From Bulls to Buffaloes



14, Feb 2017

Karnataka assembly on Monday passed a bill to facilitate the conduct of "Kambala", a traditional annual buffalo race in marshy fields, held in the coastal districts of the state. After the Tamil Nadu government succeeded in bypassing the court order on Jallikattu, the annual bull-taming sport, by getting an ordinance passed, the Karnataka government initiated similar action for Kambala. The move may spur similar demands in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

What is the bill about?

The Karnataka assembly on Monday passed a Bill amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which paves the way for the conduct of Kambala, the buffalo racing sport.

  • The bill defines the sport of bull races and bullock cart races as "any form of bulls race including race of bullock cart as a traditional sports involving bulls whether tied to cart with the help of wooden yoke or not (in whatever name called) normally held as a part of the tradition and culture in the state on such days and places, as my be notified by the state government."
  • However, it states that the sport can be conducted only after ensuring that no unnecessary pain or suffering was caused to the animals.
  • The government said the sport would ensure the survival and continuance of native breed of buffaloes. In effect, this is the same line of argument that was vigorously proposed in Tamil Nadu to get Jallikattu reinstated.
  • The amendment bill adds that there was no extra expenditure involved in the proposed legislative measure.

“Considering the significant role played by the traditional sports events "Kambala" and "Bulls race or Bullock cart race" in preserving and promoting traditions and culture among the people in the state and their vital role in ensuring survival and continuance of native breeds of cattle, the government has decided to exempt their conduct”, the bill said.

Kambla in its traditional form is non-competitive with buffalo pairs made to race one after another in paddy fields, which is considered a thanksgiving to the Gods for protecting the animals from diseases.

  • Over the years, it has however become an organised sport with animal rights activists claiming that the buffaloes run in the race due to fear of being beaten, which the organisers dismiss, saying no violence is involved and that several modifications had been made to ensure that it is an animal friendly event.
  • The bullock cart races are held in North Karnataka and Kambala in the coastal districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada.

Why is this move not surprising?

After the Tamil Nadu government succeeded in circumventing the court order on Jallikattu by getting an ordinance passed, populist pressure started mounting on the Karnataka government to initiate similar action with regard to Kambala. Thus, the Karnataka bill comes only weeks after the Tamil Nadu government legalized Jallikattu bypassing a Supreme Court ban on the bull-taming sport.

  • Encouraged by the pro-Jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu, scores of people across Karnataka launched agitations against the ban on Kambala.
  • Apart from demanding the reinstitution of the sport, protestors have also demanded a ban on animal rights group People for the Ethical Treat of Animals (PETA). Just like they demanded in Tamil Nadu.

Kambala saw widespread political support as well.

  • Opposition leader Jagadish Shettar said the government's decision was a welcome move and said the judiciary must deliberate and discuss such cases at length before arriving at any decisions on such sensitive matters."The allegations of harming animals were just excuse for traditional sports to be barred. Just because there was a complaint, it does not entitle the judiciary to completely ban such sports," he said.
  • BJP legislator S Suresh Kumar said the act of banning the sport was a classic case of "judicial over-reach".
  • Cutting across party lines, the Dakshina Kannada legislators said the bill to legalise the sport, which is rooted in their tradition for hundreds of years, was much required.
  • "As far as cruelty of animals in Kambala goes, the bullocks are treated by their owners as much more of a child than their own children. They are fed like kings and, barring some 26 days of the race, they are kept very comfortably," said Congress legislator Shakuntala Shetty.
  • BJP legislator from Karkala, V Sunill Kumar said people should not equate Kambala with Jallikattu."While we have hundreds of cases of deaths in Jallikattu, there has been not a single incident of death recorded in Kambala be it the racer or the animal," he said.

In essence, if Jallikattu could be revived in Tamil Nadu, it would be deemed as failure on part of the government of Karnataka to not get Kambala revived.

We are seeing a template getting developed here, with the following assumptions:

  • The court cannot interfere in matters of tradition, especially when there is no apparent reason.
  • PETA inevitably acts against local interests.
  • The state government can amend national laws within the state, and the central government won’t object to it (unless it wants to lose votes in the next elections).

When did this sport start?

Kambala — the rural sporting festival of Karnataka — was once a pastime for the royal family. According to one belief, the festival was started by the Hoysala Kings to see if the buffaloes could be trained and used during wartime.

  • The Hoysala Kings were surprised to see the speed of the buffaloes and started racing them against one another. This then developed into a sport for the royals.
  • The tradition was kept alive till it was passed on to the common men, by the feudal lords of Tulu region.

Another belief states that the festival originated in the farming community of Karnataka and is dedicated to Lord Kadri Manjunatha, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It was celebrated to please the Gods for a good harvest.

In the earlier days of the festival, it was called Karaga celebrations. Later it came to be known as Kambala celebrations.

  • There are two types of Kambala:Pookere Kambala and Bale Kambala.
  • However Bale Kambala was discontinued 900 years ago, so only the former kind of Pookere Kambala gets celebrated.

The festival is famous for the buffalo race that is held during the celebrations.

