Bees Saal Baad as they say in Hindi. Dhirios or bullfight may not be back yet, officially, but the debate over the legislations of bullfights has certainly entered the bullring after twenty years, with Goa’s decision to approach the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court to lift the current High Court ban on dhirios, or bullfights.
At the core of the debate for or against dhirios is the question of culture or cruelty or culture versus cruelty. And with culture - as we have often seen, comes politics. While Goa has a culture of politics, there is also the politics of culture. The cultural argument of bullfights as a traditional sport has been indeed fiercely argued in the town and country of South Goa.
The debate and a fierce one at that, over the staging of dhirios has been bullish to put it mildly and the two sides of the battlefield are quite clearly marked. The Culture versus Cruelty battle is no different in Goa than in Tamil Nadu or Spain. But yet unlike in Spain where the killing of the bull is mandatory each and every time, it isn’t the case in Tamil Nadu where the ceremony involves man and bull, nor in Goa where it’s straight bullfight between two bulls, till one falls or flees. And often the victor bull pierces and injured the vanquished one.
The twenty-year-old judgment of the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court, in 1998, clearly outlines both sides of the argument and relies on the fact that while the staging of a bullfight does not amount to cruelty against animals it has the potential to cause harm.
When the Goa government intervenes on behalf of all Goa Bull and Buffalo Owners’ Association, who own fighter bulls, it will have to contend with the arguments put forth by the People for Animals, whose petition was allowed and maintained by the High Court bench of R Batta and R Khandeparkar. The bench ruled all types of animal fights including bullfights and 'dhirios' in the State of Goa be banned “and to see to it that the direction is fully complied with in letter and spirit which the Act (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1968,) seeks to achieve. Rule made absolute accordingly in aforesaid terms.”
Goa’s challenge will lie in winning the argument of culture and tradition and delinking it from cruelty. And to understand the challenges, the basis has to be on the line of argument on both sides.
According to the petitioners, bullfights were in contravention of section 11(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1968, and the petition was triggered off by the killing of a person one Xavier Rodrigues of Cana Benaulim. He was killed during a bull fight organized at Ambaji-Fatorda on September 17, 1996.
The second contention was that several social evils had sprung up and are associated with events of bullfights and they include largescale of illegal betting relating to the fortunes and fate of the individual bull.
The third argument was that direct support was sought to be lent by the Government to the illegal activities & violation of provisions of the said Act by organising the bullfights.
Goa’s Advocate General submitted that no such relief can be granted unless there is certainty of the offence being committed. The question of commission of offence arises only in case there is certainty of the offence being committed. He said that organising bull fights or 'dhirio', by itself does not amount to commission of an offence under the said Act and, therefore, there cannot be any ban on organising of such bull fights, unless it is accompanied by actual cruelty to the animals, and, such cruelty cannot be presumed merely because the bullfight is arranged. The cruelty may occur only in the course of bullfight depending upon the circumstances in each case of bullfights and there is no presumption that there will be cruelty to the animals in the course of each and every bullfight.
Advocate Anacleto Viegas who appeared for the Bull and Buffalo owners, in defence of dhirios agreed with the Advocate General and said it is customary to hold such bullfights at the end of harvest season & on festive occasions. There is no cruelty to the animals involved in such bullfights and it is a sheer game wherein strength of bulls is put to test. According to Shri Viegas, presently all the spectators take part in such fights actively because no barricades are raised around the ground where such fights take place. This can be avoided by making it compulsory to have barricades around the ground where such fights are to be held.
His other point of argument was that ban would result in financial loss to the bull owners as they are specially maintained at exorbitant costs by the bull and buffalo owners.
The High Court ruled in favour of the petitioners and rejected the arguments of the bull owner and further added in the order “the facts brought on record also show that these bullfights are not only blessed by the politicians but by the Police Officers of the rank of Dy.S.P.
But the ban may have given a protective legal ring to bulls but it did little to stop the surreptitious holding of bullfights, through clandestine text messages and code signals. And prized bulls raised and maintained with names like Rocky and Rambo entered the bull rings to the chants and excitement of villagers.
The BJP government, much more than the Congress government in the past, has showed a willingness to lift the ban and legalise it. Mr Parrikar’s successor and his predecessor Laxmikant Parsekar, was explicit. As Chief Minister of Goa he said, “For every bullfight, over 5,000 spectators gather. So just imagine the amount of revenue the sport can generate if it is undertaken formally. It is a traditional entertainment sport for Goans and it can transform into a reliable income generating source for farmers during the off-season.”
A house committee under the Chairmanship of then St Andre MLA Vishnu Wagh was constituted to study the issue but Wagh’s, sudden and then prolonged ill health resulted in no real progress of the committee. Interestingly the then CM’s remarks came days after an illegal bullfight was hosted at Arambol in his constituency, Mandrem. While a case was registered no arrests were made and People for Animals Lawyer and activist Normal Alvares threatened to move a contempt petition in the High Court.
The decision of the Goa government to intervene in the Supreme Court has been triggered off by the way in which locals in Tamil Nadu have emerged an opposition to animal Rights activists and taken them on, even risking violent street battles with the police in protest against a ban on Jalikattu. Wikipedia describes Jallikattu as a sport where a bull is released into a crowd of people, and multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump on the bull's back with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Tamils have been participating in Jallikattu for at least five centuries as part of the Pongal festival, and is in honour of agriculture and livestock. The Tamil Nadu Assembly even passed a bill in order to make Jallikattu a permanent sport in Tamil Nadu.
The Goa government’s decision is a well thought out calculated one. It is uncertain how it will convince the Court that the ban on bullfights needs to be lifted. But it can logically bank on the fact that if the Jallikattu judgment goes in favour of traditionalists, then Goa too has a strong case. However, People for Animals and Animal Lovers are certain to intervene and challenge the government’s move.
But even as the issue lies in the apex court, the government strategically plans to extract mileage from a sufficient chunk of rural south Goa and other parts as well, where almost every home either has a dhirio lover, or a fighter bull, or both in some villages.
It’s going to be a tough fight. Sentiments of cruelty and culture, in its myriad interpretations will lock horns once again as this dhirio turns political.