humiliated three important institutions; and all in the name of jallikattu. Narendra Modi must ask himself if the cause was worth the cost that he personally, his government and his party paid in the end.
In the last fortnight alone jallikattu has been described variously as an article of Tamil pride; integral to Tamil nationalism; protector of native breeds in cattle; sport of Tamil valour; victim of international conspiracy; evidence of the Supreme Court’s continuing hostility towards Tamil people; a market and fair; finally, jallikattu supporters are now claiming that jallikattu is endorsed by the Rio Convention on Biodiversity as an important link in the chain which protects the nation’s biodiversity. The jallikattu chimera is only getting bigger, more imaginative and more colourful by each passing day.
Not to be left behind, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju has come out openly in support of jallikattu. Unmindful that his advice to the state government constituted contempt of court, he told the Tamil Nadu chief minister that since the Supreme Court had banned ‘jallikattu’, she should give jallikattu a new name and pass an ordinance. Katju best exemplified how public discourse on the ‘sport’ had descended from the sublime to the ridiculous.
After the fall, BJP hides behind classic Tamil saying, no mud on my beard
The Supreme Court pronounced its order banning jallikattu in May 2014. In Tamil Nadu, the January 2015 Pongal, which came seven months after the judgement, was celebrated with traditional fervour and without the frenzied demands for jallikattu that had fouled this year’s festive mood. The faction-ridden, directionless Tamil Nadu BJP, fishing for a cause to espouse and simultaneously hoping to ride the Modi crest in the assembly elections scheduled to take place in 2016, began to make jallikattu noises from around September 2015; this was immediately after Amit Shah visited Madurai in August 2015. The Hindu Spiritual Fair, an offshoot of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and a Chennai-based annual initiative of recent origin to showcase the social, religious and spiritual activities of Hindu organisations, in December 2015 had a stall showcasing jallikattu – although it is debatable how jallikattu, which is synonymous with animal abuse, can be showcased as Hindu spirituality simply because it is associated with Pongal and temple festivals. Organisers of the fair accompanied Amit Shah to Madurai ostensibly to participate in another function; it cannot be mere coincidence that this function was organised in Madurai, a district which hosts three of the state’s largest jallikattu events: Alanganallur, Palamedu and Avaniyapuram.
Senior BJP leader H. Raja, in a television debate on jallikattu, admitted that party President Amit Shah had received several petitions from jallikattu organisers and supporters requesting Shah to restore jallikattu by Pongal in January 2016. Perhaps herein is the answer to the earlier question if the MoEF&CC notification had bypassed Modi, Jaitley and the cabinet before it was issued as an Executive Order. Notwithstanding the fact that the Supreme Court had stayed their January 8 notification not once but twice, the BJP continues to make brave noises about having done everything they possibly could before Pongal and will now do everything they possibly can after Pongal to legalise jallikattu, including making new laws if need be or amending existing laws like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act (1960).
Studiously ignoring the well documented physical, emotional and psychological abuse of bulls trained and used in jallikattu, rekla and other ‘sports’, the former is being justified with these arguments:
- Jallikattu is an ancient Tamil sport which is depicted even in Indus seals and is described in Tamil Sangam literature
- It is a matter of Tamil pride and Tamil identity
- Jallikattu and manju virattu must be seen in the context of the Convention on biodiversity because Jallikattu is the only means to preserve native breed in cattle; and banning jallikattu is an international conspiracy to destroy India’s native breeds
Each of these fanciful claims will be deconstructed and exposed for what they are: gobbledygook.
Deconstructing fanciful claims
1. Jallikattu is at least 4,000 years old because it is depicted on an Indus valley stone seal dated 2,000 B.C – Much like the unsustainable argument that jallikattu is the only way to protect native breeds of cattle, Iravatham Mahadevan, the internationally renowned epigraphist and scholar, in 2008 submitted that the seal in question depicted jallikattu or the bull-baiting/bull-taming sport. The Hindu wrote then: “The seal has used the frieze technique to portray the charged atmosphere. There were two interpretations to what was engraved on the seal, Mr. Mahadevan said. One school is of the opinion that the seal shows several men, who tried to control the bull, thrown up in the air by the animal. A couple of men are shown flying in the air with their legs and hands spread out, a third man is seen jumping to grab the bull, another is somersaulting and yet another has pathetically come to rest on his haunch. Mr. Mahadevan, however, is of the opinion that the seal shows only one man, who is flung into the air by the bull, his flying, his plunging, his somersaulting and finally sitting on his haunch.” If it is Iravatham Mahadevan, it must be true – at least this is the consensus among Tamil scholars.
