Rostrum’s Law Review | ISSN: 2321-3787

Jallikattu: A Celebrated Culture or Animal Abuse?


From Jallikattu to cock fighting, animal rights activists of India have been fierce in every way. Veganism is a new lifestyle which is gaining popularity in many states. Thousands of chickens, goats, and cows get slaughtered mercilessly in slaughter houses for the non-vegetarian lovers and here is where the Animal Welfare come into picture, Animal welfare is the concern about whether animals are well treated and not harmed for any reason. In addition, it means that animals can be slaughtered if that harm falls under ‘necessary.’ It means that unless it is a necessity, it is justified. PETA while acting for ban of bull fighting across the world, it has also raised their voice against beef ban and ban all kinds of slaughter houses.

Recently, the controversy which was all over the news and on every debating platform in which one side argues for animal rights and other side talk about their traditional or cultural rights, yes we are talking about Jallikattu, the same sport in which bulls are tied, torture, subjected to pain in the name of custom. The motive of this essay is not to criticise Jallikattu but is to give wide range of perspective to look into this sport. On one hand it brings joy to farmers while on the other hand it brings torture, pain to bulls and harm to involved humans. The question which comes here is that whether customs are greater than animal’s right to live in India?

Jallikattu Is A Sport

The first time we heard about ‘Jallikattu’ was in our University when our seniors and batch mates were convincing us to join the protest against the Jallikattu ban. That was the first time when we came to know about this festival. That time this idea of protesting against the ban made us little uncomfortable; not because we hail in a different state and don’t believe in their custom or the importance of this festival but because that time, we had a very vague idea about this festival. We had never witnessed this festival but the picture which comes into our minds after looking into several posters which were streaming everywhere during that protest that there is always a bull larger than any human being and surrounded by intense crowd. Also, we saw the videos of this sport in news and other Tamil channels.

Eventually, we made ourselves aware through our friends and colleagues hailing in and around Tamil Nadu, the significance of this festival and, that in Jallikattu, a man has to run after the bull and take the prize (coins) from its horns, a horde of men chase bulls down a path or an arena, with the bulls agitated enough to attack the crowd that has engulfed them. In the end , the bull that holds out the longest is considered to be the most virile and is allowed to impregnate the female bulls in the village, while other bulls that have been “tamed”, are used for “lesser” activities like farming. This ritual sport is undertaken, to isolate the strongest native individual bull and make sure that the most Darwinian genes are transferred to the next generation of bulls. Also we gathered that for them it is not just a sport, it was a  symbol of pride, status and honour,

Jallikattu is a sport which is as old as Pongal, which is being celebrated for more than 3000 years. This is a traditional bull taming sport of Tamil Nadu which is celebrated usually on Pongal, third day of the four-day Pongal festival. This sport is also referred to several times in Sangam Literature. The term ‘Jallikattu’ is a Tamil word in which ‘jalli’ means ‘silver coin’ and ‘kattu’ means ‘tied.’ In ancient times, a gold coin was wrapped in a piece of cloth which was fastened with coconut fibre around the horns of the bull. To win the prize, men used to hang themselves to the hump of the bull in order to unite the knots. Thousands of people come to gather in Alaganur to witness this event, and gradually, the crowd is everywhere on trees, on lamp-post, house roofs, full of energy and all dressed. Bulls are forced to run straight, therefore, the main road of the village is sealed, with all side lanes barricaded with the wheels of dismantled carts.[1]

Other Sports like Jallikattu

This sport bears resemblances to the one practised in Spain, in which the bulls are specially prepared for that event in which men pit their reflexes and skill against the bull’s brute strength.[2] Like Jallikattu is practised in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh also had a sport of equal traditional value called ‘KodiPandelu’. During cockfights, two birds are incited to fight. One of them may die during the event, and both are often critically injured. The birds may also have metal spurs or knives tied to their legs in order to injure the other bird. However, this sport is banned by Andhra High Court. This sport is illegal under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which states that it is illegal if anyone treats any animal so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or if anyone….. solely with a view to providing entertainment…organises, keeps, uses or acts in the management of any place for animal fighting. Likewise, Dog Fighting is another sport that is popular in Haryana and Punjab. Wherein, two dogs are pitted against one another in a ring. Dogs are encouraged to fight to the death, and the fight can go on for hours – until both dogs are exhausted and at least one is seriously injured or dead.

