By Abraham Thomas
New Delhi: A State Government headed by a diehard atheist like Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on Tuesday took shelter behind religion to seek relaxation of a Supreme Court ban on Jallikatu, an ancient bullfight tradition prevalent in Tamil Nadu.
Karunanidhi had triggered a major controversy by hurling invectives on Lord Ram while supporting the construction of Sethusamudaram canal project and questioned the entire historicity of Ramayana, thereby the very existence of Hindu religion.
The same Government on Tuesday was seen making an earnest plea to redeem the primitive bullfight in the name of preserving religious sentiments of over 400 villages in Tamil Nadu, giving an occasion for the court question the State’s credentials in doing so.
Accepting the State’s plea with an added pinch of salt, the Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, Justices RV Raveendran and JM Panchal said, "The Government (Tamil Nadu) itself says we want to preserve religious sentiments. But we don’t know if the same argument may be put forth in other cases as well." While the court’s silence said it all, the Bench chose not to spell out the S-word though senior advocate KK Venugopal appearing for the petitioner disclosed it in as many words.
Adopting the religious line of argument to defend the 400-year-old sport, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium in his characteristic persuasive style impressed upon the court that a few stray incidents of torture or cruelty caused to bulls does not reveal the full picture. He was referring to the video recording shown in court by the Animal Welfare Board that filed the petition.
The images revealed a shocking picture of bulls being administered alcohol and chilly powder rubbed on its eyes before letting it into an arena swelling with participants. Instances of deaths and scores being injured in the course of the fight had further prompted the court to impose the stay.
The State Government in its application for modification of the stay order accepted that deaths were a "necessary incident" of Jallikattu. But it annexed a set of proposed guidelines to ensure that "public sentiments attached to the festival are kept intact without endangering human or animal lives".
Jallikattu is a festival where the temple bull (sacred bull) is brought into the arena with a coin hung around its neck. In the arena, trained men are supposed to dislodge the coin from the enraged bull, symbolic of man’s triumph to overcome evil, said Subramanium, representing the Tamil Nadu Government.
The court agreed to lift the ban but with strings attached. The Bench said that the organisers of the event, mainly private groups and organisations, should obtain prior permission from the concerned Collector or District Collector before holding of such event. After permission is granted, the same will be entered and registered.
Animal Husbandry officials will be entrusted with the task to inspect whether any drugs, alcohol, chilly powder is administered to the bulls. Even participants in the fight will be registered, numbered and given a separate attire. On learning that 12 districts in the State comprising 400 villages hold such an event during the months of January and February, the court suggested that at a time, only one event would be held in a district supervised by the Deputy Collector. He will present a report of the event two weeks after the event ends.
Authorities will have to ensure proper medical facilities are available at the venue and veterinary teams must be present to attend to the animals as well. In addition, the court allowed the Animal Welfare Board to have its observers to monitor the event from a vantage point and the same to be even videographed by Doordarshan or any Government media with adequate security.