Herald: 20 yrs and counting: locked horns over bullfights
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20 yrs and counting: locked horns over bullfights

11 Feb 2018 06:38am IST
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11 Feb 2018 06:38am IST

For some this is an intrinsic part of Goan identity and for others a violation of an animals right to exist. Dhirio evokes strong emotions amongst its fans and for them it is not a violent sport. The government has made conciliatory sounds and expressed its willingness to approach the constitutional bench to lift the ban this has added more heat to the discourse. Shweta Kamat met with its fans as well as those fighting to maintain the ban to understand the undercurrents on the ground

elcome to the world of Goan bullfighting ‑ popularly known as ‘dhirio’, banned by the courts way back in the 90’s, still passionately loved by a section of the State’s population. Bullfighting, Goa’s worst kept secret, takes place more often than it should despite the legal ban and unfortunately with total backing from the politicians across party lines, who have been pressing for legalising this sport. 

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent announcement to approach the Constitutional Bench to lift the ban on bullfights in Goa is likely to trigger a major debate in the coastal State – where the beautiful beaches are used as training grounds for the fighter bulls. 

The sport, that dominates the South Goa belt, was banned in 1997 by the High Court of Bombay at Goa for violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960. Section 11 of the Act clearly prohibits “inciting any animal to fight any other animal with a view to providing entertainment” or other purposes. 

But this has never kept bullfighting from flourishing in Goa. The ban has not managed to prevent illegal bullfights, which are attended by dhirio lovers in larger numbers. 

People for Animals (PFA) had moved a writ petition in the High Court in December 1996, submitting that the statutory authorities are either hesitant or negligent in taking appropriate steps to prevent the cruelty to the animals that are being inflicted in the course of the game of bullfights taking place in the State of Goa. 

The immediate occasion for the petitioner to approach the Court was the incident reported at Fatroda on September 17, 1996, wherein a person was killed in a most brutal fashion by a violent bull during the dhirios. 

Admitting the petition, the Court had imposed a stay on dhirios till the disposal of the petition. Consequently, owners of fighter bulls citing financial crisis caused by the resultant 'dry season', under the umbrella of the All Goa Bull and Buffalo Owners Association, became party to the same. They had later challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court, which too failed to give them respite. 

“The petitioners claim that the bull fights are recent introduction in the State of Goa and though initially, no money or gambling was associated with it, in the recent times, due to the patronage of local politicians, the frequency of bull fights have increased enormously and they have become completely commercialised,” PFA had said in their petition. 

Speaking to HERALD, PFA president Adv Norma Alvares said that Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a Central government legislation that prohibits cruelty to animals and the State has no power to change the legislation. “In 1997 itself the Supreme Court rejected the Bull Owner Association's appeal against the High Court judgment banning bullfights,” she said.

“Unfortunately, instead of firmly ensuring that the Court's order is respected in the State, the Government, solely to get voter support, persisted in trying out a number of strategies to keep the hopes of the dhirio enthusiasts alive. They all failed. The recent announcement of the Chief Minister to request the Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court to re-examine dhirios is just one more attempt which will similarly fail,” Adv Alavres said. 

The Goa Government had objected to the petitioner’s claim stating that organizing 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 organizing of such bull fights. 

However, the Division bench (then) comprising of Justice RMS Khandeparkar and Justice R Batta, ruled in favour of the petitioner. 

“Considering the facts of the case it is, therefore, necessary to issue directions to the respondents to take all the steps to give full effect to the provisions contained in the said Act and thereby to prevent cruelty to the animals thereby prohibiting bull fights & all other fights of like nature involving animals including birds which can cause injuries and cruelty to the animals,” the order passed in 1997 reads.

“The bull fights or 'dhirios' are in contravention of the provisions of the said Act &, therefore, illegal & cannot be permitted to be organized. The respondents are, therefore, directed to take immediate steps to ban all types of animal fights including bull fights and 'dhirios' in the State of Goa and to see to it that the direction is fully complied with in letter and spirit which the Act seeks to achieve,” the order added. 

Melroy Fernandes, a bull owner from Salcete, says that for the bull owners, it was not entertainment or torture to the  animals but a matter of livelihood. “Animal lovers have got it all wrong because for us it’s all about loving our animals. We take good care of the bulls, even when they are not in a position to fight. Animal lovers turn a blind eye to the plight of stray dogs and cattle so why always us? The injuries caused by bullfights are very minor and do not cause a great deal of harm to the animals,” he justifies. 

Desmond Borges, another bull owner, whose forefathers have been into this business, claims bullfighting is no more attraction like it used to be. “Now there are not  much bull fights taking place. They take place only during festive season. Since they are banned, we take all precautions to ensure that we are not caught and hence, it is not held in big way,” he said. 

Borges confirms that politicians from South Goa are lovers of Dhirio. 

The Bull Owners had challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court, who had unhealed the Court.  

On May 7, 2014, the Supreme Court passed an order prohibiting all animal races and fights. That same month, the High Court of Madras in the S Kannan vs Commissioner of Police case declined permission for a cockfighting event in a temple festival and suggested the prohibition of cockfights in the state of Tamil Nadu. The High Court of Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, in 2014, directed strict prevention of cockfights, this decision was provided status quo by the Supreme Court in the following month.

In October 2015, People for Animals, Goa filed a contempt petition in the high court against Goa’s chief minister and all other top government officials for encouraging banned bull fights, following a bullfighting event organized on 20 September at Paliem-Harmal. The matter is still pending. 

State Government had in 2015 constituted a House Committee to consider revival of traditional bullfight. However, the same remained inconclusive, with the new Government taking over in March 2017. 

A senior Animal Husbandry officer said that Indian laws have provided ample protection to animals against cruelty. There is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 but the action is initiated only if the cases are reported. 

“Dhirio related cases often go without any report to any authority,” officer said. It is not a hidden fact that the politician and police are the one who grant protection to such sport. 

Coastal villages like Benaulim, Colva, Fatorda, Betalbatim in South Goa and Mandrem, Siolim, Morjim in North Goa are well known for bullfights. 

Congress MLA Alexio Reginaldo Lourenco said ‘When Supreme Court and the Law itself prohibit bull fights, there is no question of legalizing it. Manohar Parrikar is trying to fool the people…it is nothing but an election gimmick. 

“But, if Government really moves to Constitutional Bench, then the Congress party will extend its full support. We very much support bull fight, thought It is not a traditional sport in Goa, but it loved by larger number of people,” MLA said. 

If one recalls correctly, the Supreme Court explicitly banned animal fighting while pronouncing the landmark Jallikattu judgment in 2014 and upheld various sections of the PCA Act, and reiterated the legal responsibility of the owner towards the animals in his charge. The court also declared that animal fighting cannot be carried out under the guise of tradition and culture and declared the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu.

On Jan 21, 2017 the Tamil Nadu governor on passed an Ordinance lifting the ban on Jallikattu following protests from several sections of society supporting the bull-taming sport. 

One has to now wait and see how the Goa government takes up this matter before the Constitutional bench – the move which will be definitely supported by political leaders cutting across party lines and by the Dhirio lovers-the Animal welfare groups will expectedly oppose it. 
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