The” Two” Arguments

Those who support Jallikattu usually rest their arguments on two grounds i.e.-

  • Jallikattu is their cultural or traditional right or it’s their custom and;
  • Jallikattu is their custom which does not harm anyone. But in realty the situation is not as same as they claim.
  1. Custom

Stance of the majority Tamilians who form a large portion of protesters is that they project Jallikattu to be the most important aspect of Tamil cultural identity. However, with time we came to an opinion that in the name of culture, there are many social evils which have prevailed in our culture. Dowry, child marriage, sati, poaching and many other such evils. And, these evils are deep-rooted culturally. But just because it has a ‘culture’ or ‘tradition’ attached to it, doesn’t provide it a defence to be practised. It’s high time that it is realised culture is not static, but in a constant state of flux. It should be realized which practise in the name of “culture” is not detrimental to the society.This Court while examining the scope of Articles 25(1), 2(a), 26(b), 17, 14 and 21, quoted that

Any custom or usage irrespective of even any proof of their existence in pre-constitutional days cannot be countenanced as a source of law to claim any rights when it is found to violate human rights, dignity, social equality and the specific mandate of the Constitution and law made by Parliament. No usage which is found to be pernicious and considered to be in derogation of the law of the land or opposed to public policy or social decency can be accepted or upheld by courts in the country.[3]

Also, as per Tamil tradition and culture, bulls are always considered to be a vehicle of Lord Shiva and therefore, they are to be worship. Even the statement of object and reasons of the TNRJ Act[4] does not state that it has any religion significance. Not only this, the ancient culture and tradition never supported Jallikattu in the form in which it is being conducted today. They do not support or approve any pain or suffering on the bulls in the name of Jallikattu.

This is very sad to look how the act of Jallikattu is also changing with time, previously it was only considered to be an act of bravery and was only practised as a necessary custom but now it is considered for entertainment purpose. On the other hand according to Prevention to Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960 bulls are prohibited from being trained and used for entertainment purposes, either in circuses or streets.[5]Today there are no coins which are tied anymore, but as a token, a piece of symbolic cloth is still fastened around the horn of the bull. Also, as per the rules, not more than one person can attempt to control the bull or hang off its hump, at a time.[6]However, in practice this is not being followed.The question which comes here is entertainment till what extend? What is the use of such entertainment which takes the lives of a creature, which traumatise it, which causes pain and suffer.

  1. It does cause harm to the bull & the people involved.

It is argued that Jallikattu does not harm anyone but  as per the data released by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), around 43 people lost their lives to this sport between 2008 to 2014. Also, four bulls also died over the same period. During this period, around 300 people suffer grievous injuries. Not only this, around 170 spectators and 400 participants suffered serious injuries in various location like Alanganallur, Vadamalpur, Alangudi, Vanniyar, Viduthi, Pudukottai etc.[7] To incite bulls for running, some powder which have a burning sensation is often applied on their private parts. They are also chained, beaten and are subjected to other inhuman practice causing them extreme trauma. According to the studies, bulls adopt fighting behaviour when they feel threatened or frightened; this clearly explains the behaviour of bulls during Jallikattu when they run away from people due to fear and pain. Bulls are beaten, poked, prodded, harassed and jumped on by numerous people. They have their tails bitten and twisted and their eyes and noses filled with irritating chemicals.[8]

India is known for its culture, the way they respect, treat others. Also, as per Art 51 A (g) of the Indian Constitution, every citizen of India should have compassion for all living creature.[9] Even Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nation also quoted once that, ‘The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ Clearly, we have already lost if this is the criteria of weighing a nation. As per section 11(1)(a) of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, it prohibits treating any animal in a way that causes unnecessary pain or suffering, and Section 11(1)(l), prohibits the mutilation of an animal’s body. At this point it is appropriate to quote the words from 1500-600 BC old Upanishads which says,

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.

Contrary to this quote, during Jallikattu it is often seen that human put bulls into pain and sufferings. Pain and suffering are biological traits. Behavioural responses to pain vary greatly fromone species to another, but it is reasonable to suppose that the pain felt by all of these animals is similar to thatfelt by man.”[10] Pain in animal must be avoided as even animals possess pain receptors and a memory which allows them to remember what caused the pain.

Not only it is dangerous to animals but, it is often seen that when a large section of people come to the event they have a high expectation to become a part of the action and in order to do that they often make themselves vulnerable and continue to handle bulls in crude fashion, continue to risk their own lives and create hazard for others as well. The government has also made some rules to regulate this sport and it is often seen that no one really follow those rules. Recently, Supreme Court also issues some guidelines for arena barricades that it should be no less than 8 feet high, but these guidelines were also ignored and the barricade in the main are was a low as 5-1/1 feet. [11] 

Constitutional Point of View

When in mid-January, Tamil Nadu was witness to a popular youth protest against the Supreme Court’s ban on holding Jallikattu—an annual rural sport in which men are pitted against a bull. The peaceful protest, however, ended on a violent note after police intervened to disperse the protesters following an ordinance by the State government to conduct the annual event, which left the student protesters unconvinced.

