The Tamil Nadu government may have had few political options but to go in for an ordinance to facilitate the conduct of jallikattu once the surge in popular sentiment in favour of the traditional bull-taming sport gathered an enormous, unstoppable momentum. The State amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, seeks to exempt jallikattu from the purview of the law. With the implacable mass movement demanding a legal solution to overcome the judicial ban on jallikattu on the one side, and related litigation pending in the Supreme Court on the other, there was little that the Union government could have done on its own.
For the Centre to bring in an amendment would have incurred the wrath of the Supreme Court, which stayed a January 2016 notification and will rule on its validity soon. Instead, the Centre granted its consent to the State Governor promulgating the ordinance. However, just when it seemed that a legal solution has been found, there is another twist. The protests are continuing, as its spearheads demand a ‘permanent solution’. Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam’s plan to inaugurate the jallikattu event in Alanganallur did not fructify.
The protesters are obviously under the mistaken impression that an ordinance is ‘temporary’. They remain unmoved even after the State government clarified that it intends to replace it with a Bill when the Assembly convenes on January 23. But even a parliamentary Act is subject to judicial scrutiny. The ordinance has pleased neither side in the jallikattu vs. animal rights debate. The Centre’s nod may have ensured that the ordinance will not be opposed as being repugnant to a Central law, but other legal hurdles remain. The Supreme Court has declared that jallikattu is inherently cruel and contrary to the objectives of the PCA. Unless it recognises culture and tradition as valid grounds to permit events involving bulls, the exemption given to jallikattu may be invalidated.
Meanwhile, the public uprising has gone beyond jallikattu, attained a critical mass as an assertion of Tamil identity and culture and metamorphosed into a protest against mainstream political parties. It is time the protesters took a step back and let the legislative and judicial institutions determine the future of jallikattu. It is also time for them to reassess the cruelty and the risks to life posed by the sport, and link any demand to its reintroduction with the strictest of regulations. Two people were tragically killed and over 120 injured in the jallikattu at Pudukottai on Sunday. A culture that legitimises such mindless and unnecessary death is not Tamil culture. In fact, it is no culture at all.