Eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos is a part of growing up for most of us. Most of us buy our beloved “pets” at pet shops like they are commodities. Then we keep our dogs chained up even inside the house, make guinea pigs run around the wheel for food and keep beautiful birds in cages. We take pride in wearing wool and silk, gobble up McDonald’s burgers, and go to fishing trips for recreation. We never consider the impact of these actions on the animals involved. Then for what reason should animals have rights?
Animal rights in India? How many people in India do actually know that something called ‘animal rights’ even exist? In a country where fellow human beings are deprived of their fundamental rights laid down in the country’s constitution, how can we even expect people to grant animal rights to their fellow living beings? Can even one person say that they have not seen a sleeping stray dog being kicked or a street entertainer making a monkey dance for money? The plight of cows and stray dogs is a common sight in India. Is it not cruelty to let them roam around on the streets, and let them eat garbage dumped on the road sides, exposing them to being hit by fast moving traffic and also by shopkeepers whose goods they are destroying? When the animal has served its purpose and becomes old, infirm, or diseased the amber abandons it and leaves it on its own to suffer pangs of hunger and pain.
The Animal Welfare Board of India, the first of its kind Animal welfare organization to be established by any Government in the world, was set up in 1962, in accordance with Section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts 1960. Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale pioneered the setting up of the Board, with its Headquarters at Chennai, and guided the activities of the Board for nearly twenty years till her demise in 1986. In 2000, the High Court in Kerala used the language of “rights” in relation to circus animals, ruling that they are “beings entitled to dignified existence” under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The ruling said that if human beings are entitled to these rights, animals should be too. The court went beyond the requirements of the Constitution that all living beings should be shown compassion, and said: “It is not only our fundamental duty to show compassion to our animal friends, but also to recognize and protect their rights.” In 2012, the Indian government issued an extensive ban of vivisection in education and research.
But even today, most Indians do not even recognize their acts as abuse towards the poor animals. Some try to blame it on our culture. Myths, legends and superstitions of black dogs still haunt our collective unconscious, illustrated by the difficulty black dogs often have being adopted from shelters. ‘Never cross the road if a black cat has crossed the road before you’ is one myth, which brings out the meanness of our society. There is a great amount of fear in people even today when they see a black cat, or a cat crossing the road or path they are travelling upon. I have seen that people stop besides the road, or slow down their car/scooter and wait for another person to cross it, before they do so. This shows the height of selfishness and meanness to which we go. I think this is one baseless belief we are still carrying on, without thinking that a healthy animal is bound to move around whether we think it’s a good omen or bad. Animals being discriminated against on the basis of colour gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘racism’! But in our wide ranging mythologies, there are a few stories which teach people to love and care for animals too. Dogs are worshipped as a part of a five-day Tihar festival in some northern regions of India that falls roughly in November every year. It is believed that dogs guard the doors of Heaven and Hell. This is a day when the dog is worshipped by applying tika (the holy vermilion dot), incense sticks and garlanded generally with marigold flower. Sarama, the female dog of the gods, is described as the mother of all dogs. The dog (Shvan) is also the vahana or mount of the Hindu god Bhairava. Yudhisthira had approached heaven with his dog, therefore among many Hindus, the common belief exists that caring for dogs can also pave way to heaven. Cows are revered as the source of food and symbol of life and may never be killed. They may be worshipped during some festivals or at some places. Verses of the Rigveda refer to the cow as Devi (goddess), identified with Aditi (mother of the gods) herself. Despite their sacred status, cows don’t seem much appreciated in India. Visitors are often surprised to see them walking neglected around city streets, living on garbage from the gutters.
Animals surely deserve to live their lives free from suffering and exploitation. Even 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. How can people be so heartless and use these creatures for scientific experimentation, medicines, cosmetics etc.? Whenever we consider doing something that would interfere with their needs, we are morally obligated to take them into account. Every creature with a will to live has a right to live free from pain and suffering. Animal rights are not just a philosophy—it is a social movement that challenges society’s traditional view that all non-human animals exist solely for human use. All living things have a right to live on this Earth but, we, very often become, totally, insensitive to their pain, only because animals can’t speak the language of humans, they don’t have a voice. But they are creations of God too and they have lives which cannot be governed by us, humans.
So the next time you see someone stoning a dog raise your voice against him; if you see an injured cow, try to help her or atleast ring up an animal shelter; if you find a baby bird on the ground, put it back in its nest. Making all Indians aware of animal rights and making them regard it as a serious issue will take many years but we must remember that ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.