From jallikattu in Tamil Nadu to cockfights in Andhra, the intentional and open flouting of the Supreme Court and Hyderabad High Court orders respectively show animal rights laws, and its critics, are failing.

Indias animal rights morality and the eroding authority of the judiciaryBy Djoemanoj via Wikimedia Commons
Voices Opinion Monday, January 16, 2017 - 16:04

As the day broke on January 16, thousands of supporters gathered in different parts of Tamil Nadu, with the intention of breaking the law banning Jallikattu. In lesser known villages and towns, the few hundred men and women who had gathered let bulls loose as a mark of their protest, and turned to TV cameras to proudly declare that they defied the SC order.

At Alanganallur, one of the few Jallikattu hot spots in TN, massive police presence and lathicharge prevented the sport from happening, but the day was marred by protests. “We don’t want police. We don’t want the law or the courts. We don’t want to vote,” an old lady screamed into TV cameras.

Also read: Jallikattu, rekla held in TN: Alanganallur sees protests and tension as bulls let loose

But this was not the only instance of the courts being blatantly disregarded.

Through the first two weeks of January, the Hyderabad High Court’s ban on cockfights was disregarded, with largescale events being held and betting running into several crore rupees. Reports suggest that leaders of many major political parties participated in the event.

In Karnataka, animal cruelty laws were violated after men threw goats off a hill onto palanquins during a temple festival. It is not a very popular festival, and there was no flouting of specific court orders like in the case of cockfights and jallikattu, but an intentional disregard of the law nonetheless.

It is not just for these ‘cultural’ traditions that the courts are being defied. Karnataka, for instance, has openly refused to released Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu despite SC orders in more than one instance.

But it is the attack on these ‘traditions’ which is driving the mass defiance of the courts, and in doing so, not only have the protesters failed, but so have the courts and our animal rights laws.

Animal rights are peculiar in their morality, because there are inherent double standards in our individual ideas of animal rights. We could speak out supporting consumption of beef and be against jallikattu, and yet see no problem with that argument because that sits in well with our morality.

The animal rights discourse in India is driven by the morality of the English-speaking, urban elite. But when the courts also start going by it, then the fallout, as is being seen, is the erosion of its authority.

By flouting the courts, the people have made a grave misstep, for this open disregard could also play out against them in other issues. We can disagree with the law, but under no circumstance can we disobey it. This will come back to, well, bite us in our tails.

But this is also a major concern for the courts. Once it sinks into the psyche of the people that the SC can be disregarded, the road to lawlessness is not too far. And it is in the interest of the courts to prevent this from happening.

There are two important and related points to note here. Laws are made for the people, people should not be made to serve the law – as far as our actions don’t violate another person’s individual rights. And individual rights are supreme. Jallikattu does not take away any other person’s individual rights, banning it does.

There is a reason we have the legislature - the courts are not capable of legislating laws because that requires taking into account the sentiments of the people. While not all legislative mechanisms have been worked to allow jallikattu just yet, it is clear that both the Centre and State governments think they must go ahead. By banning these events completely, the courts have sparked off a class war, from which there is no returning.

The solution lies in the courts correcting their view on animal rights. We have to move away from ‘traditions’ which disregard animal rights, but the pace of change cannot be decided by a minority of people who have nothing to do with these traditions – the change has to come from within. If it is forced, the courts stand to lose their authority. 

 

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