Maharashtra awaits SC nod for bullock cart race

New Delhi:- The Maharashtra government is awaiting a nod from the Supreme Court for an almost 400-year-old tradition of bullock cart race that was banned by the Bombay High Court.

Called ‘Shankarpaat’, the bullock cart race is a traditional attraction at the fairs in villages across Maharashtra.

It starts soon after the Ganesh festival and continues right through the remaining Kharif, the entire rabi season and ends around April, ahead of summer.

It is not just popular because of the crowds it attracts, but it gives a push to the local economy wherever the events are held coinciding with fairs. This is a popular sport among the farming community.

Similar bullock cart races are held in Karnataka too, especially the areas that are adjoining Maharashtra.

There have been obvious comparisons with Jallikattu, another traditional sport from Tamil Nadu related to bullocks.

The Nagaraja case had resulted in the Supreme Court banning all such bull-related sports. While in Jallikattu, the men are directly in contact with the bullock, pouncing on the running bull, holding it by the hump and using other means to tame it, in Shankarpaat or the bullock cart race, a pair of bulls or a single bull will race along with the cart with the farmer holding the reins and goading the animal.

In April 2017, the state government passed an act that regularised the sport of Shankarpaat.

A PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court, which put a ban on the bullock cart races.

After the ban, the Maharashtra government approached the Supreme Court, which referred the matter to a five-judge bench.

This year, possibly as an antidote to the lockdown induced lull, there have been multiple attempts in Maharashtra where local farmers have resorted to organising such bullock cart races.

On Sunday, Maharashtra Animal Husbandry Minister Sunil Kedar accompanied by the state’s Animal Husbandry Commissioner Shailesh Kende met Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi and the Maharashtra government’s counsels on the issue.

Patil told IANS: “We are hoping that the Supreme Court will be hearing our case on Tuesday.”

Kedar was supposed to attend the hearing, which was originally expected on Monday, but rushed back to Mumbai for a meeting.

“This is a topic very close to the hearts of hundreds and thousands of farmers in Maharashtra. It also impacts the rural economy,” Kedar said before leaving for Maharashtra.

Bharatiya Bailgada Sanghatana representative Ramkrishna Takalkar, who also accompanied the government delegation, said: “We farmers look after our bullocks just like our family members. There is no torture or cruelty involved with the animal during the bullock cart races, it is a misinformation campaign by animal lovers. The bullocks are fed regularly. What would we get by torturing the animal?”

Takalkar focussed on the economic aspects of the bullock cart races in Maharashtra.

“If there are no race events at the local village fairs, the farmers have valid question to ask: why should we continue to have these bulls?”

He had an even more pertinent question: “On the one hand, you allow horse races and on the other, you ban bullock cart races? Why the partiality?”