But Dr. S Kalyanaraman has a different view. Author of the Indus script trilogy, he says emphatically,
Iravatham Mahadevan is wrong. It is incorrect to conclude that Indus-Saraswati civilisation is proto-dravidian and that this seal is celebrating jallikattu. The figures on the seal are not man or men but women. It is a magnificent leap of faith to see jallikattu on the Indus seals which show women tumblers/acrobats with scarves on their pigtails and bangles and bracelets on their arms, leaping over the bull sometimes accompanied by a drummer. Saraswati/Indus seals are hieroglyphs read in the context of documenting metalwork by metal-caster folk or Bharatam Janam, as Sage Viswamitra called the people of this land. It will be far-fetched and a free flow of fertile imagination to see jallikattu or bull taming in the images. The reality of Indian sprachbund (language union) is ignored when faith-based Dravida maayaa drives the search for ancient Tamil in Indus script inscriptions, a flawed exercise which excludes Prakritam. Ancient Tamil literature of sangam age is replete with references to Vedic culture, thus reinforcing the reality of the Indian sprachbund. To label this civilisation as proto-dravidian and to interpret this seal as jallikattu is stretching political ideology into the domain of scholarship.
As for jallikattu finding mention in Tamil sangam literature, jallikattu supporters who are not “poor rural farmers” but rich landlords, affluent businessmen who own stud bulls as status symbols, and well-heeled urban intellectuals conveniently fail to mention that after the Sangam period, there is no mention of jallikattu in Tamil literature until 1893. Nostalgia may have spun a vivid story about jallikattu in the Indus Valley civilisation but it needn’t be true. Deciphering the Saraswati-Indus script is a work in progress and to make erroneous statements and unsustainable claims about the ancientness of jallikattu and proto-dravidianism simply to find favour with Dravidian political parties undermines scholarship and raises questions about intellectual integrity. It is also deliberate disinformation.
2. Jallikattu is a matter of Tamil pride and Tamil culture – Political parties in Tamil Nadu, including the BJP, are touting jallikattu as a symbol of Tamil culture, Tamil valour and Tamil pride. But Krishnaswamy, an important Tamil Dalit leader and founder of the Puthiya Tamizhagam party, rejects the claim. In the course of a discussion on television on the Supreme Court ban on jallikattu, Krishnaswamy – a physician by profession – was forthright in his refusal to give jallikattu the status of high culture or tradition. “Why give jallikattu the status of pan-Tamil culture? Jallikattu is confined to only four or five districts in Tamil Nadu – Madurai, Sivagangai, Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai and Dindukkal. Jallikattu is also casteist and the rich caste–Hindu landlords and zamindars do not allow Dalits to participate in this sport. Rich caste–Hindu landlords take pride in owning stud bulls much like the urban rich own race horses. Jallikattu is not a pan-Tamil culture and it is not for all Tamil people.” Animal activists will conclude this observation with the pregnant question: jallikattu may be high culture for some men but what’s in it for the bulls?
3. Jallikattu is the only way to preserve native breeds of cattle – This argument has to be firmly rejected because native breeds of cattle began to dwindle in numbers and disappear from the rural landscape several decades ago when tractors and chemical fertilisers replaced bulls and traditional organic farming practices. When successive Five Year Plans privileged industry over agriculture and meat production and leather industry over grain production, the country began to import foreign/alien breeds of cattle like Friesian, Jersey and Holstein because these are large animals and their cows yield more milk than native breed cows and their large bulls were ideal for meat production. Jallikattu intellectuals who are waging war against animal activists on social media are being dishonest by laying the blame for disappearing native breeds of cattle at the door of animal activists and the jallikattu ban.
Native breeds were disappearing from Tamil Nadu even when jallikattu was not banned. The argument that man versus animal or animal versus animal fights or contact sport is the best or the only means to protect native breeds of cattle, dogs, birds and reptiles flies in the face of proven native genius of our people who have historically invented and discovered new instruments, methods and social structures in keeping with new demands and changing times. Angry young and old men who are alleging international conspiracies in the jallikattu ban to extinguish native breeds in cattle must realise that their conspiracy theories fail to withstand rigorous and sustained scrutiny.
