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This article is written by Aarzoo Guglani, a student at ILS Law College, Pune and is edited by Gitika Jain. This article is a brief about the historical pieces of evidence of animal welfare, present condition of animals in India and various laws governing animal rights.

Introduction

Every 60 seconds, an animal suffers abuse and on an average 2,50,000 animals, every year are victims of animal hoarding. Does this seem real? What if we replace the word animal with human, and now it will make some news. Fine for animal abuse in India is even less than the price of a cup of coffee. A mere Rs.10 note can make a person get away with his/her crime of animal abuse. Imprisonment is given only after the repeated commission of the crime. This article would try to brief you all about animal rights and welfare in India, with concerned laws. 

Historical overview

Ancient India

Even today, there are many ancient Indian texts which suggest that wildlife protection is not only a priority for being the source of living but also because many animals are treated like Gods in India. In texts like Vedas and Upanishads, the relationship between animal and man is beautifully defined. 

The Yajur Veda emphasizes the need to offer prayers to all life forms especially the cow which till date occupies a special place in the hearts of all Hindus. In Yajurveda, a prayer reads, “give us cows that have an abundance of milk, bulls that have full vigour and vitality, horses that can face challenges of any enemy…”. Nearly all epics and mythologies in Hinduism portray animals as a companion to man, in many roles and forms. Like that of Hanuman in Ramayana and how in Mahabharat Lord Krishna loved his animals to the extent of lifting a huge mountain. Thus, Hinduism, through its cultural sketches of the elephant god Ganesha and tiger as a ride of Durga etc., has never lacked in explaining how humans and animals are the same, they require an equal amount of love and care to be alive.

Apart from the anecdotes from Hinduism for animal protection, many different religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Islam also through their texts detail us about the importance of animal protection. For example, The Holy Prophet used to say “whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to him.” The eighth-century Sufi Saint Aziz-al-Nasafi compares each genus of plant and animal to surah in the Quran, each species to a verse and each individual to a letter.

Pre-Independence 

With changing dynasties, the number of wild animals kept on declining as hunting prevailed as a popular sport. Over 80,000 tigers, more than 150,000 leopards and 2,00,000 wolves were slaughtered in the fifty years from 1875 to 1925. The fact that in the 18th and 19th century the forests were heavily deforested for building infrastructures like highways and railways have greatly affected the wildlife. 

One other thing which was introduced in British India was new drug testing on animals. Various new drugs were tested on hundreds of animals which often resulted in their death after multiple miserable disabilities.   

Finally, in 1861, Colesworthey Grant, an animal rights activist, with many Indian leaders, come up with the first-ever society against animal cruelty in Calcutta called Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The society was successful in bringing Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 which laid down rules and regulations on animal experimentation.

Many movements like the Cow Protection Movement were also initiated during the British reign in India.

Post-independence 

After the end of the British era, along with other crises, India also faced a crisis in the form of conflict between local communities and the authorities for their uprooted forests and endangered wildlife. India, for this, started setting up  Forest Departments and extended this solution by establishing the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.

India constructed various national parks and wildlife sanctuaries for preservation of endangered species of wildlife. 

Regional acts were also laid down by different states like The Tamil Nadu Wild Elephant Preservation Act,1873, the Assam Rhinoceros Preservation Act, 1954, etc.

Though during all these years there were initiatives for wildlife, the rights of domesticated pets never came into the picture until now. Now, in recent times where human rights are a bare minimum to humans themselves, rights of animals are a far fetched goal.  

Why do we need to protect the rights of the Animals?

The question of why animals should have rights is in itself disgraceful keeping in mind how intricate role animals play in each of your lives, for some they are the source of income while for some people, they are the only companions in today’s lonely times. Therefore it becomes our primary responsibility to grant them their rights of safety and life. 

Sashi Tharoor recently in 2016 urged the parliament for stricter laws to help end Animal Cruelty. In the context of the death of police horse Shaktiman following the merciless thrashing it reportedly received from an MLA during his party rally in Uttarakhand.

He laid down multiple points of priorities for animal protection and general animal rights which includes:

  • Cruelty to animals stems from the fact that strict punishment is not provided in law.
  • Under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, minimal punishment is a fine of Rs 10 and the maximum penalty is Rs 50. 
  • Over 24,000 cases of animal cruelty have been reported from 2012-2015, informs the government. 
  • Environment ministry panel sent a letter to the UGC urging it to reconsider the ban on animal dissection. 
  • The Supreme Court affirms culling of stray dogs illegal, emphasises on striking a balance between empathy and safety of humans.

In 2016, India has worked at multiple levels for animal rights with ground-breaking achievements in fields of animal protection by banning animal fighting/racing, also by banning repeated animal testing or Draize test (it is a test used to measure eye and skin irritation by applying chemicals on restrained rabbits) and by stopping the import of dogs for breeding. Still, unfortunately, India remains a country where men rape a pregnant goat and where more than fifty dogs are poisoned to death. The countless number of incidents which occur on a daily basis shows how important it is for us to save, protect and give rights to the living kingdom of animals. For instance: 

  • Eleven langurs were brutally killed and dumped near a highway in Rajasthan
  • A man had unnatural sex with three cows in Vadodara.
  • 100 stray dogs were culled and dumped in a forest area in Hyderabad.
  • A female street dog was raped by a man inside his home in Kolkata
  • A dog was mercilessly beaten to death by three men in Gujarat.

