India: Ending bullock cart races

A rescued bull being fed

By Sharon St Joan

In a resounding victory for the animals, the Bombay High Court has directed the State Government to end all bullock cart races in Maharashtra, the Sakaal Times reports in a March 18, 2012, article by Prasad Joshi, “Bullock Cart races brought to halt.”

This victory is the result of the determined efforts of a number of animal groups and individuals, going back over many years.  The suit was brought by Gargi Gogai, a Mumbai animal advocate. Among many others who played a key role were Anil Kataria, President of the SPCA, Ahmednagar, as well as animal activists Ajay Marathe, and Manoj Oswal.

The Animal Welfare Board of India and senior advocate, Anjali Sharma, laid out the case for the animals with a letter to the authorities.

The judge’s recent ruling requires district officials and the police to enforce the ban on all bullock cart races in Maharashtra.

Despite thousands of years of revering the cow and the bull as sacred animals, and despite the reverence that most Indians today feel towards these animals, some public events have continued to be held which are distinctly cruel.  One of these has been bullock cart racing, in which the bulls pull a cart, racing along in the heat of the day.

Animal races, like any animal-related sport, are never kind.  There are unseen cruelties, hidden from public view.  A quick look at any of several videos posted on Youtube of bullock cart races will show clearly that the animals are pushed and pulled this way and that and treated very roughly by their handlers.

But on top of this rough treatment, the bulls are also being tortured in ways hidden from the camera.

Bulls will not naturally run, they are not greyhounds or horses, they’re laid-back animals who really like standing around in fields, so to make them run, they must be made to feel pain by a variety of means. This is an extremely cruel sport, in which the animals suffer by being tormented.

After many years of hard work by animal advocates to have these races banned, there seems to be a light shining at the end of the tunnel.

Recently rescued bulls at Blue Cross.

Last summer saw a milestone reached with the landmark issuing of the Notification by the Ministry of the Environment and Forests on July 11, 2011, banning leopards, tigers, lions, bears, monkeys, and bulls, as performing animals.

However, everything then took a step backwards on September 11, 2011, when the Maharashtra State Government announced that actually the ban did not mean all bulls, and that neutered, castrated bulls weren’t really bulls and could still be used in races.

The Animal Welfare Board of India, on the other hand, endorsed the broad, inclusive meaning of “bulls” as designating all bulls, both neutered and non-neutered, maintaining that Bullock cart racing is entirely illegal.

The latest ruling, by the Bombay High Court, has cast aside the faulty distinction between neutered and non-neutered bulls.

The Bombay High court, in their decision signed by Chief Justice Ranjit More, J., has ruled that in fact all bulls really are bulls, whether neutered or not, and that the court order bans all bullock cart races, games, exhibits, and training of bulls.  No bulls can be used as performing animals.  Any bull owner who allows his bull to race in a bullock cart race is in violation of the provisions of the Animal Protection Act, 1960.  The Court also requested that the State of Maharashtra increase the penalty, calling the current fine “miniscule,” so this is a major victory for the bulls.  It definitively outlaws bullock cart racing in the State of Maharashtra and sets a precedent for similar events in the rest of India.

Rescued bulls.

This major ruling in Mumbai follows an earlier ban of bullock cart races in the State of Punjab.

Kila Raipur, in Punjab, is a well-known village where the three-day Rural Olympics take place every year.  They include contests and tests of strength.  Unfortunately, they have also included bullock cart racing.

This year though, the bullock court races were stopped in Punjab. Early in February 2012 as the Rural Olympics were about to get underway in Kila Raipur, the state authorities, pursuant to last year’s Notification banning bulls and five other species from being used as performing animals, halted the races, not allowing them to go forward.

A letter from the Animal Welfare Board of India was taken to Punjab to the Haryana High Court, Chandigarh, a day before the games were to start.

The Court then ordered the District Magistrate Ludhiana to issue a decision. Having reviewed the AWBI letter, the Government Notification banning use of bulls as performing animals, and the Expert Opinion of the Animal Husbandry Department, the District Magistrate ruled that bullock cart races are illegal, and so the case in Punjab was settled out of court.

On April 23, 2012, the Madurai bench, in Tamil Nadu, will hear the jallikattu case, and it is hoped that the bullock racing case will serve as a precedent. (Jalikattu is another cruel sport, in which bulls are pursued and tormented by crowds of young men.)

Years of work and perseverance on the part of the Indian animal movement are at last paying off, and the bulls are being freed from the suffering inherent in these kinds of brutal sports.

To view the March 18, 2012 Sakaal Times by Prasad Joshi, “Bullock Cart races brought to halt,” click here.

To visit the website of the Animal Welfare Board of India, click here.

Photos:  Sharon St Joan / These particular bulls were not used in bullock cart races. They were recently rescued from illegal transport by Blue Cross of India.

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