This article is written by Shohom Roy, from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. The article is an attempt to give a fair overview of the practice of animal sacrifice along with its legal implications in India.
The concept of “bali” or animal sacrifices as a part of religious practice or age-old custom has raised serious concerns regarding the animal welfare regulatory framework in India. There is a need for greater sensitization of the society that continues to perform animal sacrifices to appease deities and showcases a blatant disregard for compassion towards other living beings. The killing of animals in public squares under the garb of rituals propagates cruelty and creates a negative image of Indian society. In light of the existing circumstances, the legislature and the judiciary have undertaken the challenge of eradicating social evils like the animal sacrifice that have been plaguing our society for a long time. This article is confined to the laws about ritual sacrifice in India and the viability of compassionate alternatives that do not involve killing any animals.
Origin of animal sacrifice
The primordial practise of killing animals to please deities can be traced back to the period of the Vedas and Upanishads. Even contemporary religions like Islam celebrate festivals of sacrifice like Eid-al-Adha to commemorate their Prophet’s sacrifice to God. Every religion has propagated the humanistic values of love, compassion and selflessness. However, these practices have been based on religious misinterpretations and superstitious beliefs that have been utilized by selfish people for their gains. The prevalence of animal sacrifices during religious festivals and fairs, even in some of the most developed Indian cities emphasizes the need for reformation.
The legal status of animal sacrifice in India
The Indian legislature had passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 to build an animal welfare regulatory framework. The Act is responsible for preventing unnecessary pain or suffering to animals. It also governs and penalizes animal cruelty in any form. Under Section 11 of this Act, slaughtering animals in any unnecessarily cruel manner is a punishable offence. Section 11(3)(e) states that while killing an animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner is punishable under law, the killing of an animal to provide food for mankind will not be included within the definition of animal cruelty. The legislation fails to include animal sacrifice within the ambit of punishable offences for animal cruelty. Section 28 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, states that the sacrificing of an animal according to the ritualistic manner mandated by religion or community is beyond the purview of animal cruelty.
The government established the Animal Welfare Board of India in 1962 by exercising its powers under Section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The board is responsible for implementing animal welfare laws and assisting Animal Welfare Organizations in the country. The AWBI guides the Union and State governments on animal welfare issues. Recently, the AWBI through a circular dated June 20, 2018, has directed statutory authorities to take all precautionary measures to implement animal welfare laws to prevent illegal sacrificing of animals on occasions like Bali Pratha, Bakrid, etc.
Animal sacrifices for religious purposes are inherent within the Asia-Pacific culture. One of the world’s largest animal sacrifice festivals takes place in the neighbouring country of Nepal. The Gadhimai Festival celebrated in the Bara district of Nepal near the Indian border has raised serious concerns regarding animal welfare even within India. The Supreme Court had directed the Indian government to restrict the export of live cattle and buffalo to Nepal in light of animal welfare issues. The Indian government has included live cattle and buffaloes under the restricted export category, thereby creating a license to export them legally by utilizing the powers vested in it under Section 5 of the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests in India had introduced the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, 2017 to ban the sale of cattle in animal markets and ensure that cattle are used only for agricultural purposes and not for slaughter. Under Rule 22(e)(iii) the purchaser of cattle is prohibited from sacrificing the animal for any religious purpose. Similarly, Rule 9 (5)(d) states that sacrificing an adopted animal for religious purposes is against the law.
The subject of animal rights is mentioned both in the State and the Concurrent List of the Constitution. Therefore, the Union and the State government have legislative powers on the issue of animal rights. Some states like Karnataka have passed legislation to prohibit animal sacrifices within the vicinity of any public religious building and adjoining land. Section 3 of the Karnataka Prevention of Animal Sacrifices Act, 1959, has banned the sacrifice of any animal within the vicinity of a public religious building or during a congregation or procession for religious purposes. The Act stipulates that an individual in contravention with the aforementioned statutory provision can be arrested without a warrant.
