Chennai’s Marina Beach, which overlooks the Bay of Bengal, had seen a sea of a different temper and composure over the past week. The beach witnessed the footfall of around a million people moving in and out in support of the cause of jallikattu, which has evolved to become a movement in support of farmers. Organised groups, quick and sensible communication, stable supplies of food and water, clean surroundings, a platform for the people (farmers, supporters, performers) to express themselves, support to commuters, free passage to ambulances, support to the police personnel and a lot of discipline marked the protest. There have been a few allegations about mischievous people trying to hijack the discussion towards frivolous and volatile topics. This, however, was a tiny minority. Above all, the spirit of non-violence was kept alive in the best possible manner.
It was a movement that cut across all the divisive elements, be it caste, religion or gender, which have generally marred the effectiveness of protests of this scale. Indeed, the jallikattu protest sets an example of how a contentious issue should be raised and addressed. I think it would have made Mahatma Gandhi proud!
The question now is, can the struggle be said to be finished now that the bill to legalise jallikattu has been unanimously passed by the government of Tamil Nadu on 23 January, replacing the ordinance passed on the 21s?
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act was amended by the State Legislature to permit the conduct of jallikattu, and the Chief Minister said that the Centre had assured support to the government of Tamil Nadu. The PCA Act falls in List 3 of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution, commonly referred to as the Concurrent List. Laws on subjects within this list can be passed both by the Centre and states.
However, in the case of a conflict between laws made by the Centre and the state government, the law passed by the central government will stand over the state law.
According to Article 254, there is a provision for the state law to stay in force even if it is against the Cente’s law, provided the President of India gives his or her assent. This however, depends again on the Centre’s nod because Article 74 of the Constitution says that the the President shall act in accordance with the advice given by the Council of Ministers. Such advice is binding on the President.Thus, the Centre’s support in the matter is important to ensure the validity of the law that the Tamil Nadu government will pass.
The central government had issued a notification in January 2016 in connection to jallikattu, which was challenged in court by animal-welfare organisations. The decision of the court in this matter was postponed in the wake of the protests. Now, in the light of the fresh law by the Tamil Nadu government, the Centre has withdrawn the aforesaid notification, thereby rendering the cases filed invalid.
For now, one last hurdle is the plea filed by the Animal Welfare Board and other animal rights organisations seeking to quash the bill passed by the Tamil Nadu government to allow the conduct of the sport. The Supreme Court will hear the plea on 30 January 2017. At this juncture, we present our observations of the 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court, regarded as a landmark in this matter delivered on 7 May 2014.
While banning the sport, in Para 73 of the judgment, the court stated that the PCA Act is an eco-centric legislation that upholds the idea of compassion towards animals. As a response to this stance, the importance and the relevance of the sport need to be looked at in the process of breed conservation. The sport acts as an incentive to promote the demand for native breeds in farming communities, thus stabilising and diversifying an ordinary farmer’s revenue sources.
The plea from jallikattu supporters is for the Supreme Court to consider the case under Article 29 which says that any section of Indian citizens having a distinct language, script or culture of their own has the right to conserve the same. Also, to keep in mind that Article 48 directs the State to take steps towards preserving and improving breeds of cows and other milch and draught cattle.
We believe in striking a balance between the sport and the idea of animal cruelty in a way that fosters conservation of native breeds on one hand and enforces strict rules complemented by stern action against excesses in jallikattu on the other. The practice of imposing bans should be avoided to the best possible extent, paving the way for efficient and effective regulation.
Any other method that would promote the conservation and enrichment of native breeds is welcome as a credible alternative to the existing system. In the end, the goal is to facilitate multiple practices towards conserving our native breeds, thereby improving the quality of conservation as a whole.