Chennai's famed Marina beach had seen thousands thronging in in grief when J Jayalalithaa passed away over a month ago. The crowds are back, but this time in support of Jallikattu, a bull-taming sport that many in the state consider essential part of their culture. The protestors, who have been camping overnight, want removal of the ban on the sport. News18's Debayan Roy dissects the origin of the controversy, the present legal status and the road ahead:
What is Jallikattu? Why is it so popular in Tamil Nadu?
In Tamil Nadu, Jallikattu is Veera Vilayattu or warrior sport, where a man matches wit and sinew with a raging bull and grabs a small bag of coins or Jalli, tied to its horns. The most daring among them twitches through the flaying horns and threshing hooves and hangs on to its hump as the animal completes a short lap of 50 metres. In the days gone, he would also win the daughter of the owner of the bull in marriage. It is about courage, masculinity, and above all, cultural ethos.
Who approached the court?
Jallikattu faced its first hurdle in 2004 when PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and AWBI (Animal Welfare Board of India) came together against it. On November 27, 2010, the Supreme Court allowed the sport to be played for a period of five months in a year under controlled conditions and in accordance with the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act passed in 2009. Five years later it was completely banned by a judgment delivered by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
What are the arguments against it?
AWBI had stated that it is nothing but animal cruelty on the bulls. An AWBI report in this regrd mentions ear cutting/mutilation, fracture, dislocation of tail bones, frequent defecation, urination, injuries leading to death, biting or twisting a bull's tail, poking bulls with knives and sticks, using irritants, using nose ropes, cramped conditions, spectators beating and agitating bulls, and other cruelties meted out to the bulls within the arena including mental torture.
Why did the SC ban Jallikattu in 2014?
On May 7, 2014, a two-judge bench comprising of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose banned Jallikattu. The bench said, “International community should hang their head in shame, for not recognising their rights all these ages, a species which served the humanity from the time of Adam and Eve.” The court stressed on the fundamental duty of every citizen to show compassion to every living creature as a central theme of the verdict.
The Court further categorised bulls as not being performing animals, anatomically not designed for that, but are forced to perform, inflicting pain and suffering, in total violation of Sections 3 and Section 11(1) of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act. PETA later on selected Justice Radhakrishnan for its Man of the Year Award.
What happens now? Is there a legal solution for Jallikattu fans?
To answer this one must observe the legal journey of Jallikattu till now. After the two-judge bench verdict, this issue came up again in front of the apex court in June, 2016, when a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra issued an order warning the Tamil Nadu government from carrying on the bull taming sport. "Jallikattu cannot be merely allowed just because it was a century-old tradition. Whether it shall be continued will be decided legally," Justice Mishra said.
In November, 2016, a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman dismissed the review petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government to lift the ban imposed on Jallikattu in 2014. The bench remarked: "Animals may not have rights but humans cannot negate their obligation enshrined under the Constitution. We cannot import Roman Gladiator type sport here. One can use computer for indulging in bull fighting. Why tame bulls for it?"
But after O Panneerselvam took over as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, he had vowed to start Jallikattu again on the auspicious day of Pongal. Hence a fresh appeal was filed by the state to allow Tamilians organize Jallikattu.
But the bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Banumathi on January 12, 2017, declined to issue an interim order to allow Jallikattu just before Pongal even as the final judgment was ready with the court. The bench had remarked, “Though the draft of the judgment is ready, it's not possible to pass the verdict before Saturday when it is to be held. We also want to say that it is unfair of the petitioner to ask the bench to pass an order."
On Wednesday, the Madras High Court said that it will not “interfere” on the issue of protests in the city.
"First of all, the apex court is seized of the matter. When it is so, even the High Court and the Tamil Nadu government cannot do anything and moreover, Marina Road is not a place for any demonstrations. The court does not want to interfere at this stage," said a bench, comprising Chief Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice M. Sundar.
If Jallikattu stays banned in the forthcoming Supreme Court verdict, the state can still go for a review petition challenging this particular verdict.
But on recommendations from council of ministers and the prime minister, the President of India can issue an Ordinance amending PCA Act to permit Jallikattu with regulations. This would reinstate Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act 2009. President can also issue an ordinance to amend PCA Act itself which will legalise Jallikattu and will be binding on judiciary. It will be valid once enacted in Parliament.
AIADMK MPs are scheduled to meet President Pranab Mukherjee and PM Narendra Modi on Thursday to submit a memorandum on Jallikattu.
Can the Marina protesters be charged with contempt?
No, Marina protestors don't come under contempt because they are only protesting. But there has been reports that Jallikattu was conducted despite the Supreme Court orders at many places during Pongal last weekend. Contempt can be charged on those arrested if someone takes them to court.
But with a massive protest erupting in Marina, the government may impose Section 151 of IPC which gives the police authority to disperse unlawful assemblies. This may also result in the alteration of the pending verdict of the SC in the fresh appeal filed by the State government.