Like the jallikattu chimera which with every telling grew horns, other theories also acquired interesting features. First, jallikattu supporters declared that the ban on jallikattu was an international conspiracy to kill all our native breeds because if there was no jallikattu, the bulls would all be sent to slaughter and the conspirators wanted India to be the world’s largest supplier of beef. Next, they said the conspiracy behind killing our native breed bulls was to make native breeds extinct in India while simultaneously the conspirators were stealing the semen and sperm of jallikattu bulls and carting them away to foreign lands because the milk of India’s native breed cows is the superior A2 variety with immense therapeutic properties.
Thus far, no jallikattu supporter has answered the question why, if these bulls are raised like children in their homes and treated like a king, their destiny was reduced to jallikattu or slaughter. There are also no answers to the question why is not possible to preserve and protect jallikattu bulls for purposes of breeding even if there is no jallikattu. After all, jallikattu is only a man-versus-animal contact sport whereas preserving native breeds of cattle is a noble objective and an urgent necessity. It’s always suspicious when people say there is only one way to do something and the ‘jallikattu is the only way to preserve native breeds’ argument is no exception.
Responding to wild allegations
From ministers in the Modi government, their national spokesperson and state BJP leaders to Hindu activists and Tamil chauvinists, animal activists have been vilified, abused, taunted and questioned with identical accusations. These allegations must be listed before they are answered.
- Animal activists opposing jallikattu have a colonial mindset and are far removed from Indian culture and tradition.
- Animal activists who are crying against cruelty to jallikattu bulls have never touched an animal in their lives.
- Animal activists, animal welfare organisations and even judges in the Supreme Court are city slickers who know nothing about rural Tamil Nadu and poor innocent farmers who have no other form of entertainment except jallikattu.
- Animal activists who talk of animal well-being and animal rights use products made from the hide of cows and cattle and they wear silk.
- Animal activists who are alleging cruelty to jallikattu bulls – what are they doing about India being the world’s largest exporter of beef, about cattle trafficking to Kerala, about halal killing of animals during Bakrid (Eid al-Adha), about the brutal methods employed in Kerala to subjugate newly acquired elephant calves and adult elephants for use in temple rituals and about horse racing?
- PETA and other foreign agencies paid Rs.2 crore collectively to all senior advocates who appeared for the petitioners in the Supreme Court seeking an immediate stay on the January 8 notification.
Jallikattu supporters have made these accusations without proof and without caring to educate themselves. BJP ministers and their national spokesperson also don’t know the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) in its entirety. Jallikattu supporters accusing animal activists of various sins of omission and commission have also failed to first investigate and ascertain the facts.
I have not seen any animal activist using leather. There is something called ahimsa silk which, as its name suggests, does not kill the silkworm but waits for it to abandon the cocoon. All big and famous silk shops now stock sarees woven from ahimsa silk. Allegations that animal activists have never touched any animal in their lives, that they do not know the difference between a cow and a buffalo or between a bull and a bullock are childish and indicative of anger clouding even their common sense. But angry questions from BJP Ministers, the party’s national spokesperson and jallikattu supporters (including rich landlords, affluent businessmen who are proud owners of jallikattu stud bulls and urban intellectuals) about what animal activists have done about beef export, cattle trafficking and halal and the frequently asked question from Tamil chauvinist jallikattu supporters about the plight of captive elephants (they actually mean captive elephants in temples) without exception are ignorant of the law and impervious to the fact that animal activists can work only within the legal framework and within lawful boundaries.
While PETA is not generic for animal activism, ‘pashu’ is certainly generic for all animals. For animal rights activists, cats, cows, camels, cockroaches and caterpillars are all sacred and equally deserving of protection if and when abused. Animal rights activists do not privilege native cows over imported breeds when both end up in slaughter houses – for them the right to life and the right to die with dignity for street dogs and elephants is the same. But what jallikattu supporters do not know is that the PCA Act (1960) is ridden with holes and does not apply to all kinds of cruelty.
PCA Act (1960) does not protect all animals, does not prevent all cruelty
There is very little animal activists can do to stop cattle trafficking to Kerala via Tamil Nadu and to Bangladesh via West Bengal because while the PCA Act is a central Act and is applicable in all states and union territories (except Jammu and Kashmir), cow slaughter is a state subject and different states have different laws governing it. So while animal rights activists can seize trucks transporting cows and cattle to Kerala for slaughter, for violating transportation laws and rules, they cannot stop the trucks because they are transporting cows and cattle to Kerala for slaughter; at least not until Tamil Nadu, under pressure from jallikattu supporters, makes a law which prohibits transport of all cattle outside state borders similar to the law in Rajasthan, which bans all movement of camels outside Rajasthan’s state borders.
