All about Makar Sankranti – FP Staff

Surya Deva

FirstpostOne of the most ancient of Hindu festivals, Makar Sankranti is celebrated in different parts of the country in different ways with great fanfare. Sankranti denotes the entry of the sun into the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn) as it travels on its celestial path. This transition welcomes longer and warmer days. The festival is associated with colorful decorations, spring harvest fairs, ritual bathing, kite flying, bonfires and elaborate feasts. – FP Staff


While most Hindu festivals are celebrated as per the lunar cycle, Makar Sankranti follows the solar cycle. Dedicated to Lord Surya, the day marks the onset of summer and beginning of auspicious period uttarayan. The connection with uttarayan dates back to the Mahabharata when Bhishma Pitamah lay down on a bed of arrows and waited for the sun to be in uttarayan to breath his last.

Cooking rice porridge (pongal) for Surya Deva

Harvest festival

For most parts of India, this period is a part of early stages of the rabi crop and agricultural cycle, where crops have been sown and the hard work in the fields is almost complete. The longer spell of sunlight is important for the crops, and also acts as a retreat for everybody who has been dreading the winter months. The harvest festival is celebrated across the country with much fervor and gaiety. While the harvest festival in Punjab is called as Lohri, in Assam its known as Bhogali Bihu and the southern states term it as Pongal.

Sadhu offering water to the sun at the Kumbh Mela (2013)

Holy dip

Makar Sankranti also marks the beginning of six months auspicious period for Hindus known as Uttarayana period. Every twelve years, the Hindus observe Makar Sankranti with one of the world’s largest mass pilgrimages and bathe in the holy rivers at the Kumbh Mela.  This year, the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj will begin from January 14 and continue till March 3 at the Triveni Sangam—the holy confluence of river Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati. Many thousands of devotees are expected to arrive in the city to take a holy dip in the Triveni Sangam.

Sesame Seed Ladoos


Sesame seeds (til) are used in almost every Makar Sankranti recipes. As per the Hindu view, sesame seeds helps to cleanse the soul and improve spiritual awakening. In Maharashtra, the practice of exchanging sweets made of til such as tilgul ladoo and gulachi poli is common. The exchange is considered as a token of goodwill, while these foods give energy as well as helps to keep us warm. While exchanging, people greet each other with the words, “Til gul ghyaa, goad goad bola!” meaning “eat tilgul and speak sweet words”.

In Delhi and Haryana, people cook ghee churma, kheer and halwa. In Punjab, it is a tradition to consume khichdi and jaggery. Sankrati is one of the major festivals of Rajasthan. The day is celebrated with special Rajasthani delicacies and sweets such as pheenitil-paati, gajak, kheer, ghevar, pakodi, puwa, and til-laddoo.

Enthusiasts flying kites various shapes of kites on the second day of International Kite Festival, in Ahmedabad on Monday (2018).

Kite flying

The morning of Makar Sankranti witnesses colorful kites wafting in the sky. In Gujarat, flying kites and competing with others is regarded as one of the biggest festivals. Scores of people from not only around the country, but across the world, come to participate in the annual International Kite Festival (Uttarayan), the preparations for which begin months in advance. – Firstpost, 13 January 2019

Arunachala Hill



Makar Sankranti: When did we first celebrate Surya? – Raj Vedam

Surya Deva

Dr Raj VedamWe now define Makar Sankranti as the date when from an Earth-bound observation point, the Sun enters the Makar Rashi, also called Capricorn. — Dr Raj Vedam

The widespread celebration of the Makar Sankranti festival and its many regional variations hint great antiquity. In this article, we will take a journey through time, weaving together history, astronomy, calendars, seasons, agriculture and common customs, to find connections and understand the antiquity of the festival, and as an outcome, we will examine three different synchronisms for Makar Sankranti.

We first discuss points of astronomical significance, to appreciate the antiquity of the festival.

1. As the Earth rotates on its 23.5 degree tilted axis from west to east, it would appear that celestial bodies that rise in the eastern horizon set in the western horizon, except for the stars closer to the celestial North (South) Pole that would appear to circle it.

2. Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun while tilted at 23.5 degrees gives the phenomenon of seasons, due to the changing amounts of sunlight in each hemisphere, in each quarter segment of the revolution.

3. The visible stars are so distant from our solar system that they appear to be fixed with respect to the Earth’s revolution. As the Earth makes progress in its revolution each day, it would appear that the familiar constellations also change in the sky. Thus the constellations that appear in the night sky in a given month will repeat in a year’s time (ignoring the slow effect of precession, discussed in point 7). The situation is analogous to looking outside a train window on a circular track—the same scenery will appear at the same point on the circular track.

4. Due to Earth’s tilt at 23.5 degrees, from an Earth-bound observation point, it would appear that the sunrise is offset by a small amount daily, and reaches a southernmost point—the Winter Solstice, and reverses course, and reaches a northernmost point, the Summer Solstice. Ancient Indians recognized the six-month southern journey of the Sun as Dakshinayana, and the 6-month northern journey as the auspicious Uttarayana. The epic Mahabharata, recounts Bhishma who could control the time of his death, and lay on a bed of arrows, waiting for the start of Uttarayana, for more than 92 days (Nilesh Nilakanth Oak, When Did the Mahabharata War Happen?), hinting ancient observance of the Winter Solstice occurrence.

5. Indian astronomical work divided the sky into twenty-seven Nakshatras that each occupies 13 and 1/3 degree segments, approximately the distance traveled by the Moon in a 24 hour period against the fixed stars. Each Nakshatra was identified by the principal stars in that segment of the sky. The Nakshatra model forms part of the earliest corpus of Indian works on astronomy, dating to the Vedic era.

6. In addition to the twenty-seven Nakshatras, ancient Indians also divided the sky into 12 equal parts of thirty degrees each, called the Rashis. While there have been some Western assertions that ancient Indians borrowed the Rashi model from Babylon, Subhash Kak shows otherwise in his book, Astronomical Code of the Rgveda, about the Vedic origin of the Rashis, evolving from the twelve Adityas.

7. Due to the gravitational effects of Sun and Moon (and to a lesser extent, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn), the Earth wobbles on its axis, and completes a non-uniform cycle in about 25,771 years, referred to as Precession of Equinox. Due to this wobble, the celestial North Pole (and South Pole) appears to change over time, and the Rashis appear to drift slowly over the years. More than 2500 years ago, ancient Indians had observed and measured the wobble at a degree for every 100 years. This translates to a measure of 36,000 years, a figure repeated by Hipparchus around 150 BCE. One of the best estimates of precession was made by Bhaskara II of Ujjain in the 12th century, to 25,461 years, and not improved upon till modern times. It is very interesting that ancient Indians had noted a time when Abhijit (the star Vega) was once the pole star, and also a time when it was no longer the pole star. Abhijit was at the celestial North Pole approximately 14,000 years ago. Around 7000 years ago, it would have appeared to have “fallen” in the sky, as noted by Dr. P. V. Vartak (in Scientific Dating of Ramayana and the Vedas), calling out a reference to a passage in the Mahabharata.

We now define Makar Sankranti as the date when from an Earth-bound observation point, the Sun enters the Makar Rashi, also called Capricorn.

Ancient Indians noted the Winter Solstice as the start of the auspicious Uttarayana. At some point in the past, Uttarayana coincided with Makar Sankranti, and constitutes our first point of synchrony. We can determine the time period when the two coincided by considering the effects of precession. Prior to that, it is instructive to note how ancient Indians and Europeans recorded the passage of time.

Subhash Kak notes that even before Vedanga Jyotish, ancient Indians’ 27 Nakshatra and 12 Rashi system used a luni-solar calendar where every 5 years, an additional month called Adhika Masa was added, synchronizing the lunar and solar years. Ancient Indians also estimated the tropical year, defined as the period when the Sun enters the same seasonal point—say, a solstice point.

Aryabhata and Bhaskara II had estimated the tropical year at 365 days, 6 hours, 12 minutes, and 30 seconds, the same figure as estimated in the ancient Indian text, Surya Siddhanta. The modern figure for the tropical year is approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds.

In the Western system, Julius Caesar instituted the Julian calendar in 46 BCE, dividing the year of 365 days to 12 months, and adding a day every 4th year, thus averaging to 365 days, 6 hours—a figure less accurate than the Surya Siddhanta. Due to this approximation, this calendar accumulated errors over the years, causing a “slip” in the dates of the equinoxes and solstices. The modern Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582, introduced a correction, where if a year is integer-divisible by 4, it is considered a leap year, except for those centurial years that are integer-divisible by 100, and with further overruling exception to those centurial years that are integer-divisible by 400, which were considered as leap years. With the modern Gregorian calendar, the equinoxes and solstices occur on approximately the same date each year, and considering precession, has an error of about 1 day every 7700 years.

Considering the first synchrony, the Winter Solstice today coincides with the Dhanus Sankranti—one Rashi away from Makar. This slip has happened due to the precession noted earlier.

