Banning jallikattu – and new visions for animal welfare, part one

rescued calf IMG_6333


The recent Supreme Court of India ruling banning the cruel “sports” of bull fighting (jallikattu) and bull racing is one of the most remarkable documents ever issued, by any country, in setting out a fundamental legal basis in support of animal welfare.


Here is a brief summary of the ruling, with some quotes from the court’s judgment:




“All living creatures have inherent dignity and a right to live peacefully and the right to protect their well-being…”


“Human life, we often say, is not like animal existence, a view having anthropocentric bias, forgetting the fact that animals have also got intrinsic worth and value.”


In its 103 page judgment, the Court considers both the arguments of the State of Tamil Nadu, presenting the case for continuing to hold jallikattu events – and also the case for banning jallikattu on the grounds of cruelty, brought by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).


Animals in Indian tradition


Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan who wrote the Supreme Court ruling countered Tamil Nadu’s assertion that jallikattu is a part of Tamil Nadu culture and tradition by referring to much older tradition, extant for thousands of years, “the well-being of the bull is Tamil culture and tradition, they do not approve of infliction of any pain or suffering on the bulls … Tamil tradition and culture are to worship the bull and the bull is always considered as the vehicle of Lord Shiva…Jallikattu or the bullock cart race, as practiced now, has never been the tradition or culture of Tamil Nadu.”


He goes on quote ancient sacred writings, in the Isha Upanishad, to illustrate the true tradition and culture of India, “As early as 1500-1600 BC in the Isha Upanishad, it is professed as follows: “The universe along with its creatures belongs to the land. No creature is superior to any other. Human beings should not be above nature. Let no one species encroach over the rights and privileges of other species.”


This is the view against speciesism that is subscribed to by most of today’s animal rights advocates, and it was written down in India over 3,500 years ago.


Animals in international law


There follows, in the court document, a discussion of international views of animals and animal law. Justice Radhakrisnan points out that , in general, the United Nations “has safeguarded the rights of human beings,” but not those of animals.


The World Charter for Nature, however, was passed by the UN General Assembly on October 28, 1982. It states, “that every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man.”


Many countries guarantee extensive protection to animals:


“German Animal Welfare Law, especially Article 3, provides far-reaching protections to animals… Countries like Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia have enacted legislation to include animal welfare” in their national Constitutions, and the U.K and Austria protect animals in their animal welfare acts. India accords protection to animals in its Constitution. The Animal Welfare Act, 2010 (Norway) states “animals have an intrinsic value which is irrespective of the usable value they may have for man. Animals shall be treated well and be protected from the danger of unnecessary stress and strain.”


The World Health Organization has recognized the five freedoms of animals:

(i) freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition;

(ii) freedom from fear and distress;

(iii) freedom from physical and thermal discomfort;

(iv) freedom from pain, injury and disease; and

(v) freedom to express normal patterns of behavior.


Animals in the Indian Constitution


Justice Radhakrishnan explains that when Article 19 (1) (f) was deleted from the Indian Constitution, this meant that the right to property, while still recognized as a right, is no longer a fundamental right. Animals are universally recognized as property; however, this “is now only a legal right, not a fundamental right.” This distinction means that animals do have intrinsic rights, and human property rights do not take precedence over the fundamental rights of animals. This allows Parliament to pass animal protection laws.


Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution states that it is a fundamental duty of every citizen “to have compassion for living creatures,” which means having concern for their suffering, and extending sympathy and kindliness towards them. India’s was the first Constitution in the world to require of citizens that they be kind to animals.





Justice Radhakrishnan then states that jallikattu and bullock cart racing “inherently involve pain and suffering.” This is because it is not part of the nature of bulls to enjoy running. They are not like horses, and they do not run unless they are forced to try to flee by being mistreated. For them, running is a flight response.


There is presented in detail the cruel and inhumane treatment of the bulls, in numerous incidents that were witnessed and documented by PETA India and the AWBI, at jallikattu events.


The Supreme Court declares that the “right to dignity and fair treatment is, therefore, not confined to human beings alone, but to animals as well.”


To be continued in part two.  


To visit the Facebook page of the Animal Welfare Board of India, click here.  


Top photo: Sharon St Joan / A rescued calf at Blue Cross of India


Second photo: © Christian Bridgwater / / A sheep on a mountain.


Third photo: Sharon St Joan / Painting of Nandi, the vahana of Shiva, south India.



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