Tamil Nadu strives to conserve Jallikattu as their cultural right and demand their protection under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution.[12] Where this article is commonly used to protect the interests of minorities, the Article mandates that “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”. In the case of Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College Society case in which it was pointed out that the scope of Article 29 (1) does not necessarily confine to the cultural rights of minorities but may well include the majority. As per the 2014 ban, Tamil Nadu’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017 opened the gates for the conduct of the bull-taming sport despite a 2014 ban by the Supreme Court. That year, in the A. Nagaraja judgment, the Supreme Court held Jallikattu cruelty to bulls.

It was further indicated that the Constitution Bench would also look into whether the 2017 Jallikattu and bullock cart races laws of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra actually sub serve the objective of “prevention” of cruelty to animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.And the PETA petitions contend that the 2017 Jallikattu Act and Rules violate the five internationally recognized freedoms — the freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst; 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.[13]

However it is true to an extent that- incidents of cruelty towards animals have drastically come down after the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act (TNRJ) of 2009, such practices do continue to exist even to this day. And such practices are not the exception but the norm. Even after 2009, the enforcement of rules continues to be shaky given the blow of the cattle owners and organisers and the scant respect for the rule of law and the inability of the State to enforce it in its letter and spirit in an event of such nature and magnitude.[14]

In the case of A. Nagaraja, just because the bull taming sport of Jallikattu was a centuries old tradition, it cannot be justified as Jallikattu sport itself is cruelty on animals and there is prohibition of cruelty. We have to how compassion to the animals. It is our constitutional obligation.

The courts on multiple occasions have held that animals have a fundamental right against infliction of pain.[15] It was held in the landmark judgement of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors.[16]Bulls must not be used in any type of performance which includes races, bullfights. It also added that Governments and Animal Welfare Board must protect the ‘five freedoms’ of animals which includes- freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom from fear and distress and freedom to express normal behaviour.


Be the voice of voiceless!

Animal cruelty has many forms, it could be physical pain or sufferings by beating an animal, it could be mental torturing or confining or transporting an animal in a way that is totally inappropriate for its welfare.

It is very sad to see that we live in India which is known to respect every other creature. Additionally, have one of the fundamental duties of every citizen as mentioned in our constitution to be compassionate to all living creatures. Also, as a matter of fact animals, indeed are important part of our ecosystem therefore, they need proper protection for survival and existence of humankind. There are various organization in and out of India which are working for the protection of animals and these animals are receiving complaints of animal cruelty from acid attacks to illegal transport or from hunting, beating, brutal stoning to even poisoning.

Though, we did support the Jallikattu ban but we also feel that abrupt banning of this ages old sport let to such an uproar. There were people burying themselves till their necks in the Marine beach as an act of protest. All these bizarre protests could have been controlled if government would be to promulgate an Ordinance to lift the ban on Jallikattu. Simultaneously, the Central and Tamil Nadu government should have launched a drive to educate the people about stopping cruelty to animals.

Banning is no solution. The solution lies in banishing the distortions to stop cruelty to animals.

 This article is written by B Ritika Reddy and Priyanshi Agarwal. Ritika and Priyanshi are students at  TNNLS, Tiruchirappalli. This article secure 7th position in the RostrumLegal Essay Competition, 2017.


[1]François Gautier, A Western Journalist on India: The Ferengi’s Columns, (2001), Har- Anand, New Delhi.


[3]N. Adithayan v. Thravancore Dewaswom Board and Others (2002) 8 SCC 106.

[4] The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009.

[5] Section 22(ii), PCA Act, 1960.

[6]The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009.

[7] T.K Rohit, 43 Lives Lost to Jallikattu: AWBI, The Hindu, Chennai, Jan, 14, 2017, 1:17 pm


[8] In the sting operations conducted by PETA, 2016.

[9] Art 51A(g)

[10]dr. broom, Overview of British animal welfare legislation. ” In Animal Welfare and the Law. (Eds). D.E. Blackman, P.N. Humphreys and P. Todd, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 271-280.


[12]Article 29 (1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.

[13]KrishnadasRajagopal, Jallikattu issue to go to Constitution Benchhttps://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Jallikattu-issue-to-go-to-constitution-bench/article21512807.ece, December 12, 2017, The HINDU

[14]SundaraVelavan, Jallikattu: Ethics Versus Entrenched Traditions, https://www.thehindu.com/thread/politics-and-policy/Jallikattu-ethics-versus-entrenched-traditions/article17082324.ece

[15]N R Nair v. Union of India, 2001 (4) SCALE 20; Animal Welfare Board v. A. Nagaraj, Civil Appeal No. 5387 of 2014

[16]Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja&Ors, (2014) 7 SCC 547.

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