Horrific cruelty perpetrated against animals under three categories, even when the most terrible form of pain and suffering is inflicted on them, is kept out of the purview of the PCA Act:
- Animals we use as lab animals for experiments
- Animals we kill for meat, and
- Animals we kill in the name of religion
Section 11 of the PCA Act deals with all kinds of cruelty, all kinds of pain and suffering and specifies those areas which fall outside the jurisdiction of the Act. Thus, Section 11 (3) (a) says –
Nothing in this section shall apply to the dehorning of cattle, or the castration or branding or nose-roping of any animal in the prescribed manner.
While all three procedures inflict immense pain on the cattle, which humans with typical insouciance justify as being necessities of domestication, there are non-painful methods of roping and castration which are neither implemented nor enforced. Jallikattu supporters will best serve the cause of native cattle by returning to their villages to restore and restart traditional agricultural practices. Jallikattu is not the priority now.
Section 11 (3) (e) of the PCA Act says:
Nothing in this section shall apply to the commission or omission of any act in the course of the destruction or the preparation for destruction of any animal as food for mankind unless such destruction or preparation was accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering.
Humans coined phrases like “useless animals” that may be slaughtered because they are unproductive and their continued upkeep is uneconomical. Humans coined the phrase “unnecessary pain or suffering”, which implies there is something in the form of ‘necessary pain and suffering’, and that necessary pain and suffering is legal, lawful and legitimate.
Section 14 of the PCA Act, which deals with ‘Experiments on Animals’, says:
Nothing contained in this Act shall render unlawful the performance of experiments (including experiments involving operations) on animals for the purpose of advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or for prolonging the life or alleviating suffering or for combating any disease, whether of human beings, animals or plants.
Notwithstanding all the noble objectives listed under this section, the bottomline is that we use animals in experiments and we inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on them – all in human interest only.
Section 28 of the PCA Act legitimises stunning the animal with a sledge hammer or stun gun before its head is cut off for food or for religion in temples, or slit its throat to die a slow and painful death for halal meat, or as sacrifice during Bakrid or other festivals:
Saving as respects manner of killing prescribed by religion: Nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community.
The large, gaping holes in the PCA Act (1960) contain the answers to all uninformed and wild allegations against animal activists about why are they not doing anything about beef, cow slaughter, sacrifice etc. BJP leaders who levelled these accusations against the AWBI and animal activists must now return to Parliament and amend the PCA Act effectively to plug all holes and loopholes. When BJP ministers and party leaders say they will bring back jallikattu, but this time they will amend the law to do it, they are saying they will make another big hole in the PCA Act or make a new law which is repugnant to and contrary to the letter and spirit of the PCA Act (1960) – inadequacies, warts and all.
The Modi sarkar must know that the Supreme Court order banning jallikattu in May 2015 has taken this possibility, too, under consideration – that governments may be tempted to tweak, amend or make laws to overturn the judgement. Paragraph 26 of the May 7 order reads thus:
PCA Act is a welfare legislation which has to be construed bearing in mind the purpose and object of the Act and the Directive Principles of State Policy. It is trite law that, in the matters of welfare legislation, the provisions of law should be liberally construed in favour of the weak and infirm. Court also should be vigilant to see that benefits conferred by such remedial and welfare legislation are not defeated by subtle devices. Court has got the duty that, in every case, where ingenuity is expanded to avoid welfare legislations, to get behind the smoke-screen and discover the true state of affairs. Court can go behind the form and see the substance of the devise for which it has to pierce the veil and examine whether the guidelines or the regulations are framed so as to achieve some other purpose than the welfare of the animals. Regulations or guidelines, whether statutory or otherwise, if they purport to dilute or defeat the welfare legislation and the constitutional principles, Court should not hesitate to strike them down so as to achieve the ultimate object and purpose of the welfare legislation. Court has also a duty under the doctrine of parents patriae to take care of the rights of animals, since they are unable to take care of themselves as against human beings.
Amending the PCA Act to keep cruelty to bulls outside of the purview of the Act, making a new law which is contrary to the intent of the PCA Act or weakening the PCA Act in any other manner, besides defeating the very purpose of the PCA Act and the Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014, will ultimately only cause more avoidable and unnecessary physical, emotional and psychological pain on the bulls. It is wholly incomprehensible how we can worship the mother and abuse her son.