Balancing religious freedom with animal rights
The incorporation of the term “Secular” within the Preamble of our Constitution ensures that there is no official religion of the country. It also creates room for the judiciary to treat every religion equally and intervene in religious matters under reasonable grounds. The freedom of religion granted under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution is not an absolute right and the courts have emphasized that the practice of animal sacrifice under the garb of religious freedom must be restricted. The judiciary can impose reasonable restrictions under Article 25(1) which might extend to a complete ban on the slaughter of animals in places of worship when such actions violate the principles of morality, public order and health. While in the case of Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. State of Bombay and Ors (1954), the Apex Court had held that the concept of freedom of religion is not confined to the limits of an opinion, doctrine or belief and can be extended to the religious practices and acts done as a part of religious belief, the jurisprudence regarding ritual sacrifices has evolved. The Supreme Court has held in the case of Sardar Syendna Taher Saifuddin Sahbi v. the State of Bombay (1962), that the government can intervene to restrict or regulate harmful practices like the sacrifice of animals or human beings as religious rituals for the well-being of society.
In the case of the Durgah Committee, Ajmer and Anr v. Syed Hussain Ali and Ors (1961), the Supreme Court has held that religious practices based on mere superstitions and are extraneous or unnecessary cannot be protected under Article 25. The protection can be granted only to those essential practices that form an integral part of a religion. This doctrine of essentiality of religious practices was borrowed from the judgment in the Shri Shirur Mutt case (1954). In Ramesh Sharma v. State of Himachal Pradesh (2018), the Court held that the ritual of animal sacrifice in Hinduism is based on age-old customs and superstitions which cannot be allowed under the current legal framework.
The Court held that restraining the followers of Hinduism from practising animal sacrifice would not result in a grave change in the character of the Hindu religion or belief. The sacrifice of animals in temples cannot be permitted despite the protection under Section 28 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as most temples are publicly accessible and the conscience of the devotees must be taken into consideration. Similarly in the case of Mohd. Hanif Qureshi and Ors v. the State of Bihar (1958), the Court has held that animal sacrifices on Bakr-Id are not an “obligatory overt act” for followers of Islam. Therefore, banning the slaughter of animals for religious festivals does not violate any fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 25. However, a judicial impact assessment pointed out that a nationwide ban on the slaughter of bovine animals would place a heavy economic burden on the communities dealing with such activities. Hence, although a state government may be allowed to restrict the killing of bovine animals within its territorial jurisdiction, the imposition of such a blanket ban on the entire country has been discouraged.
Mending the legislative oversight
While interpreting Section 28 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 in the case of Gauri Maulekhi v. the State of Uttarakhand (2018), the High Court of Uttarakhand drew a connection with Section 11(3)(e) of the aforementioned Act. The Court held that while the legislation does not include ritualistic animal sacrifice within the ambit of animal cruelty, the sacrificing of animals even for religious purposes can only be allowed on the grounds of providing food to mankind and not to appease deities. The law mandates that even if the animals are killed in pursuance of religious activities it must be done without causing unnecessary pain or suffering to the animal.
Jurisprudential growth in animal rights
The Kerala High Court in the case of N.R. Nair v. Union of India (2001), had deliberated on the question of extending the fundamental rights to animals and stressed the need to enlarge the scope of legal rights to non-human living entities. However, the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgment in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A Nagaraja (2014), by banning the bullfighting festival called “Jallikattu” in Tamil Nadu.
The decision by the Apex Court championed the cause of animal welfare rights in India and included animals within the ambit of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court adopted a dynamic interpretation of the statutory provisions in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 which enumerated animal rights like the right to live in a healthy and clean environment and the right to be treated fairly. The Court held that the legislative intent of the aforementioned Act was to provide the right to live with “dignity and honour” to animals. It has been accepted that animals have intrinsic worth and cannot be treated as mere objects for human use or abuse. In the case of Karnail Singh v. the State of Haryana (2019), the Court has inculcated the animal kingdom within the notion of a legal person. The court mandates that every citizen should act as guardians or “loco parentis” to ensure the welfare and protection of the animals. However, the judgments fail to provide clarity on the legal obligations that must be incurred by the citizens if there is a violation of rights and duties.
