The article is written by Priyamvada Singh, a student of LLB(H), from School of Law, Galgotias University, Greater Noida. The article discusses the existing animal rights that exist in India, and whether human rights should be extended to them too.
Recently, in India the case of Saumya- the elephant, arose. Herein a pregnant female elephant was fed with explosives ridden pineapple, after which she died a violent and agonizing death. This incident made headlines all over the world. People started protesting for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. The question that resurfaces each time a tragic story like this comes to light, came again: Should animals be given the same rights as humans? Each year, around 100 billion animals are killed for humans’ consumption: meat, skin, teeth, liver, et al. Animal bodies are ravaged without any mercy. Cows’ legs are cut off while they are still alive, so they do not run away. Then they are skinned, while they are still alive. These facts make one uncomfortable as it is being read. Living through the harshest of reality is beyond imagination. If the same was being done to any human being, voices would certainly be raised in a louder volume. This would also be facilitated by many laws that exist for their rescue. So why this speciesism?
‘Speciesism’ is the belief of humans being higher creatures than other members of the animal kingdom. Speciesists advocate for human beings to have greater rights than animal counterparts and even theorize that the latter are objects of consumption. Amongst those who oppose it, this is condemned as the same kind of bigotry as racism or sexism. With this homo centrist speciesism, the bias is in favour of humans over animals. But speciesism is sheer prejudice that runs in humans’ favour, and the opposite party can not defend themselves at the behest of being unable to speak. This provision of greater consideration to humans is utterly unfair. The term speciesism was introduced by the English philosopher Richard Ryder in the 1970s. It was later made popular by philosophers and animal rights activists in the 1980s. They believe that the breaking of the legal wall between the fundamental rights of humans and its extension to animals needs to be taken down like the Berlin Wall.
Are animals human
There are various theories about whether animals should be considered equal to humans, in order to extend the rights of the latter to the former. Animal rights is the idea in which some, or all, animals are entitled to the possession of their own existence and that their most basic interests—such as the need to avoid suffering—should be afforded the same consideration as similar interests of human beings.
Laws pertaining to animals
The Constitution of India believes in the comprehensive development of each of its residents, including its animals and birds. To treat all living creatures with respect and compassion is one of the fundamental duties entrusted upon each and every citizen of the nation, provided in Article 51(a)(g) of the Constitution.
Further, Article 48 enlists the Directive Principle for State Policy for states that asserts for the latter to make provisions to ban animal slaughtering, smuggling, and other unethical practices. It demands animal husbandry to be succeeded on modern lines. Moreover, it alleges that each State has the duty to protect and safeguard forests and wildlife of the country.
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act
In 1960, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was passed, to deal with the same.
- Section 11 of this Act provides for feeding poisonous food to animals as a criminal offence. Section 11 (i) says that abandoning an animal, leaving it in a situation that it suffers pain due to starvation or thirst, is a punishable offence.
- If an owner fails to provide its pet with sufficient food, drink, or shelter, he/she shall be liable to be booked under the Section 11(1)(h) of the Act.
Indian Penal Code
It is illegal to maim or cause any injury to any animal under Section 428 and Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code. It is also illegal for vehicles to purposely injure dogs, cats, and cows on the streets. A person who is caught violating these laws can be reported to the local animal protection group and to the police. A case can also be filed under the above-mentioned sections. The punishment for all of the above acts is a fine of at least Rs. 2000 and/or a jail term of up to five years.
Wildlife Protection Act
Consequently, in 1972, the Wildlife Protection Act was passed. This Act forbade and prohibited inhumane treatment of animals, including the killing, poaching, trapping, or harming of wild animals and birds in any way. Through this Act, Wildlife Advisory Boards were established as well. The setting up of industrial areas in wildlife protected sanctuaries is also provided for.
- Section 2(37) provides for the definition of wildlife. It includes animal, aquatic, or land vegetation of any kind. This definition does not draw limits on habitat to be excluded.
- Section 9 prohibits the hunting of these animals. Incarceration period of up to 3 years and/or fine up to Rs. 25,000/- is provided for cases of offense.
- Section 38(J) provides for the teasing, molesting, injuring, feeding, or causing disturbance to any animal by noise or otherwise is prohibited according to the. Anyone found guilty of this offence may face imprisonment of up to 3 years or a fine of up to Rs 25,000 or both.
- Section 16(c) of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 asserts that it is unlawful to injure or destroy wild birds or reptiles. This includes damaging their eggs or disturbing their eggs or nests. The offense may attract incarceration of 3 to 7 years and a fine of Rs 25,000.
Animal Birth Control Rules
In 2001, the Animal Birth Control Rules were also introduced. These rules state that no dogs that have been previously sterilized may be moved from their area. In case a dog is not sterilized, society can ask an animal welfare organization to sterilize and vaccinate the dog. Under the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, street dogs are to be sterilized, vaccinated and subsequently released into the same area from where they were captured. These Rules also requires sick dogs to be treated prior to their sterilization and vaccination.
Human Rights’ Extension to Animals
According to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights include:
- The right to life, liberty, and security of person
- An adequate standard of living
- To seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution
- The right to freedom from torture and degrading treatment, among others.
Animal rights activists advocate for these laws to be extended to the animal kingdom, starting with chimpanzees- the closest to humans in the world of fauna. This is to increase empathy, compassion amongst people- along with ensuring that the animals are housed in a dignified manner, sans torture, and dehumanizing treatment. It is also advocated for animals to live in areas of no encroachment.