Assuming a uniform precession rate of 25,771 years for a full circle of 360 degrees, each degree is about 71.5861 years. Rounding the figures and noting that each Rashi occupies 30 degrees, we multiply 72 by 30 to get 2160—the approximate number of years in the past, when due to precession, Makar Sankranti would have coincided with the Winter Solstice, approximately in 143 BCE. By simulation in planetarium software, we find that anywhere from 400 BCE to the opening centuries of the Common Era, the Winter Solstice date would have coincided with the Sun rising approximately in Makar Rashi. Based on synchrony of the solstice with Makar Sankranti, we propose the festival to have been celebrated since 400 BCE.

Our second dating of the antiquity of the Makar Sankranti festival is by considering the synchrony of Makar Sankranti with the sesame / til gingelly crop harvest. We notice an India-wide common aspect of celebrating Makar Sankranti—the widespread use of til in traditional sweet preparation. Til is a drought-resistant Rabi crop in India, planted currently around mid-November and harvested in April, before the monsoons, taking about 90 to 120 days to grow. Paleo-botonical records suggest an antiquity of at least 3000 BCE for the multi-crop cultivation of til in Rakhigarh sites and a few centuries later for domestic rice, and a trade with Mesopotamia and Egypt in til in 2000 BCE. Up to the medieval period, Indian farmers encoded agricultural wisdom with references to Nakshatras to help time their planting and reaping activities. It is fascinating to investigate a period of time when Makar Sankranti coincided with the harvest of the til crop, say in southern India, and was therefore used in celebratory sweet preparation.

Contrary to popular thought, the seasons do not change with precession. The Milankovitch cycles predict long-term climate changes due to precession, Obliquity and tilt cycles of the Earth, but these do not impact the periodical seasons (might make seasons more or less severe, though!). However, if we peg our measurement of time to a Nakshatra/Rashi, that observation can change over time due to precession. Thus an observation that “rainy season starts in Ashada Masa” can change over time due to precession.

Our clue is that traditionally, Makar Sankranti is considered as a harvest festival. In Tamil Nadu, there are two planting seasons for til—Thai Pattam (Jan/Feb) and Adi Pattam (July/August). Considering a 4-month growing period, the Adi Pattam crop harvest would coincide with December. Thus again, the date of about 400 BCE synchronizing the Winter Solstice, til harvest, and Makar Sankranti makes sense.

The final synchrony we examine is to ask the question, when did Makar Sankranti last coincide with Jan 13th/14th? By direct simulation on planetarium software, we find this date to be around 1500s CE. This period is startlingly, the exact period of the famous Kerala astronomer, Nilakantha Somayaji (1444-1544), author of Tantrasangrama, who would have been aware of the length of the tropical year and the effect of Precession from works of Aryabhata, Bhaskara II as well as Surya Siddhanta, and might have computed the date accordingly. This date was probably left untouched since.

We have examined three synchronies regarding Makar Sankranti. The first, based on synchrony with the Winter Solstice gives a date of about 400 BCE. The second, based on a synchrony of til harvest in Tamil Nadu with Makar Sankranti also suggests 400 BCE. The third, based on a synchrony with the tropical calendar, gives a date of 1500s CE.

As we celebrate Makar Sankranti, we should also celebrate the strong traditions of astronomy and mathematics, indelibly tied with the shared experience of the nation, over thousands of years. – Swarajya, 13 January 2017

» Go to Swarajya for illustrations that illumine this article.

» Dr Raj Vedam is a co-founder of the think tank, Indian History Awareness and Research (see IHAR Channel on YouTube), and resides in Houston, Texas. His research interests include Engineering Applied Mathematics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Scientific Validation of Indian History.

Pongal: Cooking rice porridge for the Gods


The Jallikattu Effect – Cheena Kapoor


Cheena KapoorWhile activists continue to fight for animal rights and the government bans certain traditions like Jallikattu that involve animal torture, believers continue to do what they always have—firm in their belief that religion and tradition back them. The right education and empathy is what is required to help people understand that God does not demand the killing of animals, activists point out. – Cheena Kapoor

For reasons of religion, tradition or just plain sport, festivals and other celebrations can often be bloodthirsty carnivals with animals being tortured or slaughtered. The age-old issue—of the conflict between tradition and humaneness, animal suffering and vested interests—is back in the spotlight with the Supreme Court rejecting a plea to allow Jallikattu, Tamil Nadu’s bull-taming sport it had banned in 2014.

The ruling has led to uproar in the state, with thousands courting arrest and asking for revocation of the ban, politicians and celebrities offering their support to the event, and animal rights activists saying that the ‘sport’ epitomises cruelty and must be stopped.

Traditionally held during the four-day Pongal festival (celebrated last week), Jallikattu, where the ‘player’ hangs on to the hump of the bull, began as a way to stop the animals from ruining their fields. Over time, it became a way to demonstrate bravery (and getting tagged as such in the marriage market); prize money was introduced and the gladiatorial sport got commercialised.

In a video, animal rights group PETA showed how bulls are tortured. Their tails are cut, the animals are stabbed with sharp objects, and sometimes even given alcohol to blunt their senses. Between 2010 and 2014, 17 people were killed and 1,100 injured.

“Jallikattu exploits the bulls’ natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation in which they’re forced to run away from those they perceive as predators. Countless Tamil PETA India supporters are against Jallikattu and are saddened by those who call harming bulls Tamil ‘culture’. India’s culture is one of kindness, not cruelty,” says PETA’s Nikunj Sharma.

Not just Jallikattu

As protests in Tamil Nadu over ‘tradition and pride’ spiral and thousands gather at various places, including in Chennai’s Marina Beach, activists point out that Jallikattu is not the only such sport. And it’s not about a specific region or religion either. Be it Hindus, Muslims, Christians or tribals, in Himachal Pradesh or Odisha, Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra, all are known to indulge in such rituals.

If animals are sacrificed during Bakr Eid, they are also slaughtered during Durga Pooja and Dussehra celebrations in several parts of India. Besides, buffaloes, cocks, goats, and sheep are ritually sacrificed in the hundreds, and their flesh consumed as prasad.

“Religion should be a force teaching people to remain calm and show kindness towards other living beings, but has instead become a way to justify killing them brutally,” says animal rights activist Navamita Mukherjee. And sometimes, it’s about plain fun.

Like a cock-fight where razor-sharp blades are tied to the legs of roosters that are made to fight while bets are placed. Bred for fighting, these birds are grievously wounded and left untreated after a fight or thrown away as garbage.

In the villages of Andhra Pradesh, however, cock-fight are considered a part of the Makar Sankranti festivities.

Divine sacrifice

Animal sacrifices are performed in many cultures mainly to please the divine. From Greeks to Romans, all have been known to practice it.

In Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region, buffaloes are killed in honour of the goddess Manju Bhog. The animals are bathed and made to run in panic as village youth make them stumble midway. On the main day, they are made to run towards the temple and many die on the steep slopes. Those that manage to reach the top are sacrificed by the villagers.

The Kandha people of Odisha believe that the deity Kandhan Budhi grants them every wish. So, every year during the Kandhan Budhi Yatra (September-October), many animals are ritually sacrificed before the deity. The main crowd pleaser of this yatra, however, is the ‘Ghusuri (pig) uuja’. A young pig is smeared in oil and turmeric after which its ears and tail are chopped off. The pig is killed three years later in the temple.

At the Kedu (buffalo) festival, also in Odisha, the Kondhs similarly anoint a buffalo and tether it to a tree. It is brutally attacked with sharp instruments to the chant of mantras and beating of drums. The animal squeals in agony, its eyes bulging, but is unable to flee. There is a mad rush to hack off pieces of its flesh.

Animals are not the only beings with a such a fate. Bird slaughter is equally rampant. All 32 species of Indian owls are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Nonetheless, there have been numerous instances of birds, which are closely related to goddess Lakshmi according to mythology, being sacrificed on the eve of Diwali, said a doctor at a charity bird hospital in Delhi.

Bulbul fights are also common in Assam during Makar Sakranti. The bird is mutilated after the fight.

The law

According to law, animals can only be slaughtered at a slaughter-house. The only exception is the ritual slaughter during Bakr Eid, which should only involve goats or sheep. However, it is increasingly common to see animals like camels and buffaloes being slaughtered during the festival.

In 2011, a video showing camel slaughter inside Delhi’s Jama Masjid drew the attention of activists. Camels are mostly sourced from Rajasthan, where the animal was granted ‘heritage’ status in 2014. But the animal is sent to places as far as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for slaughter. In September 2016, the Madras High Court passed an interim order just before Bakr Eid to ban camel slaughter for religious purposes.

Suffering not tradition

“Our nation is built on the principle of constitutional morality and thus the constitution comes first. I am glad that animals are finding place in this and slowly and steadily sapient traditions that abuse these innocent beings are getting phased out,” says Jayasimha, lawyer and managing director of Humane Society International, India.

There are eight states in India where strict laws have been passed against animal sacrifice. Though illegal killings have not stopped, they have definitely come down.

