Over the years, the trajectory of animal welfare and basic rights has gained immense speed in terms of reinforcing the rights of animals, including that of basic treatment with dignity. All of this has been the cornerstone of the civilised world. In India, the scope of animal rights has broadened by leaps and bounds. Starting with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, there have been a plethora of policies and initiatives that have had an impact on the execution of basic rightful treatment for animals, which, without even an ounce of doubt, form an integral part of our human environment. In its historic verdict in 2000, the Kerala High Court passed the judgement, which involved augmenting the scope of the application of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. As per this verdict, the “right to life” as per the constitution ought to be inclusive of animals. Therefore, this spurred a ground-breaking metamorphosis in animal rights jurisprudence, primarily in India. However, it is easier said than done; there have been numerous impediments to the implementation of this animal rights ideology. This article shall delve deeper into understanding the “cultural and traditional” barrier and how it should be balanced with animal rights with the aid of a recent Supreme Court of India verdict revolving around “bullfights.”.


Jallikattu is primarily a bull-taming sport that holds deep cultural significance for the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The bull sport is widely played across Tamil Nadu, especially during the Pongal festival. There is a huge frenzy associated with the sport. In the sport, the tamer has to catch the bull without getting hit by the latter. The sport is asserted to have its origins in the Indus Valley Civilization, therefore approximately 2500 years old. However, the sport is surrounded by controversy and furore owing to the possibility of fatal injuries to the players and animals, which also puts the lives of innocent spectators under threat. The sport has a chequered history of sustained multiple bans by governments at different points in time.


The bull-taming sport is asserted to be emblematic of the strength and courage of the tamers along with the bull. In Tamil Nadu, a bull is considered to be of immense economic value for growth and prosperity. The controversial sport is even touted as immensely instrumental in acting as a fillip in the economic dividends for the local community of the state. Another fundamental argument is that Jallikattu is covered under Article 29  of the Indian Constitution. As per the article, a minority community in India is entitled to preserve their traditional and cultural practices. The sport of Jallikattu enjoys a massive emotional connection with Tamilians. The law avers that the minority community has a complete right to preserve, protect, and propagate their unique cultural practices. Apart from the cultural and economic contentions, the proponents argue that this sport aims at reserving some of the endangered species of bulls, and therefore the sport also aids in maintaining the environmental balance.


The sport, however, is questioned about its unconscionable and inhumane nature. This is for the simple reason that the Indian Constitution specifies that it is a fundamental duty under Article 51A(g) of every Indian citizen to be humane to all animal species and deter any activity that harms or causes injury to animals. The detractors of this sport assert that the latter is in gross contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960. In an investigative procedure that was carried out by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), India showed evidence that, despite the averments that the bulls used in the sport are not harmed, they have on numerous occasions been injured. Another primary argument that is referred to is that the constitutional provisions protect animal dignity and are not strictly circumscribed to enabling human life and dignity.


In a historical verdict pronounced by the apex court of the country in 2014, it stated that the scope of Article 21 is not exclusive to maintaining animals’ dignity. In the case of Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraj, the main idea that was invoked was the gross jeopardization of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 and that the practise runs in contravention to the fundamental rights as espoused under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Following the ruling, the sport was banned by the Supreme Court. However, following pandemonium in Tamil Nadu, an amendment was made to the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009, which mentioned that the sport will be carried out in a manner that does not inflict pain and harm to sentient animals like bulls in the course of the game. However, the sport that was banned by the court in 2014 was resurrected into the realm of legality by a five-judge bench in 2023. The bench pronounced that the amendments mitigated the injurious acts in the sport and that their jurisdiction does not encompass providing absolute protection for the animals involved in the historical game. The court concluded that the bull-taming game is a part of the cultural roots of Tamil Nadu; therefore, Jallikattu is legally valid.


In the 21st century, humanity has progressed exponentially. Animal rights and dignity are becoming essential parts of the discussion. This recent verdict by the Supreme Court of India does raise questions about the fundamental rights of animals and how efficiently they can be enforced. The Jallikattu is a peculiar case of a tussle between animal welfare and traditional practises. The ultimate goal should be to maintain the fine balance between preventing animal cruelty in any form and preserving cultural heritage and allied practices. A well-vetted solution, taking into consideration all the stakeholders, is the need of the hour in order to placate the quagmire.

Author’s Name: Aditi Saxena (Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala)

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