Jallikattu: The Doom of Animal Rights in India? Commentary
Subhashish Panigrahi - Wikimedia Commons
Jallikattu: The Doom of Animal Rights in India?

While animal rights organizations like PETA are advocating an unparalleled realm of animal protection by prompting people to convert to veganism and altogether avoiding animals in food, clothing, and drug-testing, India is still stuck in a conservative era where animals are cruelly treated in the name of upholding the “tradition and culture” of a community. To add agony to the fire, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (“SC”), on May 18, 2023, legitimized the practice of conducting animal sports in three states of India, namely Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. This legitimization spawns two major questions. Are traditions and culture more important than the well-being of another species and can such speciesism be justified on the ground of “will of the people” in the world’s largest democracy? Unfortunately, in the aforesaid judgment, the SC answered both questions in the positive.

The Practice of Jallikattu

Jallikattu involves triggering bulls to instigate their flight or fight response, thereby allowing the tamer to display his prowess by chasing an enraged, ferocious bull and win prizes. The manner of agitating these bulls was discussed extensively in the K. Muniasamythevar case (“2006 case”) before the Madras High Court and the A. Nagaraja case (“2014 case”) before the SC of India. Some modes of inflicting torture included cutting the bulls’ ears, dislocating and amputating their tails by pulling and twisting, soiling the bulls with feces, biting their tails, poking them with knives and sticks, rubbing irritant solutions into their eyes and noses, pouring liquor into their mouths, crowding the bulls and making noise, and grabbing their horns.

The Judiciary’s Past Response

Before delving into how the judiciary has viewed this gruesome festival, it is important to look at India’s legislative framework on animal protection. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (“PCA Act”) is a central legislation that seeks to prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals and prevent cruelty to animals. The 2006 case and the 2014 case banned Jallikattu on the ground that it violates Section 3, Section 11(1)(a) and Section 11(1)(m)(ii) of the PCA Act. Section 3 enjoins a duty upon an individual having care or charge of any animal to adopt reasonable measures to ensure its well-being and prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering. Section 11(1)(a) penalizes an individual for beating, kicking, overriding, overdriving, overloading, torturing, inflicting unnecessary pain or suffering on the animal. Section 11(1)(m)(ii) penalizes an individual who incites an animal to fight for the purposes of entertainment.

The Judiciary’s New Stance

On May 18, a constitution bench of the SC, in the case of The Animal Welfare Board of India v. Union of India (“2023 case”), passed a judgment allowing Jallikattu and its equivalents for two reasons:

1) Legislation backed promotion of tradition and culture: The State of Tamil Nadu enacted its Amendment Act to the Central PCA Act in 2017. This sought to amend the act to preserve the cultural heritage of the State of Tamil Nadu and to ensure the survival and wellbeing of the native breeds of bulls. It exempted Jallikattu from Section 11 and Section 22 of the PCA Act, which dealt with treating animals cruelly and restricting the exhibition and training of performing animals. It also amended Section 27 and 28 of the PCA Act to absolutely exempt Jallikattu from application of the provisions of the PCA Act and immunized Jallikattu from even being construed as an offense.

2) Legislative assurance governing the conduct of Jallikattu: Tamil Nadu also formulated the Conduct of Jallikattu Rules, 2017, which specifically aim to reduce the distress caused to bulls during Jallikattu. Some of their reformative provisions included a veterinary examination of bulls wherein bulls showing symptoms of fatigue, dehydration, restlessness, etc., shall not be permitted to participate in the event. Those conducting the even the event should also provide the bulls with adequate food and water, a 20-minute rest period before bringing them into the arena, and adequate space and roofing to protect the bulls from rain and sunlight. They should also ensure hygiene in the holding area, set a limit to the number of spectators, and prevent physical abuse of the bulls. In the 2023 judgment, the SC accepted the contention that the Amendment Act, inclusive of the rules, cures the defects highlighted in the 2014 judgment.

