The Marina beach is the stage for the latest drama of democracy. It appears (as of now) that a spontaneous revolt has kickstarted the demand to ensure the continuance of Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu as part of the festive celebrations. The collective that has taken to the streets to voice their demand for a ‘cultural’ event, as they seemingly perceive it, also left a few Freudian slips when it was stated that it is part of Tamil pride. Even as governments in the State and the Centre deal with the possible law and order problem brewing within the demand, it would do well to see the entire event as a serious signpost of our democracy.
Animal Lover and Watchdog
The debate is not just about the elitist animal lover and the traditional watchdog of culture. It is also not just about judicial activism or the parameters with which courts must evaluate the constitutionality of popular human events. It is certainly not about the conflict between the State and the Centre. Rather, it is about the event throwing up myriad facets of a functional democracy and various clashes manifesting themselves in languages hitherto not employed. It will not be long before slogan-shouting enthusiasts talk with stones and sticks, and not long before when the slogans will call to question revered institutions and the bonafides and efficiency of statesmen will come up for strict scrutiny.
Did the Supreme Court act without reference to a sensitivity that it did not perceive? Should it have? The constituency of the wise men in black robes is the Constitution. They interpret law as it is and as is it understood by them. How much of contemporary social values can be part of their inputs in the decision-making process? Is the collective in contemporary India willing to concede to these wise men – being the ultimate watchdogs? Very importantly, some of these questions may have differing answers depending on the learning of the wise men or in short, the wisdom of the wise men. After all, the crucial aspect of wisdom is that it should not be put to question at the crossroads.
Issues of Wisdom
To permit the laity to decide issues of wisdom would push us only further into anarchy. At a time when the courts have ruled on whether we should have bull fights, who should govern cricket in the country and how they must select themselves, there can be a great strain on their time and priorities and the common man may from sheer desperation begin to critically evaluate the verdicts that make the law of the land.
There is no gain in saying that the law of the land must be followed. It should be at all cost. While there could be a debate on whether the courts are overstepping their brief, it must be, albeit, grudgingly conceded that in the present circumstance they still are the best bet. The citizen has a right to protest and such right is primordial to democracy. But, when such protests threaten the institutional balance of society, the Executive must step in. It is often said that good parents sometimes have to be tough with children and not give in to their demands, even if justified. This is perhaps even true of modern governments. If a group (large ones at that!) can hold a government to ransom and demand that what they say has a louder pitch than the verdict of the apex court, the road to anarchy is well-laid.
Apex Court Verdict
It is good to recall that the apex court had decided on the validity of the conduct of sport/traditional cultural event in the context of the law made by Parliament. Apart from dealing with the question as to whether the State legislature could trample on a facet occupied by legislation occupied in field by Parliament, the apex court went on to hold that the Tamil Nadu legislation in this regard was unconstitutional.
“We have to examine the various issues raised in these cases, primarily keeping in mind the welfare and the well-being of the animals and not from the stand point of the organizers, bull tamers, bullracers, spectators, participants or the respective States or the Central Government, since we are dealing with a welfare legislation of a sentient- being, over which human-beings have domination and the standard we have to apply in deciding the issue on hand is the “Species Best Interest”, subject to just exceptions, out of human necessity,” the court said in its verdict banning Jallikattu.
It would be naïve to quote in the midst of the Marina din, DM Broom, a Professor of Animal Welfare – “Behavioural responses to pain vary greatly from one species to another, but it is reasonable to suppose that the pain felt by all of these animals is similar to that felt by man.”
The challenge is, as stated herein before, not just about bulls. It is about how bullish we can get. Can the citizens normally be permitted to defy the law without having to pay a price and if so are we missing the hidden price tag? Bull fights and cock fights are our tradition. Breaking the law? A salute to the diagnosis that we are a functional anarchy!! It is not so much about bull fights as it about the law of the land. Even if it is just the former, let us not forget the wise words of the Mahatma: “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
(The author is a Designated Senior Advocate)