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Friday, March 1, 2024

Bullfights and animal welfare: Navigating morals, tradition, and public safety


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The unfortunate death of a 41-year-old Fatrade-Varca man Jenito Vaz during a buffalo fight has brought bullfights back into the public eye. The family of the deceased maintains that contrary to what has been reported on social media, the tragedy happened in their cowshed and not at any legally sanctioned bullfighting venue. However, the police investigation that followed raised serious concerns regarding both the safety of those attending such gatherings and the application of the legislation against animal cruelty. ​​

India’s first national animal welfare law was passed in 1960 and is known as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA). The purpose of the statute is to shield animals from needless suffering. In order to stop cruelty, owners of animals must also provide for and oversee their animals. Bullfighting, also known as “dhirio,” has been banned in Goa since 1998, but it is still discreetly organized in certain areas.

For more than 20 years, bullfights have been a divisive topic. These incidents have been common in the Salcete side in particular, and there have been rumours that the police may be doing nothing about them even though it is illegal. Bullfights are attractive not just because of their long history but also because large quantities of money are at stake, including illicit betting. The passing of Jenito Vaz has prompted a murky inquiry because of legal uncertainty and an unidentified FIR against an unidentified individual, bringing up moral questions about the rule of law.

Further, the debate around bullfights echoes a broader discourse on similar events, such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu. Recently, a manjuvirattu tragedy took place in Siravayal village which raised moral concerns about traditional Jallikattu, the bull-taming sport. A 12-year-old boy and a 35-year-old man died when unregistered bulls attacked spectators. Incidences such as these highlight the need for a nuanced approach that respects tradition while prioritizing human lives and public welfare, requiring a comprehensive and ethically sound approach.

In Karnataka, there is this traditional buffalo race, Kambala (annual bull race or bullock cart race), the race is staged on two parallel courses covered with mud and water, and each pair of buffaloes is controlled by a jockey, or “Kambala runner”. The race against which the Animal rights activists launched an online petition, “Kindness for Kambala Karnataka”. The petition advocated for the humane treatment of animals involved in the race. The activists argued that the event often violates Section 4 (F), which emphasizes the preservation and safety of native buffalo breeds. The petition also cited past incidents of human injuries and alleged cruelty, leading to multiple FIRs filed under the PCA Act 1960, the Performing Animals Registration Rules, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 429.

Bullfights that cause animal injury should also be considered a criminal act, creating ethical and legal concerns. The belief that inflicting damage or death on animals for entertainment is morally wrong has fueled the quest for stricter animal welfare regulations. Bullfighting, in which animals are intentionally harmed and even killed as part of a spectacle, contradicts modern ethical norms about the humane treatment of animals.

If we remember, on December 17, 2023, animal lovers rallied in Panjim, Goa, for animal liberation. They highlighted the vulnerable case of animals and the need for less harm to them to contribute to decreasing our carbon footprint. But their voices fell on deaf ears, unfortunately. Animal rights activists all over the world examine the significance of organisms and their contribution to life, highlighting the need for an integral ecology. But far from integrating with ecology, we are trying to dominate the creatures considering ourselves as the crown of creation.

Come to think of it, the above incidents against animals raise questions about the efficiency and integrity of law enforcement agencies, particularly in Goa, where illegal bullfights persist despite the ban. The failure to clamp down on these events suggests either inefficiency or compromise within the enforcement system. The lack of a robust response from the police indicates a larger problem with enforcing laws related to animal cruelty, public safety, and adherence to regulations.

Bullfighting has remained a popular political discourse in Goa for the past two decades, with candidates leveraging it effectively in their electoral campaigns. However, this political engagement often lacks depth, sidestepping the complexities of the issue. The ethical concern here is that political expediency may be prioritised over the safety of individuals and the well-being of animals involved in these events.

Humane treatment of animals requires collective efforts from individuals, communities, governments, and organizations. To promote animal welfare, individuals, communities, and governments should promote education and awareness about animal welfare, enact and strengthen animal welfare laws, enforce existing laws, support animal shelters and rescues, promote humane farming practices, and support ethical research initiatives.

Regulations should be implemented for entertainment forms involving animals, promoting cruelty-free alternatives. Ethical tourism should be promoted by choosing wildlife sanctuaries and eco-friendly tourism options and avoiding attractions that exploit or mistreat animals. Responsible breeding practices should be promoted, and spaying and neutering should be encouraged to control stray animal populations. Corporate responsibility should be encouraged by encouraging businesses to adopt animal-friendly policies and support companies that adhere to ethical standards in their treatment of animals. Teaching compassion should be incorporated into educational curricula and encouraged by families to teach children about responsible pet ownership and kindness towards animals.

In light of the tragic incidents and ongoing ethical dilemmas surrounding bullfights, a pragmatic approach that prioritises safety and human life should be employed. While tradition holds significance, the potential loss of life and the cruelty to animals demand a reassessment of the current practices. The ethical imperative is to address the systemic failures in enforcement, enhance safety measures, and create awareness about the risks associated with attending or participating in such events. A comprehensive and compassionate approach is needed to navigate the complexities of this issue. By prioritizing safety, reevaluating the role of law enforcement, and fostering a more informed public discourse, society can work towards mitigating the ethical challenges posed by bullfights.

Fr. Carlos Luis SAC
Fr. Carlos Luis SAC
Carlos Luis is a Pallottine Priest born and brought up in Varca, Goa. He is an avid book critic, blogger, poet, and short story writer. He is the author of 'Rays and Ripples' (2016), 'Silent Whispers of Winter' (2017), and 'Suenito' (2022). Currently, he is a freelance journalist for the 'Gomantak Times' and the associate editor of 'Pallottine Call' magazine.

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