The Problem

In a comprehensive investigation conducted by PETA India in four districts of Tamil Nadu in January 2022, five years after the implementation of the 2017 Amendment Act and Rules, the following was reported. The 2017 Rules prescribe a procedure governing the conduct of Jallikattu in a manner inflicting minimum suffering on the bulls; however, it does not include any penalty leviable against persons violating the rules, defeating the very object of the rules. The investigation confirmed that Jallikattu feeds on the bulls’ natural nervousness as prey animals and deliberately induces threats to make the animals run in terror. The modes of terror inducement continue to remain the same, including tackling, beating, and poking with sharp-nail studded sticks. The 2017 Rules were openly flouted, leading to several injuries, broken bones, and even deaths. Jallikattu is conducted in narrow by-lanes in small neighborhoods instead of open grounds, as required by the rules. The bulls are not provided a 20-minute rest period, are squeezed sideways and are denied food, water, roofing, and shelter for hours at a time. Reluctant bulls showing symptoms of fatigue, dehydration, and restlessness were harassed and forced to participate. Parallelly, during an illegal Jallikattu, spectators participated in tackling the bulls. The even violated the maximum spectator limit, and prizes were awarded to people who broke the rules and tamed the bulls.

Furthermore, as per the PETA Report, since the 2017 Amendment Act and Rules, there have been 86 human fatalities reported, along with the deaths of 23 bulls and a cow. There is little reporting on injuries. Despite the 2017 Rules, there is a steady increase in the report of bulls’ death, proving that these state legislations are futile in preventing the masses from injuring not only the animals but even themselves.

A Change in Jurisprudence

The 2006 case and the 2014 case raised questions such as whether a community’s entertainment can be adequate justification to inflict pain on animals; whether a welfare legislation like the PCA Act can be overshadowed in the name of tradition and culture, leading to infliction of unnecessary pain on bulls for the amusement of a community; and whether development of the spirit of humanism and compassion, as required by Article 51A(g) and (h) of the Indian Constitution, can be relegated to give way to speciesism and exploitation by humans over other creatures.

The 2023 judgment stated that the Amendment Act coupled with the rules does not promise an absolute no-infliction of pain and suffering on the bulls; rather, it seeks to minimize the degree of such pain. It further stated that the premise of the PCA Act rests on the perceived necessity of humans employing animals for load carrying and entertainment purposes. However, in Jallikattu, people create entertainment by harassing the bulls, thereby contradicting the aim of the PCA Act. The SC concluded by stating that the object of the PCA Act is not to protect animals from pain and suffering; rather, it is to protect animals from “unnecessary” pain and suffering, thus implying that inflicting pain and suffering on the bulls is “necessary” to uphold the tradition, culture, and entertainment of a community.

Who to Blame

The will of the people is demonstrated by the insistence of the states in conducting Jallikattu and its equivalents. Despite the ban on Jallikattu in 2014, the states passed the Amendment Act and Rules leading to blanket protection of Jallikattu from imposition of any penalty and from even being construed as an offense in the name of “tradition and culture” of a community. PETA, in its report, noted, “The very purpose of the spectacle is to terrify, tackle, and taunt bulls and to subject them to immense physical and mental trauma.”

Yet, we cannot blame the judiciary for legitimizing Jallikattu, since that would mean that the SC is functioning on an apprehension that the welfare measures provided under the 2017 Amendment Act and Rules may be abused and disobeyed. It is rather imperative for society to collectively change its conscience and view on whether the tradition and culture of a community justifies abusing another animal. Until then, India will continue to remain backward in the field of animal rights.


Neha Vinod is a final-year student at Ramaiah College of Law, Bangalore, India.


Suggested citation: Neha Vinod, Jallikattu: The Doom of Animal Rights in India?, JURIST – Student Commentary, June 21, 2023, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/06/neha-vinod-animal-rights-india-jallikattu/.

This article was prepared for publication by Hayley Behal, JURIST Commentary Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org

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