Indian Supreme Court flipflops on bullfights

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2008:

NEW DELHI–As many as 400 villages in the
Madurai region of Tamil Nadu held traditional
mass participation bullfights called jallikattu
during the Pongal harvest festival on January 17,
2008, after a three-judge panel of the Supreme
Court of India on January 15 reversed an order
halting jallikattu issued by a two-judge panel of
the Supreme Court just four days earlier.
The original order kept in effect a ban
on jallikattu rendered by the Supreme Court in
July 2007, reversing a verdict by the Madras
High Court that allowed it. The Supreme Court is
to hear an appeal of the July 2007 verdict filed
by the government of Tamil Nadu later in 2008.
Jallikattu was allowed this year under
condition, summarized the Deccan Herald, that
“the authorities shall take all precaution that
the animals are not tortured. There would be no
cruelty on the animals. No liquor, no injury to
any of the bulls.”

Tamil Nadu assistant solicitor general
Gopal Subramanium told the Supreme Court that
jallikattu should be permitted as a
constitutionally protected exercise of religion.
“There is a belief that if the bullfight is not
organised, there will not be a good harvest next
year,” Subramanium contended.
Responded the Supreme Court panel, “We
do not approve of all the reasons given by the
State of Tamil Nadu for modifying the order.
However, it is pointed out that this is a part of
the religious festival of Pongal, and villages
have been celebrating the same from time
Subramanium cited intelligence reports
asserting that “In most villages, the people
have decided to defy the Supreme Court order and
to go ahead with jallikattu as usual. This
situation would create a major law and order
problem in many placesŠ”
Responded one justice, according to J.
Venkatesan of The Hindu, “If you say a law and
order problem will arise in implementing the
order, then no order can be passed by this
court,” since any law must be enforced.
On January 16, the eve of Pongal,
Coimbatore police arrested PETA founder Ingrid
Newkirk, PETA/India staff member N.G. Jayasimha,
and a watchman after Newkirk blindfolded a statue
of Mohandas Gandhi as part of an anti-jallikattu
The three were charged with four offenses
each, including “intentional insult with intent
to provoke breach of the peace,” and “deliberate
and malicious acts intended to outrage the
religious feelings of a class by insulting its
religion or beliefs.”
In addition, “Inspector Cederick Manuel
was transferred to the City Police Armed Reserve
for failing to stop the protest,” reported V.S.
Palaniappan of The Hindu.
Responded Newkirk, “Blindfolding the
statue was only a sign of respect for Gandhi, to
close his eyes toward the horror meted out to
animals in the name of jallikattu.”

Fights go on

“Hours after the Supreme Court cleared
the conduct of jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, the
event was held amidst tight security at Palamedu
in Madurai district,” reported D. Karthikeyan
and S. Vijay Kumar of The Hindu. “Eighty-three
persons were injured, 14 of them seriously, in
the six-hour-long native sport in which unarmed
men attempted to tame raging bulls. A total of
397 bulls and 339 registered tamers participated.
Fourteen bulls were rejected on medical grounds.”
At Alanganallur, wrote S. Vijay Kumar
and C. Jaishankar of The Hindu, “A team of
veterinary doctors examined the bulls for
intoxication or drugging. Bullfighters also
underwent medical tests. Of the 370 persons who
volunteered to enter the arena, only 347 were
allowed. The remainder were disqualified on
medical grounds. Forty two of the 427 bulls
brought from all over the southern districts were
rejected on grounds of lack of fitness or
sharpened horns. Hundreds of police were
deployed along the public gallery and at
vulnerable points. Double barricading separated
spectators from the participants. Strict access
control was maintained at the arena. Taming the
bull meant holding on to his hump for some
distance. Those who tried to hold the animal by
his tail or legs were removed.
“Unlike before, participants were split
into small groups and allowed to enter the arena
one after the other,” wrote Kumar and
Jaishankar. “On many occasions, district
collector S.S. Jawahar came on the public address
system to warn those violating norms. Upset over
being removed from the arena or gallery, some
persons pelted the police with stones,”
Sixteen people were hurt at the
Alanganallur jallikattu, six of them seriously.
Efforts to enforce the Supreme
Court-imposed restrictions on jallikattu were
less stringently enforced in other districts.
“Sixty-nine persons, including
spectators, were injured at the jallikattu held
at Siravayal, near Sivaganga,” Kumar and
Jaishankar reported.
At Theni, jallikattu spectator Muthu
Rawther, 70, fell into the arena and was
fatally gored. “The death led to two groups of
his relatives attacking each other,” said The
Hindu. “V. Iyappan, his wife Lakshmi, and M.
Iyappan were attacked with sickles and lethal
Similar events involving buffalo, called
dhirio, were banned by the Goa High Court in
1997, at request of People for Animals.
Congress Party leaders in Goa have campaigned on
a promise to amend the federal Prevention of
Cruelty Towards Animal Act to reinstate dhirio.
Buffalo fights have also been banned in Madhya
Pradesh, though some villages have defied the
Animal advocates in Assam had hoped to
invoke these precedents and the earlier Supreme
Court of India rulings to stop harvest festival
buffalo fights there, called bhogali bihu.
People for Animals/Assam president
Sangita Goswami also cited the same sections of
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act this
year in trying to stop cockfights and staged
fights among wild-caught bulbuls, a songbird
species common to most of India.
Despite her efforts, reported the Indian
Express, at least 150 buffalo were used in
bhogali bihu at Ahahat Guri, 80 kilometers east
of Guwahati, the Assam capital, and “more than
250 bulbuls took part in a day-long bulbul fight
at Hajo, a temple town about 30 kilometers west
of Guwahati.”
Meanwhile in Spain
The effort of traditionalists to preserve
jallikattu and similar events in India mirrors
efforts of traditionalists in Spain to preserve
traditional Spanish-style bullfighting. Citing
low ratings, the Spanish state television
network Radiotelevisió Española on December 5,
2007 omitted bullfighting coverage from its next
projected nine-year budget. RTVE debuted by
broadcasting a bullfight in 1948. Parliamentary
conservatives pledged to try to restore the
bullfighting budget, but more than 70% of the
Spanish public expressed no interest in
bullfighting in opinion polls.
Even as bullfight crowds and television
audiences decline, however, participation in
“running with the bulls” events is still growing.
A goring at the 2007 edition of the best known
such event, the week-long Feast of San Fermin in
Navarre, Spain, brought the human death toll up
to 14 since 1924–but despite the aura of danger
surrounding the San Fermin bull running, made
famous by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel The
Sun Also Rises, the rate of deaths and injuries
among the 18,000 participants per year who sprint
a half kilometer ahead of bulls en route to the
San Fermin bull ring may be less than the death
and injury rate among jaywalkers in big cities at
rush hour.
Among the oddest of San Fermin knockoffs
is a “Running of the Reindeer” scheduled for
February 24, 2008 as part of the annual Fur
Rendezvous festival in Anchorage, Alaska. As of
January 3, 2008, 40 participants had
registered, at $20 apiece, reported Beth Bragg
of the Anchorage Daily News.

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