This is a  non-exhaustive list, it’s very difficult for a list to be comprehensive of each abuse an animal faces.

Whenever did anyone ask this question of whether animals should have rights or not? It’s always been inclusive of questions like can they talk? Can they reason? While where the answer has to be no for these questions, but it’s a definite yes for can they suffer? Yes, they can suffer and they surely do. All animals have the ability to suffer in the same way and to the same degree that humans do. They feel pain, pleasure, fear, frustration, loneliness, and motherly love. Whenever we consider doing something that would interfere with their needs, we are morally obligated to take them into account.

Various laws in India for the protection of animals

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA): This act lay down regulations to prevent any kind of infliction of pain or suffering on animals. It gives out punishment in the form of a fine and in some cases even imprisonment:   

  • According to Section 11 of the PCA Act, it is illegal to give poison or any injurious substance.
  • Bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls are prohibited from being trained and used for entertainment purposes, either in circuses or streets. Section 22(ii), PCA Act.  
  • Organizing or participating in or inciting any animal fight is a cognizable offence. Section 11(1)(m)(ii) and Section 11(1)(n), PCA Act.
  • If an owner fails to provide its pet with sufficient food, drink or shelter, he/she shall be liable for punishment according to section 11 (1) (h) of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is a punishable offence.

Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972: It was brought into force to conserve animals, birds, plants and matters related:

  • Teasing, feeding or disturbing the animals in a zoo and littering the zoo premises is an offence punishable by a fine of Rs. 25000 or imprisonment of up to three years or both. Section 38J, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Monkeys are protected under the Wildlife (Protection)Act, 1972 and cannot be displayed or owned.
  • Section 16 (c) of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, also makes it unlawful to injure, destroy wild birds or reptiles, damaging their eggs or disturbing their eggs or nests. The person found guilty can be punished with an imprisonment of 3 to 7 years and a fine of Rs 25,000.

Apart from these two major acts there has been laid down various other acts and rules some of which are:

  1. According to Section 98 of the Transport of Animals Rules, 1978, animals should be healthy and in good condition while transporting them. Any animal that’s diseased, fatigued or unfit for transport should not be transported. Furthermore, pregnant and very young animals should be transported separately.
  2. Slaughtering of animals in places like temples and streets is against the Rule 3, of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (Slaughterhouse) Rules, 2001 and Chapter 4, Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011. They cannot do it because they do not have a licence while registered slaughterhouses can because they are the holder of an authorized licence for slaughtering animals for commercial purposes.
  3. To kill or maim any animal, including stray animals, is a punishable offence. IPC Sections 428 and 429.
  4. Cosmetics tested on animals and the import of cosmetics tested on animals is banned. Rules 148-C and 135-B of Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945.

Recent issues and criticism regarding the violation of Animal rights

Animals in India have a constant threat of abuse and cruelty, many such instances have been criticized, but still many go unnoticed. In the background of such horrific incidents which clearly indicates the violation of animal rights, the State Animal Welfare Boards (SAWBs) which were said to be established in every state by 2020, have yet not been opened in many states and Union Territories across the country. For those handful state boards which are functional enough have not been provided with sufficient funds or manpower. This was only known to us after multiple applications for the Right to Information by animal activist Gauri Maulekhi.  

Gauri, although was successful in filing a writ petition for the same in January, even after the Supreme Court’s order, no steps have been taken. The petition emphasized that the operation of unregulated unauthorised pet traders and dog breeders in the absence of functional SAWBs in the states is a direct contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules 2018 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing ) Rules 2017 which mandates compulsory registration and as a result of this traders indulge in illegal animal trafficking continues to thrive across all part of India. The petition also asks for the State Animal Welfare Board Rules to be notified by the central government. These rules lay down the constitution, functions and administration of the SAWBs. 

Some of the current instances which are criticised for being against the rights of animals include:

  1. In Agra, the construction workers poured hot burning tar on the sleeping street dog, while they were fixing Fatehabad road. The incident caused the death of the dog, he was never helped out of the tar.
  2. Almost 21 beagle dogs in Pune were caged for scientific experimentation, even though caging of animals for experimentation has been banned long ago. The dogs were fortunate enough to be rescued by a group of activists who later got to know that these dogs were housed for more than six years and subjected to constant torture and pain.
  3. Recently a video came up on the internet, in which three men from Gujrat were beating a dog, and they didn’t stop until the dog died. Then, the dog was dragged by its legs and was thrown away in the wild bushes.

The list for sure goes on, to a cow being run over by a police vehicle in Chhattisgarh and till the dog whose skull was damaged due to being attacked by a man in Mumbai. With a very sense of awareness, we have to consider animal rights as human rights, until then any major change in the condition of animals is not possible.

Conclusion

In the present phase of lockdown due to Covid-19, there are millions of animals in the zoo and even on the streets which are forced to sleep at night unfed. These animals have no one to look after them other than us, we humans being a superior species and also as ordered under Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution have this obligated responsibility to take care of all other species. With every bitter fact, I mentioned in this article, I wished for it to not be true. Apart from every other right, the right they most deserve is the right to life. 

References

  1. https://www.scribd.com/document/420232705/Animal-Rights
  2. https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/129310/11/08_chapter%204.pdf
  3. https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/time-to-end-animal-abuse-in-india-can-stringent-laws-help-shaktiman-horse-cruelty-to-animals-act-1960-animal-testing

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