Practice of jallikattu

In Context

Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India will deliver its verdict on the validity of Tamil Nadu’s law permitting the practice of jallikattu in the State soon.


  • Meaning: The term ‘jallikattu,’ comes from Tamil terms ‘salli kaasu’ which means coins, and kattu which means package tied to the horns of bulls as prize money
  • It is usually held during the Pongal season.
  • It is a sport where men compete against each other to hold on to the humps of agitated bulls that are released into an open arena. 
  • Historical linkages: Jallikattu is a dated tradition. An ancient reference to bull taming is found in a seal discovered at Mohenjodaro, which is dated between 2,500 BC and 1,800 BC. The sport was called Eru thazuval or “embracing the bull”.

Arguments Against it 

  • The practice of Jallikattu has long been contested, with animal rights groups and the courts concerned over issues of cruelty to animals and the bloody and dangerous nature of the sport that causes death and injuries to both the bulls and human participants.
    • Bull-taming sport “jallikattu” leads to injuries and even fatalities of animals as well as humans and something that involves cruelty cannot be allowed.
  • Perpetuating cruelty cannot be permitted and one cannot have a provision that is destructive of the purpose of legislation like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

State Governments Stand 

  • Jallikattu is both a religious and cultural event celebrated by the people of Tamil Nadu and its influence extends beyond the confines of caste and creed.
  • The Tamil Nadu government, in its affidavit, had described jallikattu as a “practice which is centuries-old and symbolic of a community’s identity
  • It will be viewed as hostile to culture and against the sensitivities of the community.
    • The people of Tamil Nadu have a right to preserve their traditions and culture”.
  • Jallikattu does not violate the principles of compassion and humanism
    • The traditional and cultural significance of Jallikattu and its intertwining with the sociocultural milieu is taught in the high school curriculum so that the significance is maintained beyond generations.

Supreme Court’s Observation 

  • In 2014, in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court declared jallikattu illegitimate.
    • The court found that the practice was cruel and caused the animal unnecessary pain and suffering.
      • the hearings also underlined the deficiencies inherent in the Constitution when it comes to addressing questions of animal welfare. 
      • Since then, Tamil Nadu has made efforts to resurrect the sport’s legality. It is that act of revival which is now at stake.
  • In December 2022, the Supreme Court reserved for judgment a batch of petitions seeking to strike down a Tamil Nadu law that protects Jallikattu by claiming that the bull-taming sport is a cultural heritage of the State and is protected under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution.
    • Article 29 (1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.


  • The bone of contention is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017, which had re-opened the gates for the conduct of the popular bull-taming sport in the name of culture and tradition despite a 2014 ban by the Supreme Court.
    • it did so on the basis that both the state and the Union government have the power to legislate on issues concerning cruelty to animals 
Constitutional Safeguards and Legislation in India for protection of animalsThe Constitution of India establishes a duty on both the State as well as on people to ensure security and conservation of animals at all costs.  Article 48A:According to Article 48A, it is the responsibility of the State to improve the strength of animals and safeguard the wildlife of the country. It shall strive to enhance the population of animals and ensure that they are protected from all attacks. Article 51A(g):According to Article 51A(g), it is the Fundamental Duty of every citizen to protect and improve forests and wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures. Article 21:Due to the expansive interpretation taken by the courts, the rights of the animals are also protected under Article 21 of the Constitution. Every species has a right to life and security, in accordance with the law of the land, and this right is not merely limited to human beings but is expanded to include within its ambit animals and birds as well. Parliament enacted the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act), 1960.The Wildlife Protection Act, of 1972 aims to preserve the wildlife species of both fauna and flora and establishes reserved places for their survival. 

Conclusion and Way Forward 

  • Any effort at securing animal welfare will have to be grounded in our own rights as human beings.
    • If such a reading of Article 21 allows for a kinder, more compassionate society, where animals are treated with dignity, it is perhaps the interpretation that the Supreme Court must prefer. 
  • The court’s venture must be to independently construe Article 21, to see whether a finding that the right partakes freedom to live in a society free of animal cruelty fits with India’s larger constitutional design. 
  • In last, How the court chooses to resolve the questions posed to it could come to have a deep bearing on the future of animal rights and safety in our country.


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