  • The two-day celebration starts with an exhibition of the participating buffaloes with their respective farmers.
  • During the festival, when the fields are wet, the buffaloes are made to race on the tracks, led by the farmer.
  • Each team comprises of two buffaloes and a farmer who controls the buffaloes.
  • Two teams are made to race down two slushy tracks to determine the fastest team.
  • The winner of the buffalo race gets rewarded with a coconut among other things.
  • In this festival, due to the high speed at which the farmers and buffaloes run, they may suffer serious injuries, including fractures of the bones.

The buffalo race in Karnataka takes place between November and March every year. The places where it takes place are Baradi Beedu, Bolantur, Kolatta, Majalu, Puttur, Kamalakettu and Uppinagadi.

  • The festival gets celebrated with much cheer in Mangalore at the Kadri Kambala fields. Hence, it is also popularly referred to as the Kadri Kambala or Mangaluru Hobali Kambala.

Where are the issues according to PETA and from the legal perspective?

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (Central Act 59 of 1960) was enacted to prevent the infliction of unnecessary cruelty and suffering on animals.

  • It recognises the need to exempt the application of its provisions in certain circumstances.

A Karnataka high court division Bench, headed by Chief Justice S K Mukherjee, had in November last year stayed holding of Kambala on a petition by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) challenging it in view of orders passed by the Supreme Court on Jallikattu.

  • Amid growing protests for lifting the court stay on Kambala, Karnataka Cabinet on January 28 had decided to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to pave the way for the traditional sport.
  • On January 30, 2017, the High Court had said it would await the Supreme Court verdict on Jallikattu case.

Reacting to the legalisation of Kambala, PETA said that, "allowing this cruelty to animals is a shameful black mark on our nation."

  • PETA said as many as 65 non-cognisable offences and one FIR have been filed at just three events inspected by the government body Animal Welfare Board of India during Kambala events in 2014 and 2015.
  • They claimed 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), rough handling by pushing and pulling the animal, overpowering, 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 are anatomically unfit to be forced to take part, said PETA.

Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development and a fierce animal rights activist, has also voiced strong opinion against this festival.

  • Writing for Firstpost, she recently condemned the festival, saying, "In Karnataka, till the animal activists stopped it, there used to be a ritual in which foxes were hunted, imprisoned, beaten and burnt alive. Now that has been replaced by Kambala, where cows are whipped and made to race through flowing water. Many of these animals die due to broken limbs which are too weak to withstand the force of the water and some die due to the intense beatings."

Who else want their traditional sports revived?

There are other animal sports as well which are banned in many states.

Cockfighting in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana

With the Bhogi (bonfire), the three-day long Makar Sankranti festival starts in Andhra Pradesh. Over the years, the festival has been criticised by animal rights activists as it involves bull race, bullfights as well as cock fights.

However, because of strict court orders, the bull fight and race has stopped, but the cock fight was still going on in Andhra Pradesh until recently.

  • The High Court of Hyderabad, in its order dated December 26, 2016 has upheld the ban on cockfighting in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and has directed the state governments to ensure no cockfighting takes place during Sankranti hereinafter.
  • Furthermore, on January 8, 2017, the Supreme Court of India also in an appeal filed against the order prohibiting cockfights refused to stay the ban on cockfight.

The practice of cockfighting is synonymous with bloodbath where organizers and participants cheer the cruel fight between roosters laced with sharp knives and fighting to death.

  • The more unfortunate part is that the cock fight has also become a money minting opportunities for organizers who place huge bets on the outcome of cockfights and amass huge amount of money at the expense of the lives of roosters.
  • It is believed that bets between Rs 700 and Rs 800 crore are placed in Andhra Pradesh with either people getting the booty or losing it during cock fight.

Bullock cart racing in Maharashtra

In parts of rural Maharashtra, bullock cart races had, for long, been a source of recreation and entertainment.

  • In 2013, during the annual Pune Festival, over 1000 bullock carts participated in the race which was held at Bhosari near Pune.
  • Organisers and promoters of these races argued that the sport was being held for centuries and was an integral part of the culture of the state.
  • Animal activists fought for long to stop bullock cart races which often left the animals in pain and distress.
  • In 2014, the apex court finally set aside the judgment of the Madurai high Court of March 9, 2007 and upheld the March 12, 2012, judgment of the Bombay high court banning bullock cart races.

The notification had come at the same time as ban on Jallikattu and thus several political actors including some Shiv Sena members have started raising demands for lifting ban on such races.

How viable is this method of bypassing central legislations through local laws?

According to Article 251, in case of a concurrent list subject, a law passed by the Parliament will automatically prevail over a law made by the state government.

  • In simple terms, a central law takes precedence over a state law, in case it's on the same subject.
  • In this case, the central law is the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals Act, 1960.

As per the Constitution, a state government ordinance which goes against provisions provided by the Central government can be promulgated if the President sanctions it.

  • Such an ordinance can stand the court's scrutiny, as per the provisions of the Article 254 (2) of the Constitution of India.

Since sports comes under the state list in Schedule 7 of the Constitution, the state government has exclusive power to make laws for the subject.

But either way, any ordinance or Act passed by any government – Centre of State – can be challenged in court. Since this has been the strategy of the petitioners against Jallikattu and Kambala, we can be sure that a legal case will ensue.

The court will not be a mute spectator to the bypassing of its judgments.

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Tags | Buffaloes Bulls Kambala