SCO Daily: The Jallikattu Challenge

The case raises a number of questions about whether animals have rights and if the rules for Jallikattu contain sufficient safeguards.

Challenges to customary sports with bulls in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra brought a range of interesting questions to a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court this week. What fundamental rights does the Indian Constitution guarantee animals? Are bulls built for these activities? Are the safeguards enacted by all three States sufficient to make the sports cruelty free for the animals? 

Animal rights activists and organisations argued against sports like Jallikattu before the Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph on Tuesday and Wednesday. The States began arguing in support of the practices on Thursday. What did each side argue on these issues? Lets dive in. 

A two-Judge Bench decision of the Supreme Court from 2014 is at the heart of this case. In  Animal Welfare Board of India v A. Nagaraja, the Court banned the use of bulls for Jallikattu events in Tamil Nadu, and bullock cart races across the country. The Court found that the manner in which the sports are played inflict cruelty upon the animals. Animal cruelty, according to the Court, is constitutionally prohibited. 

On January 7th, 2016, Union issued a notification directing the States to comply with the A. Nagaraja Judgment. However, the notification allowed Jallikattu to be practiced while imposing certain restrictions to accommodate animal rights concerns. Animal rights activists from across the country challenged the notification at the Supreme Court in 2016. However, while the petitions were pending, the Tamil Nadu government passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 which introduced rules under Section 3(2), permitting the sport. The Tamil Nadu Act, along with similar rules from Maharashtra and Karnataka, were also challenged before the Supreme Court. 

So how is the Nagaraj decision relevant to the current case? PETA and other groups argue that the Union’s notification allowing bullfighting to continue, albeit with some restrictions, violates the Nagaraj Judgment, which found bullfighting to be a cruel and unconstitutional sport. Questioning this logic, Justice Rastogi asked the lawyers challenging bullfighting to consider that the Rules framed by each State change the basis for the Nagaraj Judgment. Each set of rules implement restrictions that make the game safer and more humane, hence removing the concern of cruelty that bothered the Court in Nagaraj. The response from those challenging the Act? The Court in Nagaraj found that bulls are mentally and physically unfit for fighting. No matter what restrictions you place, any sport that forces them to fight is an act of cruelty. The petitioners stated that the Union can allow Jallikattu to continue, contrary to the Nagaraj decision, only if it can show that it considered some new material that changed the basis of the Judgment. The Union will show the material it referred to during hearing next week. 

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the State of Tamil Nadu, argued that the Amendment itself changed the basis of the Nagaraja Judgment.  He argues that the new rules for Jallikattu are meant to ensure that there is no unnecessary suffering. They make sure that all events are conducted safely while following strict guidelines, and require multiple levels of authorisation before they can even take place. However, Mr. Sibal cautioned the Court against asking questions about the implementation of the rules, as that would enter into a realm of fact-finding which isn’t within the scope of this challenge.

The fundamental rights of animals formed another aspect of the hearings this week. The groups challenging bullfighting practices argued that, according to the Nagaraj Judgment, Article 21 guarantees animals the right to life and dignity. The cruelty inherent to the challenged sports violates this right. These groups also argued that subjecting some bulls to the cruelty of the challenges sports, and not others, is an arbitrary act which discriminates against Article 14. 

Mr. Sibal directly contradicted this claims. He said the Bench in Nagaraja made a mistake by equating the duty of protection owed to animals with animals actually possessing rights. The obligation on the State is to make sure animals are not subjected to ‘unnecessary’ pain and suffering under the Prevention of Cruetly Against Animals Act, 1960. Some pain and suffering is inevitable in the process of domesticating animals. 

Hearings in the challenges to bullfighting will continue next week. The issue likely to be the focus of next week’s hearings is if the Union and States have the legislative competence to allow a practice banned by the Supreme Court. The factors the Union considered while allowing the restricted continuation of bullfighting will also be revealed next week. Stay tuned to SCO for more details.