Lack of stringent penalties
According to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 none of the offences mentioned under Section 11(1) are cognizable except the offence of arranging fights and shooting matches involving animals. Section 428 and Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 penalizes actions of cruelty against animals. The offender might have to pay a fine of not more than Rs 50 in case of a first offence. Subsequent offences committed within a period of three years from the first offence will result in a fine extending from twenty-five rupees to a hundred rupees or imprisonment which may last for three months.
After the first offence, a conviction for a subsequent offence will lead to the confiscation of the offender’s vehicle and he might be barred from keeping animals in the future. The killing of animals under Section 11(3) while inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering is also governed by the aforementioned sections of the IPC. while Section 428 deals with punishment for committing acts of cruelty against animals of the value of Rs. 10 or upwards, Section 429 deals with punishment for committing offences against animals worth Rs. 50 or more. These lenient punishments are ineffective in battling against the evil of animal cruelty.
Therefore, the government has prepared a draft to amend the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, mandating a penalty of Rs. 75,000 or three times the cost of the animal along with a jail term of five years or both for causing the death of an animal. The offences against the animals are to be divided into three categories of minor injuries, major injury causing permanent disability and the death of the animal by cruel practice. offences under these three categories would attract a different quantum of punishment. The implementation of this law would help deter the practices of animal cruelty include the illegal sacrifice of animals.
The concept of Constitutional compassion
The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution gave birth to the concept of “Fundamental Duties” in India. The primary intention behind the imposition of such moral obligations was to build a virtuous and honourable society and nurture the educative, ethical and cultural code of conduct to be followed by every citizen. One of these duties is to protect and improve the natural environment which includes the duty to show compassion towards other living beings. This Ambedkarite idea of Constitutional compassion enshrined in Article 51A(h) is based on the belief that animals are sentient beings with their inherent value and should not be treated as property by mankind.
The idea of Constitutional compassion ushers in an era of scientific temper, humanism and reformation of age-old customs and superstitions shrouded in ignorance and blind faith. In the case of N. Adhithayan v. Travancore Devaswom Board & Ors (2002), the Apex Court held that traditions based on practices prevalent in historic times and ignorant superstitions cannot be a source of law. The Supreme Court, while deliberating on the case of Subhash Bhattacharjee v. the State of Tripura (2019), upheld the importance of promoting scientific temper among the citizens while validating the ban on animal sacrifices in Hindu temples of Tripura.
Remedies and recommendations
Legislative action and the intervention of the judiciary have played a pivotal role in creating a regulatory framework for safeguarding the rights of animals. However, the effective implementation of these rules and regulations is dependent on the statutory authorities. The executive wing of the government can exercise the powers of delegated legislation to deter and punish perpetrators of animal cruelty at the grass root levels.
The Animal Welfare Board of India has recommended the creation of a three-tier system for the regulation of laws and rules prohibiting cruelty to animals. However, the constitution of a State Animal Welfare Board at the state level and a District Animal Welfare Board/ District Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at the district level has been stalled by the State governments.
The government should take initiatives to dissuade people from carrying out animal sacrifices under the pretext of religious adherence. Incentivizing people who are pursuing the cause of animal rights along with a stringent mechanism for the punishment of individuals in contravention of the law can help eradicate the practice of animal sacrifice.
The recent declaration by the Secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), in 2020 shows the spread of awareness regarding animal rights. While clarifying that the donation of money to the poor can be a viable alternative to animal sacrifice, the Secretary of the AIMPLB has declared that animal sacrifice is not obligatory when there is a law against such practice. It is plausible that soon the mindset of the citizens of India will change regarding the practice of animal sacrifice and the exception granted to animal sacrifice for religious purposes be declared unconstitutional.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: