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Apex court equates animal rights with fundamental rights

Ashish Tripathi, New Delhi, June 14, 2014, DHNS 23:05 IST
DH illustration
The Supreme Court decision banning the bull-taming festival ‘Jallikattu’ can be described as a watershed in terms of animals’ rights. Animals did enjoy statutory rights against physical discomforts. But now, the top court has favoured elevating those to the level of fundamental rights of the human beings guaranteed under the Constitution.

The rights of animals can be traced to our Constitution, laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology. The right to dignity and fair treatment is not confined to human beings alone but cover animals as well.

Events like ‘Jallikattu’ apparently caused pain and stress to the bulls. ‘Jallikattu’ being conducted, especially in the southern part of Tamil Nadu, showed how the bulls were physically and mentally tortured for human pleasure and enjoyment.

This was in contrast to the Tamil tradition and culture, which went so far as to worship the bull. In north India too, the bull is always considered as the vehicle of Lord Shiva.

After going through facts and other aspects, the court held ‘Jallikattu’, bullock-cart race and such events as organised in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra per se violative of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act.

The organisers’ plea that the festivals were being held for more than 300 years by way of custom and tradition did not cut much ice with the court. They pleaded that bulls taking part in the ‘Jallikattu’ were specifically identified, trained, nourished for the purpose, while considerable money was also spent for training, maintenance and upkeep.

The Tamil Nadu government maintained that complete ban on such races would not be in public interest. The environment ministry had in 2011 included “bulls” in the list along with bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers that were to be banned for exhibition or training as performing animals. But it later exempted the use of bulls in Jallikattu, keeping in mind “the historical, cultural and religious significance of the event”.

The TN government claimed the events like Jallikattu do not cause that much of pain or suffering on the animal so it cannot be completely prohibited, but could only be regulated. Further, it said such events are being conducted world-over, after taking proper precaution for the safety of the animals.

The court, however, said it was considering the welfare of a sentient-being over which the human beings have domination.

So the standard to be applied in deciding the issue on hand was the species’ best interest, subject to just exceptions, out of human necessity. What substantially went against the organisers of such events was damning report given by Animal Welfare Board of India.

It pointed out how the bulls that were forced to participate were deliberately taunted, tormented, mutilated, stabbed, beaten, chased and denied even their most basic needs like food, water and sanitation. Subjected to cruelty The findings of their investigation showed clearly that bulls -- used in Jallikattu -- are subjected to extreme cruelty and unmitigated suffering.

It depicted how shockingly about 80 per cent bulls’ ears were cut, tails bitten and their eyes and noses rubbed with irritant solutions to agitate them. All these things went with gross violations of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The court said it examined the issues primarily keeping in mind the welfare and the well-being of the animals and not from the stand point of the organisers, bull tamers, bull racers, spectators, participants or the respective states or the Central government.
Examining bulls’ behavioural studies, the court said they exhibited a ‘fight or flight response’ when exposed to a perceived threat. Bulls are more likely to flee than fight, and in most cases they fight, when agitated. Most of the time, the bulls, when frightened or subjected to pain, adopted a flight response that often led to serious physical injuries and even death. This instinctual response was deliberately exploited by ‘Jallikattu’ organisers.

“All living creatures have inherent dignity and a right to live peacefully and right to protect their well-being which encompasses protection from beating, kicking, over-driving, over-loading, tortures, pain and suffering etc.

Human life, we often say, is not like animal existence, a view having anthropocentric bias, forgetting the fact that animals have also got intrinsic worth and value,” the court said. ‘Jallikattu’, therefore, also went against Article 51A(g) of the Constitution of India - ‘magna carta of animal rights,’ which enjoined humans to have a compassion for living creatures.

Notably, it was pointed out there is no international agreement that ensures the welfare and protection of animals.

The United Nations, all these years, safeguarded only the rights of human beings, not the rights of other species like animals, ignoring the fact that many of them, including bulls, are sacrificing their lives to alleviate human suffering, combating diseases and as food for human consumption, the court said.

The court also went through the legal regimes in countries like Germany, UK Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia which enacted legislations to include animal welfare in their national constitutions so as to balance the animal owners’ fundamental rights to property and the animals’ interest in freedom from unnecessary suffering or pain, damage and fear.

The court said that the Centre, all state governments and union territories administration were required to protect and safeguard animals’ freedoms from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; from fear and distress; from physical and thermal discomfort; from pain, injury and disease; and to express normal patterns of behaviour as recognised by World Health Organisation of Animal Health (OIE).
“These freedoms find a place in (PCA) and they are for animals like the rights guaranteed to the citizens of this country under Part III (fundamental rights) of the Constitution,” it said.

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