India: The Legal Battle : Animal Welfare Vis-À-Vis Culture And Tradition

Last Updated: 13 March 2017
Article by Bornali Roy and Tanuka De

Most Read Contributor in India, December 2018

The current legal battle was triggered in Supreme Court when a notification1 was issued by Ministry of Environment and Forest on July 11, 2011 banning use of various animals including bulls as performing animals. A Division Bench2 of Supreme Court was called upon to examine the same along with a number of other legal questions including the validity of the Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Regulation Act of 2009 ("TNJR Act") in the judgment of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A Nagaraja3 (Civil Appeal No. 5387 of 2014). The matter involved writ petition filed before the Supreme Court4 as well as appeals from Bombay High Court and Madras High Court5. The Bombay High Court had upheld the validity of the notification of July 11, 2011 while the Madras High Court had upheld the validity of the TNJR Act. The judgment upheld the validity of the notification. Further, it was found that the conduct of Jallikattu was violative of the provisions of the central act "Prevention to Cruelty to Animals Act (59 of 1960)", more particularly, sections 3, 11(1)(a), 11(1)(m) (ii) and 22 of the said Act.

Jallikattu comes from the words, 'calli' and 'kattu' which means 'coins' and 'package' respectively; is a traditional, cultural and ritualistic sport involving the daring stance of men trying to establish claim over a bundle of coin tied to the horn of a raging bull. That act is synonymous to valor and pride (and occasionally the hope of getting a bride), because, what brings more masculinity and pride, than being able to pull a stunt before a raging bull, jeopardizing one's own as well as the cattle's life, that too all in the name of culture!

As interpreted by the Supreme Court of India6,

"Para 16 Jallikattu refers to silver or gold coins tied on the bulls' horns. People, in the earlier time, used to fight to get at the money placed around the bulls' horns which depicted as an act of bravery. Later, it became a sport conducted for entertainment and was called "Yeruthu Kattu", in which a fast moving bull was corralled with ropes around its neck. Started as a simple act of bravery, later, assumed different forms and shapes like Jallikattu (in the present form), Bull Race etc., which is based on the concept of flight or fight. Jallikattu includes Manjuvirattu, Oormaadu, Vadamadu, Erudhu, Vadam, Vadi and all such events involve taming of bulls."

The Indian legislature, with the intent to prevent such sufferings and unnecessary infliction of pain on animal promulgated the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. As has been already discussed, in the Supreme Court judgment in Animal Welfare Board of India Vs. A Nagaraj, the practice of jallikattu was held to be in violation of section 3, 11(1)(a), 11(1)(m)(ii) and 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 on the following grounds:

i Violation of section 11(1)(a), 11(1)(c), 11(1)(l) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960

ii Mutilation of Ear: It is observed that almost 80% of the bulls have their external pinna cut off. The logic behind this is that this would enable the animal to hear sounds even from the back.

iii Fracture and Dislocation of Tail Bones: Many bulls suffered from dislocated or even amputated tails caused by deliberate pulling and twisting.

iv Twisting of Bull's tail: to induce fear and pain while they are in the waiting area.

As has been stated in the judgment, "Para 27 Section 3 of the Act deals with duties of persons having charge of animals, which is mandatory in nature and hence confer corresponding rights on animals. Rights so conferred on animals are thus the antithesis of a duty and if those rights are violated, law will enforce those rights with legal sanction.

Forcing and pulling bulls by nose ropes into the narrow closed enclosure of vadi vassal, subjecting it to all forms of torture, fear, pain and suffering by forcing it to go the arena and also over-powering it at the arena by the Bull tamers, are not for the well- being of the animal.

Organizers of Jallikattu are depriving the rights guaranteed to the bulls under Section 3 of PCA Act."

i Poking Bulls with Knives and Sticks.

ii Irritant solutions were rubbed into the eyes and noses of bulls. Using nose ropes.

iii Forcing Bulls to drink fluid likely to be liquor.

Section 22 of the PCA Act places restriction on exhibition and training of performing animals. It had been observed in the judgment,

"Para 34 Bulls, therefore, in our view, cannot be a performing animal, 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 PCA Act. Chapter V of the PCA Act deals with the performing animals."

Present day scenario

Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ("MoEF") had issued a new notification7 dated January 7, 2016 in suppression of its 2011 notification. MoEF has justified that its January 7, 2016 notification issued to circumvent the Hon'ble apex Court ban by allowing the exhibition and use of bulls for jallikattu and bullockcart races, saying that jallikattu "encourages breeding of indigenous bulls." The new notification has carved out an exception for Jallikkattu and bullock cart races stating the following:

"Provided that bulls may be continued to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat in the manner by the customs of any community or practiced traditionally under the customs or as a part of culture, in any part of the country8..."

A batch9 of petitions challenging the said notification came up for hearing before Hon'ble Supreme Court on January 12, 2016. The Court after hearing the parties issued notice and stayed the notification. Subsequently, protests in Tamil Nadu intensified and one of the raging contentions for protest now is the contention that Jallikattu is part of the culture and tradition of Tamil Nadu. However, in the 2014 judgment, the apex Court had dealt with the same issue and stated that the evolved practice is not a part of tradition or culture.

"Para 42 Jallikattu means, silver or gold coins tied to the bulls horns and in olden days those who get at the money to the bulls horns would marry the daughter of the owner. Jallikattu or the bullock cart race, as practised now, has never been the tradition or culture of Tamil Nadu."


It is very important to realize and appreciate that old might not always be gold to reach a reasonable and compassionate end to this discord currently between the Centre and the State. As has been rightly observed by the bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Rohinton F. Nariman while putting a stay on the notification that,

"You say that jallikattu is an age-old tradition, so was child marriage until it was declared a crime10."

However, the battle also had a third angle to it. Another, fact that added on to trigger the battle was the upcoming Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections in 2016. It should be borne in mind that the Jallikattu belt is dominated by the politically powerful Thevar community, which has politicians and considerable clout in several parties. All parties in Tamil Nadu welcomed the Centre's decision of removing ban from the cultural practice, thus, giving the dispute a fresh start.


1. Notification No. GSR528(E), "Specifies the list of animals not to be exhibited or trained as performing animals"

2. Hon'ble Justice K. S. Radhakrishnana and Hon'ble Justice P. C. Ghose

3. (2014) 7 SCC 547

4. SLP No. 13199 of 2012

5. Writ Petition No. 145 of 2011

6. (2014) 7 SCC 547 at Para. 16

7. Notification No. GSR13(E), "Specified animals shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animal"

8. Point 6, Notification No. GSR13(E), "Specified animals shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animal.

9. WP (C) 24 of 2016 with WP (C) 23 of 2016, WP (C) 25 of 2016, WP (C) 26 of 2016, WP (C) 27 of 2016 and Contempt Petition (C) No. D 1296/2016.

10 The Hindu, if-jallikattu-is-an-age-old-tradition-SC-asks-Centre/ article14509747.ece#!, New Delhi, July 26, 2016, updated

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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