Thursday 30 May 2024

Jallikattu, Dhirio and the common leash of animal rights

Adv Moses Pinto | MAY 20, 2023, 11:17 PM IST
Jallikattu, Dhirio and the common leash of animal rights

The Supreme Court has recently stated that Jallikkattu happens to be a part of Tamil Nadu's cultural heritage while giving its verdict.

The Apex court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Tamil Nadu government's law that allowed the traditional sport. 

Among these petitions included a plea by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The Supreme Court had earlier observed that the traditional sport could not be termed a blood sport since weapons were not involved. The observations also concluded that any instances of bleeding of the animal as a consequence were exceptions and not the norm.

Chronology of Events

The traditional sport of Jallikattu became controversial in 2014 over claims of animal cruelty.

Petitioners like PETA called the sport cruel and challenged the Tamil Nadu government’s law upholding the sport.

The Supreme Court had banned bulls for Jallikattu and other similar purposes in Tamil Nadu and other states such as Maharashtra and Karnataka.

In 2015, the top court dismissed the Tamil Nadu government's plea and upheld its verdict. The Supreme Court observed that the sport amounted to animal cruelty.

The Supreme Court later dismissed a notification issued by the Centre allowing the sport despite regulations.

In 2017, the Tamil Nadu government passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act 2017. Interestingly, Jallikattu was exempt from the provisions of the Act, 2017.

Thereafter, in 2018, the Supreme Court bench decided to take up the petitions challenging the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act 2017 by observing that the batch of petitions should be taken up by a larger bench.

The Apex Court said these petitions raised questions on the interpretation of Article 29(1) of the Constitution.  

The Animal Welfare Board of India immediately challenged the Tamil Nadu government's amendment. The Animal Welfare Board claimed the amendment opened a pathway to do so, whereas the central law prohibited animal cruelty.

Constitutional Background

Article 29(1) provides any section of the citizens residing in India having a distinct culture, language, or script, the right to conserve their culture, language and script.

But can Article 29(1) be interpreted in such a manner to subvert the directive principles of state policy which have also been enshrined in the very same Constitution?

In the same ruling, the Supreme Court declared Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution to be the “magna carta of animal rights” in India and included the right to life of animals under Article 21 to value their lives as much as humans. 

With the 42nd Amendment of 1976, Article 51 A of the Constitution laid down the Fundamental Duties of Indian citizens. Article 51 A (g) states that it is the duty of Indian citizens ‘to protect and improve the natural environment and have compassion for all living creatures’.

Article 21 states that everyone has the right to life and cannot be deprived of life or personal liberty unless established by law. The Supreme Court has stated animals have rights under this article during the famous Jallikattu (bull taming).

The Directive Principles of State Policy in Article 48 of the Constitution lays the foundation of animal welfare state policies. According to Article 48, the State shall aim to improve animal husbandry through a modern scientific approach, while preserving, enhancing, and preventing slaughter of cattle. 

Furthermore, according to Article 48A, added during the 42nd Amendment, the State endeavours to maintain and protect the ecology, forests, wildlife and the environment in the country.

Historical significance of Jallikattu

Jallikattu is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu and is an attraction in the Pongal festival. The tradition has been in practice for around 3,500 years.

A bull such as the Pulikulam or Kangayam breed is released into a crowd of people. Participants attempt to grab the hump on the bull's back with both arms.


Dhirio is seen as part and parcel of Ganesh Chaturthi which is celebrated for a week by Hindus in Goa.

Dhirio has many aficionados in South Goa and many bullfights are held clandestinely in the fields on the coast, sometimes even impromptu on a Sunday. 

The secret communication system among dhirio-lovers ensures that they all know and participate but others are kept out of the loop, especially animal activists.

Enthusiasts and punters bet thousands of rupees on it and dhirios go on. 

Bulls are specially reared and trained to fight each other and have horns filed and sharpened to go in for the kill, so people watching dhirios let out lusty cheers and loosen their purse strings for this bloodsport.

Illegality of Sports Betting

>> According to Public Gambling Act (1867), all kinds of gambling in India are illegal.

>> Section 30 of the Indian Contract Act declares the wagering agreement as void ab initio.

Common Law

The act of two bull owners agreeing to place a wager on whose bull shall kill or maim the other in exchange for a consideration to be forfeited in favour of the winning bull’s owner shall always be termed as a wagering agreement in the eyes of the law and would be void ab initio and even though these kinds of agreements have not been expressly banned under the Indian Contract Act, 1872, the mechanism of enforcing the wagering agreement against the party losing the wager is unavailable in the legal enforcement machinery.


Hence, even if political propaganda seeks to afford hopes to the proponents of Dhirio in Goa in light of the Supreme Court verdict on Jallikattu, the voidable nature of the wagering agreement upon which the blood-sport has been placated would always surface as the legislative impediment in passing such a Bill in the legislative assembly, especially one that is predicated upon the cruelty to animals.

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