Status in India and the World
In 2018, Uttarakhand High Court of India accorded the animals of its state with the status of a legal entity, including avian and aquatic ones, are declared as legal entities. This came as a response to the Public Interest Litigation filed to pray for the restriction of the horse led carriages in the state. This comes as welcome news. In the infamous case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A Nagaraja & Ors. (2014), popularly known as Jallikattu the Apex Court delivered a landmark decision concerning the extension of human rights to animals. The Court concluded that Article 21 of the Constitution extends to animals as well. In the instant case, the court said, “bulls have an inalienable right to live in a healthy and clean atmosphere, not to be beaten, kicked, bitten, tortured, plied with alcohol by humans or made to stand in narrow enclosures amidst bellows and jeers from crowds.”
As the COVID-19 struck, people went into isolation. With this personal experience, they understood the feeling of being stuck inside four concrete walls. Empathy towards charismatic mega species started to ‘trend’ around the world by people who advocated for these animals to be let free: from lions to hippopotamuses. Around the world, bigger changes are happening, as compared to India. There is significant progress in the extension of human rights to animals:
- Organizations like the Nonhuman Rights Project, are advocating for ‘personhood’ to chimpanzees. It has become the lacunae of many great animal rights debates.
- Companies like Food Inc. have been working towards exposing the discomforting truth of slaughterhouses and inhumane treatment of animals in the food industry.
- Documentaries like Blackfish are making significant progress in banning orca shows in California.
- Argentina sent a chimpanzee named Cecilia to a Brazilian sanctuary, instead of holding her in a concrete jungle of a zoo in Mendoza, where she was alone and isolated.
- An Andean spectacled bear was set free in Columbia after the judge cited Argentina as precedent.
- In New Zealand, the Whanganui River was presented with legal rights of its own.
- Similarly, a much-respected national park of the country: Te Urewera was removed from human control by the government. These welcome changes are baby steps towards a transformed humans’ relationship with the natural world.
- In 2006, Ecuador started to advocate the inclusion of rights of nature into its constitution.
Noted jurist, philosopher, and legal thinker, Jeremy Bentham advocated for equal rights to be given on the basis of one’s capacity to suffer. He said it was futile to base it upon reasons of the ability of critical thinking, and whether they are mute. He said that one’s capacity to feel pain is the mitigating factor in the provision of rights. Animal rights activists allege that each animal has a separate identity, and worth than that of their usefulness to man. Each being on this planet has the right to flourish and develop. This way, animal rights have absorbed philosophy in itself and now challenges the society’s capitalistic worldview of each being’s worth being weighed in its usage to human beings. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk famously said, “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife.” Only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable. If you wouldn’t eat a dog, why eat a pig? Dogs and pigs have the same capacity to feel pain, but it is prejudice based on species that allows us to think of one animal as a companion and the other as dinner.
Recently, the Living Planet Report was published by the World Wildlife Fund. It claimed that out of 900 of Canada’s species, approximately 450 are on a steep decline since 1974. These include the animals, fishes, and birds- amongst others. Prevention of this catastrophe is not important just for them, but is imperative even for humans, as the diversity of life on this planet is what makes it inhabitable. The existence of mere humans would throw us under the bus, and nothing would be able to save us. The actual flourishing nature is important for a sustainable future, and not business fictions.
Animal abuse often goes unchecked, even when it is of the gravest kind, only at the lack of legislation and implementations by law and order. Animal liberation is as imperative in today’s times as equal rights for women, black and LGBTQ+ communities. The supremacist mindset and the need for domination have caused enough harm already. By viewing animals like the others, we allow ourselves to mistreat them, or overlook their mistreatment- while still maintaining our clear conscience. Thus it will not be a hyperbole to claim that animal liberation is in the same ethical tradition as women’s, black, and LGBT liberation. It is about ending the suffering that flows from a supremacist mindset and power relations of domination. A major challenge also lies in the issue that in criminal law, on one hand, legislation regarding animal welfare considers animals as vulnerable beings, and aims towards protecting them from harm and pain. While on the other hand, the animal is still considered as a legal object that cannot have any rights. This paradox leads to very limited protection for the animal. Additionally, in legal-defense in order to defend animals is accepted, since animals are considered goods, and not friends or companions. In the current scenario, the legislation does not take into account affection between the animal and its human.
It is often argued against animal rights that zoos and other containment infrastructures of animals for recreation serve as educational experiences. However, nowhere has it been proved that looking at animals in captivity enhances compassion, or proves to be productive in any way. In fact, using other beings as forms of entertainment is not only unethical but also immoral.
It is also alleged that since humans have higher intelligence than other beings on the planet, they should have leverage above them. However, animals are proven to be sentient on numerous occasions. This means they can feel happiness, sadness, and feelings of delight and joy. The only reason humans are treated differently is speciesism, which is an arbitrary distinction based on the incorrect belief that humans are the only species deserving of moral consideration.
These legal developments in the field of animal welfare laws have been long due, hooked from release at the hands of speciesism. However, these developments are mere cracks in the wall. As Robert Frost once said, there are still ‘miles to go before I sleep’. While the world looks to the west for inspiration of legislations, they continue to treat nature and its constituents as property. The land is supposed to be tilled, animals are supposed to be eaten. In western law was a time when slaves were property without basic rights when in Canada women were not “legal persons.” All rights expansion begins as the unthinkable; it moves from ridicule to discussion to adoption. Indian history and mythology together have always advocated for a balanced and sustainable approach towards nature.
The doctrine of ahimsa provides for respect towards humans and non-humans alike. The killing of any living being is strictly forbidden in the scriptures. Maybe it is time to look back at our Indian roots and gain knowledge. The need of the hour is stricter laws and even stricter implementation. These need to be paired with a maximum limit to be placed on humans’ territorial expansion. A catastrophe is knocking at our door in the form of loss of diversity of life. This incrementally growing problem of excessive consumption, that roots itself in the bourgeoisie, needs to be addressed. The need of the hour is to challenge human chauvinism. The deadline passed a hundred years ago.
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