While activists continue to fight for animal rights and the government bans certain traditions like Jallikattu that involve animal torture, believers continue to do what they always have—firm in their belief that religion and tradition back them.

The right education and empathy is what is required to help people understand that God does not demand the killing of animals, activists point out.

As Jayasimha put it, “It is hypocrisy to demand human rights for ourselves while refusing to give a basic right of life to other beings.”

Mapping animal cruelty

1. During the Ooru Habba festival in Karnataka, two buffaloes and two goats are sacrificed outside the Bannerghatta National Park near Bengaluru. The animals are pierced with a trident and their blood drunk.

2. Myoko, the monsoon festival, is celebrated by Apatanis—a major tribe of Arunachal Pradesh’s Ziro valley—with a mithun (an important bovine species) being ritually sacrificed on sacred ground by a priest.

3. At the annual Mailapur village fair in Karnataka’s Yadgir district, worshippers throw live lambs at the palanquin of Mailareshwara. In the melee, hundreds of devotees trample and kill the young animals.

4. During the annual rath yatra, about 1,500 goats are sacrificed at the Shree Yedumata Temple in Pimpledari village in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. The sacrifice takes place every year, despite protests.

5. In 2012, on Day 17 of the Chithirai month according to the Tamil calendar, 5,000 baby goats were sacrificed during a temple festival at Poosariyur, near Anthiyur in Tamil Nadu. The blood was consumed by the priests and devotees.

6. At the shrine dedicated to the tribal idol Baba Dongar in Ranapur of Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua district, around 500 animals, typically goats and chicken are illegally slaughtered by priests on devotees’ requests.

7. In 2015, animal rights activist and Union Minister Maneka Gandhi wrote to the Defence Ministry against live animals being air-dropped so troops posted in remote areas were able to get fresh meat.

8. Festivals like Shand and Bhunda involve a huge number of animals being killed using a knife by a man known as Beda to please goddess Kali and to ward off evil spirits, at the entrance of temples near Shimla.

9. In regions around Pune, goats and fowls are sacrificed to the God Vetala. In western Maharashtra, animal sacrifice is practiced to pacify female deities that are supposed to rule the sacred groves.

10. In West Bengal’s Kalighat, thousands of sheep are sacrificed every year. In other parts too, a priest recites the Gayatri Mantra in the ear of the animal to be sacrificed in order to free the animal from the cycle of life and death.

11. Nihangs and Hazuri Sikhs sacrifice goats during the festivals of Diwali and Hola Mohalla and distribute it as mahaprashad among the congregates. Anyone converting to a Nihang Sikh has to sacrifice an animal.

12. In Terekol of Goa, the barbaric custom of teenage boys biting a piglet to death in celebration of St John’s baptism ended in 1989 following protests by animal rights activists, charitable trusts and NGOs. – DNA, 19 January 2016

» Cheena Kapoor is a senior photo journalist for DNA and Zee in New Delhi.

Jallikattu: Bull taming is cruelty at its best – Gauri Maulekhi

Gauri Maulekhi“The Constitution of India says that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures. Jallikattu, bull races and bull fights goes against this constitutional requirement of all Indian citizens. … ‘Tradition’ is never a sufficient justification for cruelty, and a cruel tradition should never be allowed to define a culture. Traditions, like everything else, can—and must—evolve. Times and sensibilities have changed, and these events are an inhumane and archaic ritual that has no place in the 21st century.” – Gauri Maulekhi

Supreme Court of India in New DelhiIn its judgment dated 7 May 2014, the Supreme Court stated: “We, therefore, hold that Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is right in its stand that Jallikattu, bullock-cart race and such events per-se violate Sections 3, 11(1)(a) and 11(1)(m)(ii) of PCA Act and hence we uphold the notification dated 11.7.2011 issued by the Central Government, consequently, bulls cannot be used as performing animals, either for the Jallikattu events or bullock-cart races in the State of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.” In its judgment the Supreme Court also categorically held that Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change cannot allow Jallikattu or bull races and cannot modify the notification dated 11 July 2011 (whereby performances by bulls had been banned) without taking the Animal Welfare Board of India’s (AWBI)—an advisory body under the same ministry—view with respect to the same. The ministry hasn’t taken any opinion of the AWBI, while rushing to allow these cruel sports.

In the past, from 2008 to 2014, the special conditions of the Supreme Court regulating Jallikattu were brazenly flouted at all the events which were inspected by the Animal Welfare Board of India. The evidence gathered during the inspection proved that no regulation can or will protect bulls from misery or people from injuries. The findings revealed that Jallikattu is inherently cruel to animals and is a threat to human participants, spectators and any police or government representative assigned to monitor an event.

Almost every bull, who was forced to participate endured suffering and pain and was dragged into the queue and the vadi vasals [arena entrance chutes] by his nose ropes to being hit, poked, bitten and deliberately terrified. In order to force the bulls into and out of the vadi vasals, each one must endure unmitigated suffering. Although the Supreme Court had placed emphasis on no harm coming to the animals, the reality was that cruelty to animals was inescapably part of Jallikattu. Bulls are beaten, poked, prodded, harassed and jumped on by numerous people. They have their tails bitten and twisted, and suspicious liquids (likely alcohol) are forced down their throats before they are dragged into the vadi vasals.

In just over four years, from 2010 to 2014, at least 1,100 people have been injured due to Jallikattu-type events, and 17 people have died. However, these figures were quoted by the media, the original figures are bound to be higher.

During bull races, all the bulls, who were forced to compete in the races, were subjected to abject cruelty, including being beaten, having irritants rubbed into their mouths, being yanked by nose ropes (causing their noses to bleed), being subjected to a torture device called a kela and having their tails bitten, twisted and pulled. Bull racing is inherently cruel, as bulls can’t be forced to run without agitating, frightening or hurting them, and enforcing race regulations is impractical. In the 2014 judgement the Supreme Court judgment also ruled that cruelty is inherent in these events, as bulls are not anatomically adapted for such races.

AWBI inspections documented cruelty to buffaloes, used in Kambala events in 2014, which was allowed through an interim order by Karnataka High Court, under certain regulations. The inspection found violations of the 2014 judgment of Supreme Court and several sections of the Indian Penal Code, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and the Rules there under. The findings include buffalo used in racing not being registered with the AWBI, drivers and animal handlers not possessing certificates for transportation of animals, buffalo having two or three tight-fitting thick nose ropes inserted through a hole in the nasal septum (which were constantly pulled and yanked, causing tremendous distress and pain) and buffalo with nose rings and plastic coverings on nose ropes causing pain and distress. During the race, the buffalo were subjected to violent acts, including being hit on the body, slapped on the face and having their tails pulled. Many were forced to participate in the race throughout the night, and after the race the animals were frothing at the mouth and salivating heavily because of severe dehydration and exhaustion.

During bull fights, eight bulls are typically used in each round: two bulls are brought together and surrounded by a ring of spectators. The bulls’ horns are sharpened to ensure that every charge will cause bloody gashes and deep puncture wounds in the other animal’s flesh. The round ends when one of the bulls is either killed or manages to flee. The survivors of each round fight each other while spectators bet on the outcome. The “winner” is the last bull left alive—but by then, the bull’s injuries are often so severe that he is typically sent to slaughter. Bull fights are in direct violation of Sections 11(1)(m)(ii) of PCA Act and the Supreme Court judgment and still it is unfortunate that Goa government taking initiative to legalize Dhirio, the bloody bull fights.

The plan of the Central government to amend the law while giving excuses like tradition and culture is purely to attract voters in Tamil Nadu and other states and it is ignoring the Supreme Court’s judgment which stated that if culture and tradition are at variance with the law enacted by Parliament, the law will take precedence over culture and tradition. The initiative of the Bharatiya Janata Party governments to prohibit cow slaughter and ban beef, have limited practical effect on the butchering of cows, as their progeny, the bulls, will continue to suffer in the name of culture, tradition, and entertainment, until they are butchered for meat.

It is high time to understand that cruelty is not limited to just slaughter, but includes all types of unnecessary suffering induced on animals and the torture they are subjected to for the sake of human entertainment, and is explicitly explained in the PCA Act. Though the cow slaughter ban doesn’t prevent the torture of cows and progenies, and doesn’t extend to bulls and buffaloes, the initiatives of the Central Government to legalize Jallikattu, bull races or Kambala and bull fights or Dhirio is a huge and disastrous step backward against the values of this country for compassion and animal protection.

The Constitution of India says that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures. Jallikattu, bull races and bull fights goes against this constitutional requirement of all Indian citizens and contravenes the PCA Act. The safety of participants and spectators is also put at tremendous risk. “Tradition” is never a sufficient justification for cruelty, and a cruel tradition should never be allowed to define a culture. Traditions, like everything else, can – and must – evolve. Times and sensibilities have changed, and these events are an inhumane and archaic ritual that has no place in the 21st century. The government should be rather supporting any legislation aimed at saving animals, protecting their quality of life and provide them fundamental rights.

