Buffaloes anatomically unfit for sport: PETA to fight kambala law in SC

Believing owners’ claims about treatment of buffaloes is like believing tobacco companies’ claims about smoking and cancer, said Nikunj.
Buffaloes anatomically unfit for sport: PETA to fight kambala law in SC
Buffaloes anatomically unfit for sport: PETA to fight kambala law in SC
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Soon after the pro-jallikattu protests gathered steam in Tamil Nadu, the calls for unbanning kambala buffalo races in Coastal Karnataka grew more strident. Soon large protests followed at Mangaluru and nearby Moodbidri, the latter featuring two hundred prized buffaloes in the protest along with their owners and teams. And soon after, the Karnataka government quickly acceded to protester’s calls, amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to exclude kambala from its ambit in much the same way Tamil Nadu did with jallikattu.

Through this entire process, the one organisation facing serious opposition in the state has been PETA India, which has been widely criticised for filing the petition that got kambala banned in Karnataka last year. However, Nikunj Sharma, Government Affairs Liaison at PETA India, tells Prajwal Bhat that the organisation is undeterred in its fight against the sport and intends to continue its fight against the “inherent cruelty” involved. Read the interview here:

In kambala protests in Mangaluru and Moodbidri, many called PETA India’s PIL in the Karnataka HC last year an ''attack on Tulunadu's culture''. Several others said that kambala and events around it are a source of livelihood for them. How would you respond to these statements?

India’s culture is one of kindness, not cruelty. Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution makes it the mandate of every Indian citizen to “have compassion for living creatures”.

The 2011 Environment Ministry ban is against the use of bulls in all performances, not only in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, and applies India-wide. And the cruelty inherent in kambala is illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, a central government law that has been in place for 57 years.

A lot of youngsters participated in the protests, even college students, many holding up ''Ban PETA'' placards. How do you respond to the younger generation, generally more receptive to such causes, protesting against PETA?

There are far more young people who abhor cruelty to animals and stand for animal rights than those who stand for cruelty. PETA India has over 22 thousand people signed up with us to take voluntary action for animals via our Activist Network and Street Team, most of them young people. There are an additional nearly two lakh people signed up to receive news from PETA India about animal rights and over 8 lakh fans on PETA India’s social media pages, many of them youngsters.

Buffalo owners and other labourers have spoken up about training methods and the care given to kambala buffaloes, claiming they are treated like their own children. How would you respond to this?

To believe the word of those with a vested interest in racing buffaloes, that doing so does not hurt the animals, would be like believing a child trafficker who says that slavery does not hurt children. It would be like believing a cigarette company that claims smoking does not contribute to lung cancer.

A total of 65 non-cognisable offence complaints and one FIR were filed at just three events inspected by the government body Animal Welfare Board of India during kambala events in 2014 and 2015.

The inspection reports contain a scientific assessment of the welfare of buffaloes when they are forced to participate in such events, including photographic evidence and a description of different forms of cruelty inflicted on the animals, such as being subjected to verbal abuse and physical force – including shouting, hitting with hands, slapping on the face, violent pulling of thick nose ropes (in some cases two or three nose ropes inserted through the same hole in the nasal septum), other rough handling by pushing and pulling the animal, overpowering them, tail pulling, and restricting the movements of the head using a wooden pole tied to the horns. Many of the buffaloes observed frothed at the mouth, salivated heavily, and displayed increased respiration rates, demonstrating that they were struggling, and are anatomically unfit to be forced to take part.

In protests, buffalo owners marched together with prominent politicians from the Congress and the BJP. Don't you think the public mood, combined with sloganeering against PETA, has hurt the image of the organisation and celebrities who support it?

Most Indian citizens abhor cruelty to animals, and our star supporters volunteer for PETA India because they love animals. In contrast, jallikattu supporters were bullying celebrities – especially on social media – with threats and misogynistic statements, while demanding that they support cruelty to bulls. The bullying even extended to regular citizens who spoke out on social media against jallikattu. If a star or any other person then relents, how can this possibly be considered genuine support?

What are PETA India's plans, going forward, on kambala?

We will study this new bill and plan to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

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