Published on: May 24, 2023



Why in news? Jallikattu, the traditional rural sport involving bulls, has received judicial approval.


  • A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has ruled that the amendment made in 2017 by the Tamil Nadu Assembly to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, facilitating the smooth conduct of the sport with stringent regulations, is valid.
  • The court has, thus, settled the question whether the sport should be disallowed on the ground that it involves unnecessary cruelty to animals and violates animal rights.
  • The verdict is also applicable to other sports involving bovines such as Kambala (buffalo race) in Karnataka and bullock-cart racing in Maharashtra.

The  controversies over jallikattu

  • The main conflict over the sport, involves sturdy bulls being let loose into the arena and being chased by men who are considered winners if they manage to hold on to the humps of the animals without being thrown off, is whether it entails unnecessary cruelty. Animal rights activists have been arguing that the manner in which it is held is cruel because it inflicts pain and suffering.
  • The ban caused a bitter divide in society between two camps: those who believed that jallikattu should be organised without any hindrance as it was part of the State’s tradition and culture, and that its continuance was needed to preserve the native breeds of bulls on the one hand; and those who believed it cannot be regulated at all as it amounted to cruelty and ill-treatment of animals in any form.
  • Further, the number of human casualties during the events every year also raised concern about the safety of the participants and spectators.

Why did the Supreme Court ban the sport?

  • In 2014, the Supreme Court’s division bench in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India vs A. Nagaraja and others held Jallikattu and bullock cart races to be contrary to Sections 3, 11(1)(a) and (m) of the 1960 Act, enacted by Parliament. The bench had construed the provisions of the Act in the backdrop of Article 51-A (g) and (h) as also Articles 14 and 21 of the constitution.
  • In 2014, Jallikattu was regulated by the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009. The bench held this Act to be repugnant to the provisions of the 1960 Act and to be void, having regard to Article 254(1) of the constitution.
  • On January 7, 2016, a notification was issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) which prohibited the exhibition or training of bulls as performing animals. However, an exception was carved and it was specified that bulls might be continued to be trained as performing animals at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and for bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat in accordance with customs or culture in any part of the country.
  • In Karnataka, the race involved male buffaloes, known as “Kambala”. This exception was made subject to certain conditions seeking to reduce the pain and suffering of bulls while being used in such sports.
  • Meanwhile, in 2017, the three state amendment Acts received Presidential assent. These amendments sought to legitimise various types of bovine sports including Jallikattu, bullock cart race and Kambala.
  • It held the Tamil Nadu law regulating the sport as repugnant to the Central legislation on preventing cruelty to animals. It said the Act was “anthropocentric” in the sense that it sought to protect the interests of organisers, spectators and participants and not the animals. While The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA) was an “ecocentric” law.

The Bench ruled that the provisions of the State law were contrary to provisions of the Central Act in three ways:

  • it went against the statutory duty of anyone with the care or charge of any animal to ensure its well-being and prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering,
  • the bar on using animals solely for entertainment and inciting them to fight
  • the restrictions on the training and exhibition of performing animals.

The court cited the ‘Five Freedoms’ recognised for animals by the World Health Organization for Animal Health —

  • freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition;
  • freedom from fear and distress;
  • freedom from physical and thermal discomfort;
  • freedom from pain, injury and disease; and
  • freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour

Tamil Nadu’s response

  • A massive agitation broke out in January 2017 against the government’s failure to facilitate the conduct of jallikattu for successive years, with tens of thousands of people, especially youngsters. This led to a surge of support for jallikattu. The government of then Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam agreed to take legislative measures. With the Union government’s cooperation, it obtained the President’s prior instruction to issue an ordinance that sought to remove the basis for the 2014 Supreme Court judgment.
  • To avoid repugnancy with the Central law, the ordinance, which was replaced by an Act within a few days, was adopted as a State-specific amendment to the PCA itself. It was framed in a way that would define jallikattu as an event organised to promote and follow tradition and culture and to preserve the native breeds of bulls. Its clauses were worded to remove the applicability of the PCA provisions to jallikattu.
  • It added the sport as another exception to the list of acts the PCA itself allows as those that do not amount to cruelty (other exceptions include dehorning, castration and destruction of stray dogs and other animals).
  • It made the restriction on use of animals for performances inapplicable to jallikattu, besides including the sport to the list of ‘exemptions’ from the rule against using some animals as performing animals. With the President giving his assent, the amendment became law in Tamil Nadu.

The  SC ruling now

  • In its latest ruling, a Constitution Bench has accepted the basic argument that jallikattu is part of the cultural heritage of Tamils.
  • It observed that the judiciary cannot examine the question whether something was part of tradition and culture, and that it would defer to the legislature’s view in this regard. It upheld the Amendment Act, saying it has now legitimised the bovine sport and that it cannot be termed a piece of colourable legislation.

About Jallikattu

  • Jallikattu is a sport conducted as a part of Mattu Pongal. The Mattu Pongal is the 3rd day of the four-day-long festival Pongal. It is also known as Manju Virattu or Eru Thazhuvuthal. ‘Jallikattu’ is evolved from the words ‘Calli’ (coins) and ‘Kattu’ (tie), which denotes a bundle of coins is tied to the bull’s horns