Is the government going to restart Sati and Thugee as well. These are also part of India’s traditions. On one hand this government says that they are pro-cow and have banned the selling of its meat. Is the bull not part of the cow family? – Firstpost, 30 December 2015

» Gauri Maulekhi is an animal rights activist in New Delhi.


The bull's horn was broken in Avaniapuram on 15 January, 2012.

A man rubs chillies into the nostrils of a bull in Palamedu on 16 January, 2012.

An organiser pokes a bull with a curved, sharp metal object inside the pen in Alanganallur on 16 January, 2014.

Bull owners and tamers force a yellow-coloured liquid down the throat of a bull at Avaniapuram on 14 January, 2014.

A man bites a bull's tail inside the bull pen in Avaniapuram on 14 January, 2014.

A bull-tamer pulls a bull's tail in the arena in Alanganallur on 17 January, 2012.

» All images via Firstpost


Jallikattu: How the Modi Sarkar spread disinformation and insulted the courts – Radha Rajan


Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“The large, gaping holes in the PCA Act (1960) contain the answers to all uninformed and wild allegations against animal activists about why are they not doing anything about beef, cow slaughter, Bakrid and halal. BJP leaders who levelled these accusations against the AWBI and animal activists must now return to Parliament and amend the PCA Act effectively to plug all holes and loopholes. When BJP ministers and party leaders say they will bring back jallikattu, … they are saying they will make another big hole in the PCA Act or make a new law which is repugnant to and contrary to the letter and spirit of the PCA Act (1960)” – Radha Rajan

Prakash JavadekarPrime Minister Modi is facing severe criticism for what is widely perceived to be his personal failure to bring back jallikattu as promised in time for this year’s Pongal festivities. After Modi tweeted his Pongal greetings to the people of Tamil Nadu, he was mercilessly pilloried on social media. The buck stops with the prime minister and he is paying the price for the ill-considered statements of assurance issued by two cabinet members (environment minister Prakash Javadekar and the junior minister for road transport, highways and shipping, Pon Radhakrishnan), senior BJP leader H. Raja, and the BJP’s state president Tamilisai Soundararajan to the effect that jallikattu will make a comeback during Pongal.

Maneka GandhiModi is to blame for not stopping Javadekar from rushing through with a notification which tweaked the July 2011 environment ministry list of animals banned from being exhibited as performing animals. The January 8, 2016, notification was an absurdity which obviously had not been vetted by Modi’s cabinet which includes distinguished lawyers like Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Maneka Gandhi, an animal activist who, with Ozair Hussein and Raj Panjwani, authored the authoritative Animal Laws of India. How did this notification get past Jaitley and Maneka unless this was Javadekar’s unilateral decision? Is the country to believe that Modi and Jaitley gave their assent to a notification intended to overturn a Supreme Court order and which was so bad in law that it was bound to stumble and fall at the first challenge?

As the news about his ministry considering various options to conduct jallikattu during Pongal began to gather momentum, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI)—the statutory body constituted by an act of Parliament—wrote to Javadekar saying the board collectively and unanimously stood by the July 2011 notification, and that in view of the May 2014 Supreme Court order which banned jallikattu and all other sport using bulls, the sport should not be permitted. Within two days of the AWBI writing to Javadekar, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi wrote to the government advising it not do anything that may be construed to be disrespecting or overturning the Supreme Court order.

Disregarding the advice from AWBI and the written warning issued by the AG, Javadekar issued a new notification on January 8 which said that his government, while not removing bulls from the list was however exempting jallikattu bulls from the list of animals which may not be trained, exhibited or used for sport and entertainment. The regressive, half-clever notification drove the local BJP into a frenzy of self-congratulatory celebrations. In a flight of fancy laced with sycophancy, state BJP leaders not only went to town with “victory” posters in different parts of the state, they also asked the people of Tamil Nadu to celebrate this year’s Pongal as “Modi Pongal”.

Animal Welfare Board of IndiaThe AWBI, animal welfare organisations like CUPA, FIAPO, PETA and PFA and animal welfare activists rushed to the Supreme Court on January 11 to file their petitions seeking a stay on the notification. Supreme Court stalwarts K. K. Venugopal, Aryama Sundaram, R. Venkataramani, Dushyant Dave and Siddharth Luthra appeared for the petitioners. The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Dipak Mishra, which heard the petitions on January 12, was not amused and the notification was stayed promptly. Unwilling to see reason even then, sections within the government and a powerful jallikattu lobby outside the party and government wielding considerable influence over the BJP began frenzied attempts to bypass the January 12 Supreme Court order. Loose talk, wild allegations and lies tantamount to slander about animal activists and the five reputed senior advocates who argued the case against jallikattu in the Supreme Court began doing the rounds and Tamil news channels added fuel to the jallikattu fire which the BJP had lit with such cynicism simply as an election gimmick. Some Chennai-based petitioners began to receive menacing and threatening calls.

Nirmala SitharamanIt was at this time that Nirmala Sitharaman, minister of state for commerce and industry and who was in Chennai, came up with an equally ill-considered suggestion which only fanned the frenzy. Knowing well that by taking up the cause of jallikattu so close to Pongal and inviting the wrath of the Supreme Court, BJP ministers and party functionaries had caused incalculable damage to the image of the prime minister, the party and the government, Sitharaman, in a last minute desperate effort to save face, tried passing a camel through the eye of a needle. She passed the buck to the Tamil Nadu government and with great ingenuity invoked an obscure and little known provision in law which empowered state governments to promulgate an ordinance. “State government has power under the Constitution, as entry 28 of the state list empowers states to promulgate ordinance on fairs and markets. As jallikattu can be categorised as a ‘fair,’ the state can issue an ordinance, the minister said.” Nirmala Sitharaman’s memorable contribution to the drama entering its last and final phase was renaming jallikattu from “sport” to “fair;” all this just to diddle the Supreme Court!

Four questions for Modi and his ministers

  1. If the BJP which calls itself a “party with a difference” can overturn a Supreme Court order with an executive order, how is it different from the Congress which too had earlier overturned the Supreme Court order in the Shah Bano case?
  2. Why have a judicial system and courts and why make a pretence of rule of law if Supreme Court orders can be treated with scant respect by the executive and overturned by whims and caprice?
  3. Why constitute the AWBI as a statutory body if the government will not allow it to fulfil its constitutional mandate to act as the government’s advisory body on animal welfare and animal welfare laws?
  4. Why appoint an attorney general if the government will not heed the advice of the highest legal officer of the bar in the highest court of the country?

In the last fortnight, the BJP undermined and humiliated three important institutions; and all in the name of jallikattu. Narendra Modi must ask himself if the cause was worth the cost that he personally, his government and his party paid in the end.

In the last fortnight alone jallikattu has been described variously as an article of Tamil pride; integral to Tamil nationalism; protector of native breeds in cattle; sport of Tamil valour; victim of international conspiracy; evidence of the Supreme Court’s continuing hostility towards Tamil people; a market and fair; finally, jallikattu supporters are now claiming that jallikattu is endorsed by the Rio Convention on Biodiversity as an important link in the chain which protects the nation’s biodiversity. The jallikattu chimera is only getting bigger, more imaginative and more colourful by each passing day.

Not to be left behind, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju has come out openly in support of jallikattu. Unmindful that his advice to the state government constituted contempt of court, he told the Tamil Nadu chief minister that since the Supreme Court had banned “jallikattu”, she should give jallikattu a new name and pass an ordinance. Katju best exemplified how public discourse on the “sport” had descended from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960After the fall, BJP hides behind classic Tamil saying, no mud on my beard

The Supreme Court pronounced its order banning jallikattu in May 2014. In Tamil Nadu, the January 2015 Pongal, which came seven months after the judgement, was celebrated with traditional fervour and without the frenzied demands for jallikattu that had fouled this year’s festive mood. The faction-ridden, directionless Tamil Nadu BJP, fishing for a cause to espouse and simultaneously hoping to ride the Modi crest in the assembly elections scheduled to take place in 2016, began to make jallikattu noises from around September 2015; this was immediately after Amit Shah visited Madurai in August 2015. The Hindu Spiritual Fair, an offshoot of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and a Chennai-based annual initiative of recent origin to showcase the social, religious and spiritual activities of Hindu organisations, in December 2015 had a stall showcasing jallikattu—although it is debatable how jallikattu, which is synonymous with animal abuse, can be showcased as Hindu spirituality simply because it is associated with Pongal and temple festivals. Organisers of the fair accompanied Amit Shah to Madurai ostensibly to participate in another function; it cannot be mere coincidence that this function was organised in Madurai, a district which hosts three of the state’s largest jallikattu events: Alanganallur, Palamedu and Avaniyapuram.

