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SC Constitution Bench to examine if jallikattu is a cultural right of TN people

by AnkitaDecember 12, 2017

If so, the sport can come under the ambit of Article 29 (1), which will guarantee its protection.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said a Constitution Bench would examine if the people of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra can conserve jallikattu and bullock cart races as their cultural right and demand their protection under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution.

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

Though 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”.

If, for example, jallikattu is upheld by the Constitution Bench as a cultural right and a part of the “collective culture” of the people of Tamil Nadu under the Article, provisions of other laws that undermine the sport may run the risk of being struck down.

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra orally observed, “It has never been looked into whether a State can claim constitutional protection under Article 29 (1) for what it thinks is a cultural right.” The matter would be referred to a Constitution Bench, he said.

Justice Nariman said, “This may have a far-reaching effect. So far, nobody has plumbed the depths of Article 29 (1).”

“Strongholds in rural areas”

The Tamil Nadu government, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, argued that 80% of the population of Tamil Nadu supported jallikattu and the sport had strongholds in rural parts.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the support for Jallikattu was irrespective of religion or caste.

Justice Nariman referred to part of Article 29 (1), which says “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India.” “And Tamil Nadu is definitely a part of India,” he remarked orally.

Mr. Venugopal referred to the Supreme Court decision in Ahmedbad 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.

The two-judge Special Bench was hearing a batch of petitions, filed by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), seeking the quashing of the new Jallikattu law passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly that brought bulls back into the fold of ‘performing animals’.

The 2014 ban

The law under challengeTamil 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 as cruelty to bulls.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday indicated that the Constitution Bench would also look into whether the 2017 Jallikattu and bullock cart races laws of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra actually subserve the objective of “prevention” of cruelty to animals under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.

The Bench will also have to say whether the laws are “really in consonance with the basic tenets of the 1960 Act”, Chief Justice Misra said.

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.

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