Law of the Land

Though an­i­mal rights are in­cluded in the var­i­ous law sys­tems prac­ticed across South Asia, few, if any, of these laws are ac­tu­ally en­acted.

Southasia - - Special feature - By Anees Jil­lani

We are con­stantly re­minded by our In­dian friends that we are sim­i­lar and alike in more than one way. Racially we may be­long to the same stock but 65 years of sep­a­rate na­tion­hood have made us dif­fer­ent. Or maybe these dif­fer­ences per­sisted even prior to the par­ti­tion of In­dia in 1947.

One such dif­fer­ence is the way an­i­mals are treated in the two coun­tries. In­dia con­sti­tutes a large mass, with a large seg­ment of its pop­u­la­tion liv­ing un­der ab­ject poverty. How­ever, one of­ten comes across stray dogs sit­ting com­fort­ably on foot­paths with­out any­body both­er­ing them. Stray cat­tle, par­tic­u­larly cows roam freely on the streets and even the high­ways, with the driv­ers pa­tiently wait­ing for them to cross. Nowa­days, it is hard to find snake-charm­ers and folks show­ing mon­keys and bears do­ing odd tricks on the streets.

Pak­istan and per­haps Bangladesh have a long way to go in this re­spect. Cat­tle are con­sid­ered only as a source of meat and thus de­void of any rights; dogs are con­sid­ered ‘un­clean’ and thus ‘un­fit’ to be touched and con­stantly beaten around, with stray dogs not know­ing where to go for food and se­cu­rity. But the plight of other an­i­mals is no bet­ter. Zoo an­i­mals live in mis­er­able con­di­tions with on-look­ers pok­ing them with sticks and throw­ing ob­jects at them to get their at­ten­tion. Many throw empty bags in­stead of giv­ing these an­i­mals any food, which some­times caged an­i­mals are forced to eat due to their health’s detri­ment.

There are hardly any an­i­mal rights ac­tivists and al­most no ma­jor orga- niza­tion is work­ing to pro­mote their rights. Even the in­ter­na­tional WWF

(World Wildlife Fund) con­cen­trates more on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues than on as­pects re­lat­ing to im­prov­ing the state of an­i­mal rights. The four prov­inces have their own Wildlife De­part­ments but the at­ten­tion is again drawn to ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives rather than im­prov­ing the plight of an­i­mals. In any event, for­eign donors heav­ily drive such de­part­men­tal ini­tia­tives. There is sel­dom any ac­tion un­der­taken on the lo­cal ini­tia­tive of­fi­cially ex­plained due to paucity of funds but ac­tu­ally more due to lack of any vi­sion and in­ter­est in the sub­ject.

The colo­nial British of­ten in­dulged in mas­sive hunt­ing sprees. How­ever, they also, per­haps for the first time in the his­tory of this part of the world, in­tro­duced the con­cept of an­i­mal rights. In 1890, a law ti­tled the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals Act was in­tro­duced. It is a sad re­flec­tion on the part of the peo­ple of Pak­istan and their suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments that the same law re­mains on the statute books with mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions. The law makes cru­elty to an­i­mals pun­ish­able. A first of­fense is pun­ish­able with one-month im­pris­on­ment or a Rs. 50 fine. Three months im­pris­on­ment or a Rs.100 fine is ac­corded for a sub­se­quent of­fense which is com­mit­ted within three years of the first one. How­ever, it is doubt­ful if any­body has ever been im­pris­oned in Pak­istan for be­ing cruel to an an­i­mal un­der this Act.

As op­posed to Pak­istan, In­dia re­placed the 1890 Act by a new law in 1960. An An­i­mals Wel­fare Board was con­sti­tuted which ac­tively con­tin­ues to ad­vise the gov­ern­ment on var­i­ous is­sues re­lat­ing to the sub­ject. More than 12 sets of rules have been en­acted un­der the 1960 Act, deal­ing with is­sues rang­ing from per­form­ing an­i­mals to deal­ing with an­i­mals used in trans­porta­tion.

In ad­di­tion to this, a pro­vi­sion of the Pe­nal Code of 1860, com­mon to In­dia, Pak­istan and Bangladesh, deems it a crim­i­nal of­fense to kill, maim, or ren­der use­less any an­i­mal; an of­fence pun­ish­able with five years im­pris­on­ment or with a fine. Again, few if any, are likely to have been pun­ished at least in Pak­istan un­der this pro­vi­sion.

Laws re­flect the state of a so­ci­ety. How­ever, their ex­e­cu­tion is even more im­por­tant than their en­act­ment. Pak­istan to a large ex­tent and most other South Asian nations, show a lack of in­ter­est in an­i­mal rights through their leg­is­la­tions on the sub­ject and its sub­se­quent en­force­ment.

There is hardly any aware­ness about the rights of an­i­mals in the coun­try. Many at­tribute it to Is­lam as a ma­jor­ity of Mus­lims re­gard slaugh­ter­ing and sub­se­quent eat­ing of an­i­mals as jus­ti­fied on reli­gious grounds. It is a reli­gious obli­ga­tion to sac­ri­fice a cat­tle over Eid-ul-Azha which fol­lows the pil­grim­age sea­son in Mecca. Such Mus­lims tend to look at an­i­mals only to feed them and in some cases to please them, if they can­not be eaten. The an­i­mals oth­er­wise have no rights. This kind of at­ti­tude is un­for­tu­nate as the Holy Qu­ran is silent on this is­sue while there are a num­ber of say­ings of the Holy Prophet that com­mand Mus­lims to treat an­i­mals hu­manely.

How­ever, lack of in­ter­est and aware­ness about an­i­mal rights can­not solely be at­trib­uted to re­li­gion as China, with a ma­jor­ity of its pop­u­lace pro­fess­ing no re­li­gion is also in­dif­fer­ent to­wards the rights of its an­i­mals. The same is the case in some other South Asian coun­tries which pro­fess reli­gions other than Is­lam. The phe­nom­e­non is thus also at­trib­ut­able to cul­ture.

A daily in Pak­istan suc­cinctly summed up the is­sue of a lack of an­i­mal rights by writ­ing, “It is not sur­pris­ing that wildlife re­ceives lit­tle pro­tec­tion in Pak­istan be­cause for a coun­try where hu­man rights are rou- tinely vi­o­lated, how can we ex­pect an­i­mal rights to be pro­tected? How­ever, we must keep fight­ing for an­i­mal rights. At some point, the gov­ern­ment and wildlife pro­tec­tion agen­cies, both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional, will have to lis­ten. Oth­er­wise, we will be left with bar­ren land as our peo­ple and wildlife are ne­glected and killed, re­ceiv­ing no re­spect or re­gard.”

The peo­ple of South Asia need to wake up be­fore it is too late. There is an ur­gent need to in­tro­duce rea­son­able laws pro­tect­ing the an­i­mals and strictly en­forc­ing them. Aware­ness cam­paigns may help but could be re­garded by some as bring­ing in western con­cepts. It would be more ef­fec­tive to start cre­at­ing aware­ness about an­i­mal rights amongst young chil­dren in schools. Anees Jil­lani is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

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