Senior BJP leader H. Raja, in a television debate on jallikattu, admitted that party President Amit Shah had received several petitions from jallikattu organisers and supporters requesting Shah to restore jallikattu by Pongal in January 2016. Perhaps herein is the answer to the earlier question if the MoEF&CC notification had bypassed Modi, Jaitley and the cabinet before it was issued as an Executive Order. Notwithstanding the fact that the Supreme Court had stayed their January 8 notification not once but twice, the BJP continues to make brave noises about having done everything they possibly could before Pongal and will now do everything they possibly can after Pongal to legalise jallikattu, including making new laws if need be or amending existing laws like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960).

Studiously ignoring the well documented physical, emotional and psychological abuse of bulls trained and used in jallikattu, rekla and other “sports”, the former is being justified with these arguments:

  • Jallikattu is an ancient Tamil sport which is depicted even in Indus seals and is described in Tamil Sangam literature;
  • It is a matter of Tamil pride and Tamil identity;
  • Jallikattu and manju virattu must be seen in the context of the Convention on Biodiversity because jallikattu is the only means to preserve native breed in cattle; and banning jallikattu is an international conspiracy to destroy India’s native breeds.

Each of these fanciful claims will be deconstructed and exposed for what they are: gobbledygook.

Dr. S. KalyanaramanDeconstructing fanciful claims

1. Jallikattu is at least 4,000 years old because it is depicted on an Indus valley stone seal dated 2,000 B.C: Much like the unsustainable argument that jallikattu is the only way to protect native breeds of cattle, Iravatham Mahadevan, the internationally renowned epigraphist and scholar, in 2008 submitted that the seal in question depicted jallikattu or the bull-baiting/bull-taming sport. The Hindu wrote then: “The seal has used the frieze technique to portray the charged atmosphere. There were two interpretations to what was engraved on the seal, Mr. Mahadevan said. One school is of the opinion that the seal shows several men, who tried to control the bull, thrown up in the air by the animal. A couple of men are shown flying in the air with their legs and hands spread out, a third man is seen jumping to grab the bull, another is somersaulting and yet another has pathetically come to rest on his haunch. Mr. Mahadevan, however, is of the opinion that the seal shows only one man, who is flung into the air by the bull, his flying, his plunging, his somersaulting and finally sitting on his haunch.” If it is Iravatham Mahadevan, it must be true—at least this is the consensus among Tamil scholars.

But Dr. S. Kalyanaraman has a different view. Author of the Indus script trilogy, he says emphatically,

Iravatham Mahadevan is wrong. It is incorrect to conclude that Indus-Saraswati civilisation is proto-dravidian and that this seal is celebrating jallikattu. The figures on the seal are not man or men but women. It is a magnificent leap of faith to see jallikattu on the Indus seals which show women tumblers/acrobats with scarves on their pigtails and bangles and bracelets on their arms, leaping over the bull sometimes accompanied by a drummer. Saraswati/Indus seals are hieroglyphs read in the context of documenting metalwork by metal-caster folk or Bharatam Janam, as Sage Viswamitra called the people of this land. It will be far-fetched and a free flow of fertile imagination to see jallikattu or bull taming in the images. The reality of Indian sprachbund (language union) is ignored when faith-based Dravida maayaa drives the search for ancient Tamil in Indus script inscriptions, a flawed exercise which excludes Prakritam. Ancient Tamil literature of Sangam age is replete with references to Vedic culture, thus reinforcing the reality of the Indian sprachbund. To label this civilisation as proto-dravidian and to interpret this seal as jallikattu is stretching political ideology into the domain of scholarship.

As for jallikattu finding mention in Tamil Sangam literature, jallikattu supporters who are not “poor rural farmers” but rich landlords, affluent businessmen who own stud bulls as status symbols, and well-heeled urban intellectuals conveniently fail to mention that after the Sangam period, there is no mention of jallikattu in Tamil literature until 1893. Nostalgia may have spun a vivid story about jallikattu in the Indus Valley civilisation but it needn’t be true. Deciphering the Saraswati-Indus script is a work in progress and to make erroneous statements and unsustainable claims about the ancientness of jallikattu and proto-dravidianism simply to find favour with Dravidian political parties undermines scholarship and raises questions about intellectual integrity. It is also deliberate disinformation.

2. Jallikattu is a matter of Tamil pride and Tamil culture: Political parties in Tamil Nadu, including the BJP, are touting jallikattu as a symbol of Tamil culture, Tamil valour and Tamil pride. But Krishnaswamy, an important Tamil Dalit leader and founder of the Puthiya Tamizhagam party, rejects the claim. In the course of a discussion on television on the Supreme Court ban on jallikattu, Krishnaswamy—a physician by profession—was forthright in his refusal to give jallikattu the status of high culture or tradition. “Why give jallikattu the status of pan-Tamil culture? Jallikattu is confined to only four or five districts in Tamil Nadu—Madurai, Sivagangai, Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai and Dindukkal. Jallikattu is also casteist and the rich caste–Hindu landlords and zamindars do not allow Dalits to participate in this sport. Rich caste–Hindu landlords take pride in owning stud bulls much like the urban rich own race horses. Jallikattu is not a pan-Tamil culture and it is not for all Tamil people.” Animal activists will conclude this observation with the pregnant question: jallikattu may be high culture for some men but what’s in it for the bulls?

3. Jallikattu is the only way to preserve native breeds of cattle: This argument has to be firmly rejected because native breeds of cattle began to dwindle in numbers and disappear from the rural landscape several decades ago when tractors and chemical fertilisers replaced bulls and traditional organic farming practices. When successive Five Year Plans privileged industry over agriculture and meat production and leather industry over grain production, the country began to import foreign/alien breeds of cattle like Friesian, Jersey and Holstein because these are large animals and their cows yield more milk than native breed cows and their large bulls were ideal for meat production. Jallikattu intellectuals who are waging war against animal activists on social media are being dishonest by laying the blame for disappearing native breeds of cattle at the door of animal activists and the jallikattu ban.

Native breeds were disappearing from Tamil Nadu even when jallikattu was not banned. The argument that man versus animal or animal versus animal fights or contact sport is the best or the only means to protect native breeds of cattle, dogs, birds and reptiles flies in the face of proven native genius of our people who have historically invented and discovered new instruments, methods and social structures in keeping with new demands and changing times. Angry young and old men who are alleging international conspiracies in the jallikattu ban to extinguish native breeds in cattle must realise that their conspiracy theories fail to withstand rigorous and sustained scrutiny.

Like the jallikattu chimera which with every telling grew horns, other theories also acquired interesting features. First, jallikattu supporters declared that the ban on jallikattu was an international conspiracy to kill all our native breeds because if there was no jallikattu, the bulls would all be sent to slaughter and the conspirators wanted India to be the world’s largest supplier of beef. Next, they said the conspiracy behind killing our native breed bulls was to make native breeds extinct in India while simultaneously the conspirators were stealing the semen and sperm of jallikattu bulls and carting them away to foreign lands because the milk of India’s native breed cows is the superior A2 variety with immense therapeutic properties.

Thus far, no jallikattu supporter has answered the question why, if these bulls are raised like children in their homes and treated like a king, their destiny was reduced to jallikattu or slaughter. There are also no answers to the question why is not possible to preserve and protect jallikattu bulls for purposes of breeding even if there is no jallikattu. After all, jallikattu is only a man-versus-animal contact sport whereas preserving native breeds of cattle is a noble objective and an urgent necessity. It’s always suspicious when people say there is only one way to do something and the “jallikattu is the only way to preserve native breeds” argument is no exception.

Responding to wild allegations

From ministers in the Modi government, their national spokesperson and state BJP leaders to Hindu activists and Tamil chauvinists, animal activists have been vilified, abused, taunted and questioned with identical accusations. These allegations must be listed before they are answered.

  1. Animal activists opposing jallikattu have a colonial mindset and are far removed from Indian culture and tradition.
  2. Animal activists who are crying against cruelty to jallikattu bulls have never touched an animal in their lives.
  3. Animal activists, animal welfare organisations and even judges in the Supreme Court are city slickers who know nothing about rural Tamil Nadu and poor innocent farmers who have no other form of entertainment except jallikattu.
  4. Animal activists who talk of animal well-being and animal rights use products made from the hide of cows and cattle and they wear silk.
  5. Animal activists who are alleging cruelty to jallikattu bulls—what are they doing about India being the world’s largest exporter of beef, about cattle trafficking to Kerala, about halal killing of animals during Bakrid (Eid al-Adha), about the brutal methods employed in Kerala to subjugate newly acquired elephant calves and adult elephants for use in temple rituals and about horse racing?
  6. PETA and other foreign agencies paid Rs 2 crore collectively to all senior advocates who appeared for the petitioners in the Supreme Court seeking an immediate stay on the January 8 notification.

Jallikattu supporters have made these accusations without proof and without caring to educate themselves. BJP ministers and their national spokesperson also don’t know the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) in its entirety. Jallikattu supporters accusing animal activists of various sins of omission and commission have also failed to first investigate and ascertain the facts.

I have not seen any animal activist using leather. There is something called ahimsa silk which, as its name suggests, does not kill the silkworm but waits for it to abandon the cocoon. All big and famous silk shops now stock sarees woven from ahimsa silk. Allegations that animal activists have never touched any animal in their lives, that they do not know the difference between a cow and a buffalo or between a bull and a bullock are childish and indicative of anger clouding even their common sense. But angry questions from BJP ministers, the party’s national spokesperson and jallikattu supporters (including rich landlords, affluent businessmen who are proud owners of jallikattu stud bulls and urban intellectuals) about what animal activists have done about beef export, cattle trafficking and halal and the frequently asked question from Tamil chauvinist jallikattu supporters about the plight of captive elephants (they actually mean captive elephants in temples) without exception are ignorant of the law and impervious to the fact that animal activists can work only within the legal framework and within lawful boundaries.

While PETA is not generic for animal activism, “pashu” is certainly generic for all animals. For animal rights activists, cats, cows, camels, cockroaches and caterpillars are all sacred and equally deserving of protection if and when abused. Animal rights activists do not privilege native cows over imported breeds when both end up in slaughter houses—for them the right to life and the right to die with dignity for street dogs and elephants is the same. But what jallikattu supporters do not know is that the PCA Act (1960) is ridden with holes and does not apply to all kinds of cruelty. 

Cattle trafficking to KeralaPCA Act (1960) does not protect all animals, does not prevent all cruelty

There is very little animal activists can do to stop cattle trafficking to Kerala via Tamil Nadu and to Bangladesh via West Bengal because while the PCA Act is a central Act and is applicable in all states and union territories (except Jammu and Kashmir), cow slaughter is a state subject and different states have different laws governing it. So while animal rights activists can seize trucks transporting cows and cattle to Kerala for slaughter, for violating transportation laws and rules, they cannot stop the trucks because they are transporting cows and cattle to Kerala for slaughter; at least not until Tamil Nadu, under pressure from jallikattu supporters, makes a law which prohibits transport of all cattle outside state borders similar to the law in Rajasthan, which bans all movement of camels outside Rajasthan’s state borders.

Horrific cruelty perpetrated against animals under three categories, even when the most terrible form of pain and suffering is inflicted on them, is kept out of the purview of the PCA Act:

  • Animals we use as lab animals for experiments;
  • Animals we kill for meat, and
  • Animals we kill in the name of religion.

Section 11 of the PCA Act deals with all kinds of cruelty, all kinds of pain and suffering and specifies those areas which fall outside the jurisdiction of the Act. Thus, Section 11 (3) (a) says:

Nothing in this section shall apply to the dehorning of cattle, or the castration or branding or nose-roping of any animal in the prescribed manner.

While all three procedures inflict immense pain on the cattle, which humans with typical insouciance justify as being necessities of domestication, there are non-painful methods of roping and castration which are neither implemented nor enforced. Jallikattu supporters will best serve the cause of native cattle by returning to their villages to restore and restart traditional agricultural practices. Jallikattu is not the priority now.

Section 11 (3) (e) of the PCA Act says:

Nothing in this section shall apply to the commission or omission of any act in the course of the destruction or the preparation for destruction of any animal as food for mankind unless such destruction or preparation was accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering.

Humans coined phrases like “useless animals” that may be slaughtered because they are unproductive and their continued upkeep is uneconomical. Humans coined the phrase “unnecessary pain or suffering”, which implies there is something in the form of “necessary pain and suffering”, and that necessary pain and suffering is legal, lawful and legitimate.

Section 14 of the PCA Act, which deals with “Experiments on Animals”, says:

Nothing contained in this Act shall render unlawful the performance of experiments (including experiments involving operations) on animals for the purpose of advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or for prolonging the life or alleviating suffering or for combating any disease, whether of human beings, animals or plants.

Notwithstanding all the noble objectives listed under this section, the bottomline is that we use animals in experiments and we inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on them—all in human interest only.

Section 28 of the PCA Act legitimises stunning the animal with a sledge-hammer or stun gun before its head is cut off for food or for religion in temples, or slit its throat to die a slow and painful death for halal meat, or as sacrifice during Bakrid:

Saving as respects manner of killing prescribed by religion: Nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community.

The large, gaping holes in the PCA Act (1960) contain the answers to all uninformed and wild allegations against animal activists about why are they not doing anything about beef, cow slaughter, Bakrid and halal. BJP leaders who levelled these accusations against the AWBI and animal activists must now return to Parliament and amend the PCA Act effectively to plug all holes and loopholes. When BJP ministers and party leaders say they will bring back jallikattu, but this time they will amend the law to do it, they are saying they will make another big hole in the PCA Act or make a new law which is repugnant to and contrary to the letter and spirit of the PCA Act (1960)—inadequacies, warts and all.

The Modi Sarkar must know that the Supreme Court order banning jallikattu in May 2015 has taken this possibility, too, under consideration—that governments may be tempted to tweak, amend or make laws to overturn the judgement. Paragraph 26 of the May 7 order reads thus:

PCA Act is a welfare legislation which has to be construed bearing in mind the purpose and object of the Act and the Directive Principles of State Policy. It is trite law that, in the matters of welfare legislation, the provisions of law should be liberally construed in favour of the weak and infirm. Court also should be vigilant to see that benefits conferred by such remedial and welfare legislation are not defeated by subtle devices. Court has got the duty that, in every case, where ingenuity is expanded to avoid welfare legislations, to get behind the smoke-screen and discover the true state of affairs. Court can go behind the form and see the substance of the devise for which it has to pierce the veil and examine whether the guidelines or the regulations are framed so as to achieve some other purpose than the welfare of the animals. Regulations or guidelines, whether statutory or otherwise, if they purport to dilute or defeat the welfare legislation and the constitutional principles, Court should not hesitate to strike them down so as to achieve the ultimate object and purpose of the welfare legislation. Court has also a duty under the doctrine of parents patriae to take care of the rights of animals, since they are unable to take care of themselves as against human beings.

Amending the PCA Act to keep cruelty to bulls outside of the purview of the Act, making a new law which is contrary to the intent of the PCA Act or weakening the PCA Act in any other manner, besides defeating the very purpose of the PCA Act and the Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014, will ultimately only cause more avoidable and unnecessary physical, emotional and psychological pain on the bulls. It is wholly incomprehensible how we can worship the mother and abuse her son. – The Wire, 20 January 2016

» Radha Rajan is a political analyst and animal rights activist in Chennai. She also edits the website Vigil Online.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,1960

Jallikattu on Hold: Supreme Court stays govt notification to allow bull taming – Bhadra Sinha

Supreme Court of India

BullsIn an apparent last-ditch effort to get the nod for conducting Jallikattu after the Supreme Court stayed a central notification, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa on Tuesday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promulgate an ordinance to allow the traditional Tamil sport to be held. — PTI

The Supreme Court stayed on Tuesday a central government notification that paved the way for a return of the banned bull taming sport Jallikattu, effectively scuttling plans of staging the event during Pongal celebrations in Tamil Nadu later this week.

The top court also issued notices to the Centre, Tamil Nadu and other states where the controversial sport is played, days after the environment ministry issued new guidelines that permitted the popular event to go ahead, overriding protests from animal rights activists and the law ministry.

The sport that has been an integral part of Pongal festivities was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014, following demands from rights groups who pointed to animal cruelty and human deaths during the event.

The new norms triggered howls of protests and animal welfare organisations—including the animal welfare board—filed a clutch of petitions in the court.

But the Centre objected to the pleas, saying no fundamental right of the petitioners were violated and questioned the maintainability of the petitions. The court also issued a notice on whether the petitions could be heard or not.

Both the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government assured the court that the new notification underlined safety measures and precautions to be taken during the festival.

Under the rules, permission has to be given by the district collector or magistrate and bullock cart races must be held on a proper track. Bulls, once they leave the enclosure, have to be tamed within a radial distance of 15 metres, the government order said.

The new norms came after a concerted political push by parties in the poll-bound Tamil Nadu, where the banned sport has a strong connection with thousands of people who view it as a part of their culture.

Chief minister J. Jayalalithaa had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, backing the sport, which wasn’t held last year for the first time in decades. – Hindustan Times, 12 January 2016

JayalalithaaAfter SC stay, Jaya asks Centre for ordinance to allow Jallikattu

In an apparent last-ditch effort to get the nod for conducting Jallikattu after the Supreme Court stayed a central notification, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa on Tuesday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promulgate an ordinance to allow the traditional Tamil sport to be held.

Recalling that she had requested Modi on December 22 last year to promulgate an ordinance allowing Jallikattu to be held, she said: “Considering the urgency of the issue, I strongly reiterate my earlier request to promulgate an Ordinance forthwith to enable the conduct of Jallikattu.”

“On behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu I urge you to take immediate action in this regard,” she said in a letter to the Prime Minister.

Asserting that sentiments of the people should be respected, Jayalalithaa said arrangements have already been made by organisers all over the state for conducting the bull-taming ritual.

After she had requested an ordinance, the Centre issued a notification on January 7 enabling conduct of Jallikattu in different parts of Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal festivities, she said.

“On receipt of the notification, circulars were sent to the District Collectors regarding arrangements to be made for the conduct of Jallikattu, strictly in accordance with the conditions and safeguards indicated in the notification. On this basis, arrangements have been made by organisers all over the state for the conduct of Jallikattu,” she said.

As the Supreme Court has now granted an interim stay of the notification, Jallikattu cannot be conducted now, Jayalalithaa had added.

“With the Pongal festivities commencing from January 14, the public in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu have made all arrangements and preparations and are eagerly looking forward to the conduct of Jallikattu as part of the traditional festivities ingrained in the hoary cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu,” she said.

“It is very important that the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu, who have a deep attachment to the conduct of the traditional event of Jallikattu, are respected,” the chief minister said while requesting an ordinance to facilitate the conduct of the sport. – Hindustan Times , 12 January 2016

Animal Welfare Board of IndiaAWBI vice-chairman Chinny Krishna

Jallikattu: BJP loses its moral compass in the blood sport of politics – Radha Rajan


Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“It should cause Modi bhakts serious concern that the Prime Minister has made a conscious decision to ignore the voluminous documentation — including photographs and videos of the physical and mental abuse of bulls not only during jallikattu and other sport but the unconscionable psychological and emotional abuse of the bulls during long years of training to make them jallikattu bulls. … The Modi sarkar has legitimised human sport and entertainment on the bogus premise of culture and tradition and at the cost of animal well-being. Modi and his government have lost their moral compass.” – Radha Rajan

Congress-BJP LogoIt took the Bharatiya Janata Party less than 24 months in power to begin to look exactly like the Congress. If the terrorist attack on the Pathankot Air Base makes Rajnath Singh look like Shivraj Patil and Ajit Doval like P. Chidambaram, if Prakash Javadekar—who tweaked the environment ministry’s 2011 notification to bring back jallikattu—is only Jayanthi Natrajan with a beard, then in his supreme inaction and silence, Modi has transformed himself, in harmony with the larger picture, to look like Manmohan Singh.

The finer lines of distinction between the Congress and BJP were washed away when the BJP on Friday disregarded the Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014 banning jallikattu and, through executive order, lifted the ban on this cruel and decadent sport. It was Shah Bano all over again and the worst losers in this shameful, retrograde act are the hapless bulls, the sanctity of the orders of the Supreme Court, and, by extension, democracy through rule of law.

With this single act of thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court, the BJP—like the Congress before—has sent the unfortunate signal once again that court orders are binding only upon ordinary citizens, and Prakash Javadekargovernments are above the law; lifting the ban on jallikattu by circumventing the order of the apex court has put the executive on a collision course with the judiciary.

When senior ministers in the Modi sarkar—including Prakash Javadekar and Pon Radhakrishnan and MPs from Tamil Nadu—began issuing statements last September to the effect that the BJP government at the Centre will bring back jallikattu in time for the festival of Pongal, the media asked animal rights activists whether the lifting of the ban was feasible. My view at the time was that jallikattu could come back in January 2016 only if the BJP government did one of the following four things:

  1. File a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the May 7, 2014 order banning jalliakttu;
  2. Remove bulls from the environment ministry’s list of animals which are not performing animals and which therefore may not be trained or exhibited or used in sport or entertainment;
  3. Amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) in such a way that cruelty to bulls in jallikattu, rekla, kambala and bullock cart races in Maharashtra are kept out of the purview of the PCA Act;
  4. Dissolve the Animal Welfare Board of India—which the environment ministry was obliged by the Supreme Court to consult before amending in any manner the list of performing animals. Javadekar, as minister, could then appoint a new board with members who would go along with the his views on history, culture and tradition and what constitutes cruelty to animals.

In the end, the Modi government did something so absurd that were it not so tragic, would be laughable. Adhering to the SC directive not to effect any change to the list animals which cannot be used in sport or entertainment,  Javadekar kept bulls on the list but added two new paragraphs that while in general bulls may not be deemed to be performing animals, the government is making an exception for bulls used in Pon Radhakrishnanjallikattu, rekla, kambala and bullock cart races. The million dollar question which remains is—what other bulls are there?

The other animals in this list are lions, tigers, bears, monkeys and panthers; circus animals in short. By keeping bulls on the list but making an exception for bulls for the explicit purpose of jallikattu, the next logical move would be for circus owners to rush to the Supreme Court praying for an order that would direct the Modi sarkar to adopt the same measure with regard to other animals too. Javadekar can now be expected not to make any changes to the list but to issue another notification with two additional paragraphs saying lions, tigers, bears, monkeys and panthers are animals that may not be made to perform—except for those that are used in circuses to do unnatural things like playing football, smoking cigarettes, walking on two legs, swaying to Bollywood songs and riding a motorcycle.

Lifting the ban on jallikattu is not the only or first anti-animal decision taken by Prakash Javadekar. A few months ago, he enraged animal activists and all sensitive and sensible people when he declared that his government was considering notifying certain animals as vermin; this meant that the government could order the killing of certain species of animals in a specific locality for a fixed period of time These animals included the wild boar and nilgai. This extreme and ill-considered policy decision was Javadekar’s response to what he called “growing man-animal conflict”. The state is the ultimate protector of all life and of the environment. Javadekar has the dubious distinction of being the first minister in the country’s history to sanction the killing of wildlife; thus far we do not know what the Prime Minister’s views are on this state-sanctioned killing of animals.

Madras High CourtLegal history of jallikattu in our courts

The South Indian Humanitarian League and Blue Cross of India in the last 39 years repeatedly moved the Petitions’ Committee of the Tamil Nadu state legislature to ban jallikattu and other sport using bulls, with little success. The case reached the state’s courts and subsequently the Supreme Court only in 2004.

In 2004, Justice F.M. Ibrahim Khalifulla of the Madras high court  (now a Supreme Court judge) passed an order on rekla with the rider that the organisers should cause no injury to the animals. The learned judge pronounced this oxymoron of an order in response to a petition seeking court directive to the police to permit the conduct of rekla in connection with a temple festival in Ramanathapuram. The petitioner went to the high court because the local police refused permission to conduct this brutal sport.

In 2006, another petitioner who was refused permission by the police to conduct jallikattu, approached the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court for court directive to permit the event; another petition in the same court was filed by the father of a man who was killed during jallikattu the previous year.

This time, Justice R. Banumathi (now a Supreme Court judge), taking note of the purview of the PCA Act in its entirety, in a stern order banned “all types of jallikattu, rekla race, oxen race or any other entertainment involving causing cruelty to animals”. Justice Banumathi, adhering to the letter and spirit of the PCA Act, went beyond jallikattu which alone was the object of the petition, and pronounced an order banning all sport involving use of bulls.

The petitioner, who was seeking court permission to conduct jallikattu, went in appeal against Justice Banumathi’s order and the case was heard by a division bench of Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and P.P.S. Janarthana Raja. On March 9, 2007, the division bench set aside the order of the single judge and allowed jallikattu with conditions attached to the order—conditions which applied to ‘Performing Animals’ under the PCA Act.

The Tamil Nadu government was made respondent in the case and the argument placed by it before the court was that jallikattu must be allowed because it was a huge tourist attraction and some of the larger venues where it is held, like Alanganallur in Madurai district, attracted thousands of foreign tourists every year. Tourism is big business and if the tourists are foreigners then the business is even bigger. Alanganallur jallikattu is a state-sponsored event and the division bench, completely ignoring the letter and spirit of the PCA Act, delivered a judgment which in effect meant that the human abuse of animals would not be prevented but only ‘monitored and regulated’.

The division bench stipulated monitoring of jallikattu by the local magistrate, district collector, veterinary officers, AWBI volunteers and police. The conditions also included the following:

  • Owners of bulls must register their animals with the Animal Welfare Board of India one month in advance;
  • Bulls must be certified by a vet as being healthy and fit to be allowed to participate in the events lasting several months across several districts of Tamil Nadu;
  • At every event bull tamers will be tested by doctors for alcohol consumption;
  • Bulls should not be given alcohol prior to the event;
  • Bulls must not be administered steroids and the veterinary doctors stationed at the venue must ensure that bulls have not been abused by owners rubbing chilly powder, tobacco and mud in their eyes, tails and genitals;
  • All events must receive written permission from the local magistrate.

It also placed bulls on the list of ‘Performing Animals’ ostensibly so that, as per guidelines regulating the use of performing animals, bulls used for jallikattu too may be monitored and the sport could be regulated. The AWBI saw through the ruse of labelling bulls as ‘Performing Animals’ simply to facilitate the conduct of jallikattu, rekla and other sport and took the case to the Supreme Court seeking an immediate stay on the order of the division bench in the Madras high court, and demanding a complete ban on jallikattu.

Supreme Court of IndiaActing on the Special Leave Petition of the AWBI, the Supreme Court bench of Justices R.V. Raveendran and A.K. Patnaik, in its interim order of July 27, 2007, first stayed the order of the division bench of the high court, and on January 11, 2008 pronounced its final order by banning jallikattu but permitting rekla—which is bloodier and more cruel because each race lasts for several minutes. In fact, some organisers hang spiked, metal thorns from the yoke which swing on both sides of the bulls’ necks, drawing blood.

