- Do animals have rights? If so, how are these rights to be administered, and against whom can they be enforced?
- If not, do human beings nonetheless owe an obligation to treat animals with care and compassion?
- To what extent can our Constitution be extended to include within its mandate a binding duty to ensure the safety and security of animals?
In the light of Jallikattu practice:
- Court’s judgment in 2014, where it struck down an earlier effort to legalise jallikattu
- The new law presents distinct and complex constitutional problems, and the questions it raises don’t have easy answers
- The existing legal regime governing animal welfare in India is woefully inadequate and too easily malleable to accord animals even a reasonable guarantee of dignity and respect
- We need a more sustained and more intellectually rigorous debate on how best to improve the welfare of our animals
- Though the Supreme Court, appeared to suggest that animals possess a right to life, much like that guaranteed to human beings under Article 21 of the Constitution, the primary reason for the court striking down Tamil Nadu’s 2009 law regulating jallikattu was because the statute was repugnant to the PCA Act
Rukmini Arundale’s efforts:
- The movement in India for better animal protection laws began soon after Independence
- Influenced by the ideologies of the Theosophical Society, the acclaimed dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, then a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, introduced a private bill in 1952 that intended to replace the existing colonial era statute of 1890
- Though Nehru appreciated the bill he ultimately requested Arundale to withdraw her bill
- He assured her that his government would establish a committee to study the subject thoroughly, promising to introduce appropriate legislation at a future date
- However, in 1960, when the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act) was enacted, some of the fundamental tenets of Arundale’s bill were missing
- For example, the law created a blanket exception for experiments conducted on animals with a view to securing medical advancement
- But notwithstanding those misgivings, the PCA Act, owing largely to Arundale, was still ahead of its times, in that it was based on an underlying belief that it was morally wrong for humans to inflict unnecessary pain on animals
- 15 years later, the Australian utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer argued against what he describes as speciesism, or the idea that human animals, simply by virtue of being human, possess a greater claim over moral rights than non-human animals do
- He propagated the idea that animals too, much like human beings, can suffer and feel pain, and, therefore, to treat humans as somehow special is akin, he says, to making classifications based on, say, race or sex
State vs Centre:
- Under India’s constitutional structure, both the Central and State governments can make laws on animal cruelty, but if the latter’s statute is contrary to the former’s, such an act must secure the President’s assent
- And this is precisely the approach adopted by Tamil Nadu in enacting its law last month
- This statute, which secured the President’s assent on January 31, amends the PCA Act and creates a specific exception for Jallikattu
- This means that the petitioners in the SC have to do more than just show that the PCA Act stands violated by Jallikattu
- They would have to prove that its practice infracts at least one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution
- If any interpretation of the constitution were we to treat animals as our equals under Article 14, the anomalies that this would result in are enormous
- Not only would this render the jallikattu law unconstitutional, it would also open a Pandora’s box where a whole host of otherwise acceptable activities may come under challenge
- If the court rejects the petitioner’s argument, it would only serve to highlight the hollowness of the present animal welfare regime, where a simple legislative amendment is sufficient to topple the core values that ought to underpin a moral society, in which animals are treated with care and compassion
Best practices elsewhere:
- In 2002, Germany amended its Constitution to specifically mandate the state to legislate and protect animal rights within the framework of the constitutional order
- The federal constitutional court in Germany has to weigh the dignity of animals against other liberties such as the right to freely practise religion or the right to conduct of medical research
- Therefore, now, any legislative exception to animal rights — whether this involves slaughtering for food, or the use of animals for producing dairy — would have to be narrowly tailored, ensuring that animals’ welfare is protected to the greatest extent possible
Look beyond our own species:
- Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher, has observed, the pursuit of global justice has required the inclusion of many people that were previously excluded as “fully equal subjects of justice”: the poor, ethnic, religious and racial minorities, women, the disabled, and immigrants, among others
- There is, as she says, no obvious reason why we ought not to look beyond these barriers of our own species
- For to continue to subject animals to the disdainful whims of human behaviour is to ignore the basic entitlements of justice
It is a point to be pondered that in India, where the human life is as vulnerable as an animal’s life, what legislations should be made? It is high time that we look towards life- animal and human both, with dignity.
The op-ed has points for Essay and a GS mains answer both.