The final order of the Supreme Court was delivered on January 11, 2008, very close to Pongal but with enough time given to the state government and organisers of jallikattu to appeal against the order if they so wished; and of course they did.

On January, 13, 2008 the Tamil Nadu government filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking revision and modification of the January 11 order. The same bench comprising Justices Raveendran and Patnaik, which had pronounced the original order, heard the revision petition and on January 15th, the day of Pongal, delivered another order (an interim order, for those who like cold comfort and cold soup) allowing jallikattu to be held. As a sop which convinced no one and as a palliative which cured nothing, Justice Raveendran placed conditions on the conduct of the sport—conditions which the AWBI proved conclusively in court are observed more in the breach and which have been proved to be completely ineffective.

In 2008, the letter, spirit and purpose of the PCA Act had been ignored yet again by our courts, to the detriment of animal interests and their well-being. The AWBI promptly filed another Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court seeking restoration of the order dated January 11, 2008 which had banned jallikattu and allowed rekla.

Even as the case was pending in the Supreme Court and the courts were seen to be dragging their feet, the Tamil Nadu government took advantage of the delay and in an act of defiance, passed the TN Jallikattu Regulation Act, 2009. The Act was rushed through and with no protests or dissent from any political party inside the assembly.

For fear of raising a storm among animal welfare organisations and animal rights activists, the Tamil Nadu government by-passed due process by not offering the Bill for public scrutiny before passing it in the state assembly. Stake-holders and parties affected by the passing of the Bill were not informed about the impending Act and were denied the right to express their views and concerns. This was gross violation of due process that is mandatory before converting a Bill into an Act. It bears mention that till date the TNJR Act (2009) has not obtained presidential assent.

The Tamil Nadu Act has to be seen as an amendment to the PCA Act 1960; and when any state or Union Territory brings in an amendment to a Central act then it is mandatory for the state to not only receive the governor’s assent but also the President’s. Readers must bear this in mind for what followed in the Madurai bench of the Madras high court in January 2012.

As the case moved at snail’s pace in the Supreme Court with ineffective and repetitive interim orders delivered between long intervals, once in November 2010 and again in March 2011—by the same division bench in the Supreme Court making the same polite noises about regulation, monitoring and supervision—the trauma of the bulls continued with no end in sight.

From 2004 when the case first went to the courts, up until January 2012, year after year these debased sporting events have been held, uninterrupted, not just in Tamil Nadu and Assam but also in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.

Jairam RameshLaw cannot be different things to different people

In July 2011, Jairam Ramesh, who was minister of state for environment and forests, earned the gratitude of all animal welfare organisations and activists when he placed bulls on the list of animals which shall not be deemed to be Performing Animals.

There is a history behind the classification of some animals as Performing Animals and those that may not be considered to be Performing Animals.

On March 14, 1991, the Ministry of Environment & Forests issued a notification under Section 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, banning with immediate effect the training and exhibition of all animals. The notification was stayed by the Delhi high court on an appeal filed by the Indian Circus Federation. Overnight, a new organisation came into being—the Circus Fans Association, purely owned and subscribed to by circus owners.

The ministry filed a counter-petition in the high court to uphold the ban, and all action on the list proscribing use of animals for purposes of exhibition and entertainment moved to the courts.

Not wanting to be seen to be unresponsive to serious concerns about the innate cruelty and misery of the lives of animals used in circuses, and to get around the paralysis inflicted upon the government because the matter was now in the high court, the Government of India, in the Department of Environment and Forest, issued a second notification dated October 14, 1998 (Annexure-1) under Section 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 restricting the exhibition or training of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions with effect from the date of publication of the notification.

Before he was summarily removed from the ministry, Jairam Ramesh included bulls on the list of animals which may not be deemed to be Performing Animals and may therefore not be allowed to be trained, exhibited or used in sport. For good measure, the ministry added that bulls meant cows, the progeny of cows, bulls, buffalo and oxen; the gazette notification also added that oxen included both castrated and not castrated bulls and oxen.

If the earlier list proscribing the use of bears, lions, tigers, monkeys and panthers effectively banned circus owners from owning or using these animals to perform in circuses, it follows that this list should have brought all sport using bulls—jallikattu, rekla, manju virattu, erudhotam, kambala, buffalo fight—to an immediate end with effect from the day of the notification of the list in the Gazette Extraordinary.

But this did not happen. As we shall see, the law is different things for different people.

Armed with the July 2011 notification, the AWBI and this writer filed two separate petitions in the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court asking the court to ban jallikattu. The case was presented in court on January 12, 2012 by advocates Yashod Vardhan and Jayesh Dolia, who presented a perfect and legally air-tight case before the division bench of Justices Chitra Venkatraman and R. Karuppiah.

Even before Vardhan could sit down after a brilliant exposition on why jallikattu could not be allowed to be conducted because it was legally unsustainable on every count, Justice Chitra Venkatraman, not once but three times, announced that the division bench was banning jallikattu with immediate effect.

Within moments of Justice Venkatraman saying this, there was mayhem in the court. The judges were surrounded by shouting men with the Additional. Advocate General shouting loudest to the judge that she should not put down the order in writing as this would cause law and order problems in the state and that the court should grant the state government 24 hours to be heard on the issue.

On January 13, 2012, the division bench headed by Justice Chitra Venkataraman, if we cut through the verbiage and inane palliatives, did a complete turnaround from its position on the previous day and allowed jallikattu with the same repetitive injunction that the state government and the organisers abide by Supreme Court directives on its conduct.

DogA dog is not a monkey is not a bear is not an elephant

The PCA Act is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The operative part is ‘prevention of cruelty’. This is the letter, spirit and purpose of the law. There cannot be different or contrary interpretations of the law among judges in the same court, among judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court and by the same judges in any court on different days.

But as we shall see, for judges of the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court, the PCA Act is a dog is a monkey is a bear is an elephant; intriguingly, a dog is also not a dog on another day.

  • When Justice Ibrahim Khalifulla allowed rekla in 2004, and permitted jallikattu by default, the PCA Act was applied selectively in favour of bulls in one sport and permitted cruelty against other bulls in other sports;
  • If Justice Banumathi understood the PCA Act for what it is in its entirety—that Prevention of Cruelty to Animals demanded that the law should prevent cruelty—then Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and Janarthana Raja understood Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to mean that cruelty against animals may be permitted as long as the cruelty can be regulated, monitored and supervised;
  • The Supreme Court stayed the order of the division bench of Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and Janarthana Raja in July 2007 because it understood Prevention of Cruelty to Animals differently from them;
  • On January 11, 2008 when Justices Raveendran and Patnaik of the Supreme Court banned jallikattu but explicitly permitted rekla, the judges applied the PCA Act differently for the bulls used for jallikattu and bulls used in rekla;
  • When Justices Raveendran and Patnaik banned jallikattu on January 11th 2008 and then did a complete turnaround on the 15th and pronounced the order permitting jallikattu, the Supreme Court understood the PCA Act to be something on the 11th and a totally different, even exact opposite thing on the 15th;
  • Justices Chitra Venkatraman and Karuppiah verbally banned jallikattu three times on 12th January, 2012, and then in a complete turnaround exactly like the Supreme Court in January 2008, passed the exact opposite order the very next day.

The brilliant and well-reasoned order delivered by Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan on May 7, 2014 brought to an end a 40-year struggle to stop the abuse of bulls in sporting events which, in the manner they are held today, bear little resemblance to the rural sport described in ancient Tamil literature. But the Modi government and BJP, which otherwise talk so much about cow protection and banning the slaughter of cows, has rushed in to allow the torture of bulls in a cynical display of political opportunism.

It should serious concern to all sensitive people in the country that not a single political party sees cruelty in using animals for sport.

Narendra ModiIt should cause Modi bhakts serious concern that the Prime Minister has made a conscious decision to ignore the voluminous documentation—including photographs and videos of the physical and mental abuse of bulls not only during jallikattu and other sport but the unconscionable psychological and emotional abuse of the bulls during long years of training to make them jallikattu bulls.

The valour of men who “tame the bulls” is predicated on the terror and fear of the animals that are forced to flee or fight back when faced by a gang of men moving threateningly towards them. The Modi government may think it can regulate the sport; but Javadekar and all jallikattu supporters must ponder over whether regulating the event can end the fear and terror that the bulls suffer.

Jallikattu was banned by the Supreme Court. It has been allowed to come back by a stroke of the government’s pen. Animal activists have the same sense of fear and terror in the pits of their stomachs as Pongal draws near. The Modi sarkar has legitimised human sport and entertainment on the bogus premise of culture and tradition and at the cost of animal well-being. Modi and his government have lost their moral compass. – The Wire, 9 January 2016

» Radha Rajan is a political analyst and Chennai-based animal rights activist.


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