This article originally appeared on VICE India
I have a friend who keeps adopting stray animals because this one time she read on someone’s Instagram that a local Panchayat in her city was plotting to wipe out all street dogs by poisoning their food. But a recent order has made her and probably all animal lovers, ecstatic; the Punjab and Haryana High Court made history by declaring that all animals are ‘living persons’ and have their own set of rights.
The order states that, “The entire animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic, are declared legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person. All citizens throughout Haryana are hereby declared persons in loco parentis (responsible for a child in parents’ absence) as the human face for the welfare/protection of animals.” It was passed on June 2 by Justice Rajiv Sharma, who had passed a similar judgment just last year in Uttarakhand against animal cruelty.
This came in light of a case in which 29 cows were packed and transported in abysmal conditions from Uttar Pradesh to Haryana—a journey of at least 600 kilometres. In an attempt to understand what the animals go through, Justice Sharma said, “We have to show compassion towards all living creatures. Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. No pain or agony should be caused to the animals. Cruelty to animals also causes psychological pain to them. In Hindu Mythology, every animal is associated with god. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behaviour, medical care, self-determination.”
Stressing that animals cannot be treated as “objects” and “property” and are “entitled to justice,” Justice Sharma, in an order on Friday, said, “The corporations, Hindu idols, holy scriptures, rivers have been declared legal entities and thus, in order to protect and promote greater welfare of animals including avian and aquatic, animals are required to be conferred with the status of legal entity/ legal person”.
Justice Sharma was also a part of the Uttarakhand bench which had earlier declared the Ganga and Yamuna rivers as living entities, an order that was later stayed by the Supreme Court. While this was a pretty cool judgment in favour of climate change activists and to save rivers from becoming dumping grounds of large corporations, it was overturned by the Supreme Court for not being sustainable and to protect the faith of the society.
Now, this new order includes a lot of good things for animals across the states, from limiting the load of animals that pull vehicles to four people and preventing them from working in extreme weather conditions to even deciding the maximum distance and time the animal is allowed to walk for. They’ve instructed that sharp objects like spiked sticks and harnesses cannot be used to avoid causing any kind of injury to the animal. They’ve also asked for them to be granted the right of way. A few more necessary points in a country known for inhuman treatment of animals: Fluorescent lights to be attached to cart-carrying animals so people notice them at night, municipal bodies to provide proper shelter, the state to ensure they don’t starve, and even veterinary doctors to treat any stray animal that is brought to them.
But umm how do you eat a ‘legal person’? And is this actually a victory for vegans across the country? Will animals having the same rights as humans mean they can’t be killed and lead to the death of the meat industry?
Down To Earth—a science and environmental publication that decoded the similar judgment when it was passed in Uttarakhand—pointed out that the court has not declared animal rights, but rather extending the rights of living persons to them. This means that while most animal rights activists can fight for veganism or against animal testing, not all constitutional rights such as Freedom of Speech and Movement will be given to them. So even as bullock cart racing and other forms of animal cruelty have been struck down, the vagueness with which the ruling has been declared in terms of enforcement and implementation means the lines are all still blurry.
I associate Punjab to the land of lassi and butter chicken, but turns out it’s got the least number of non-vegetarians in the country, with Haryana following close behind, according to a 2018 survey by IndiaSpend. Slaughtering cows and even buffaloes has already been banned in Punjab and Haryana for all purposes except exports as per The Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955 (which is applicable to the state of Haryana), and The Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015.
Now, even though this order states that catching fish through harmful methods like bottom trawling and cyanide blasting would be disallowed, there is no explicit mention in the 106-page ruling against the slaughter of animals other than cows. In fact, the central Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, says that animals can be killed for food if they aren’t subjected to unnecessary suffering. And the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, specifies the species that can be slaughtered include bovines, suillines, ovines, caprines, poultry, fish, and domesticated rabbits.
When VICE asked People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India which follows the motto "animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way" what they think about the ruling, they said their stance strictly opposed speciesism and considers it a human-supremacist worldview. “In slaughterhouses, pigs, bulls, and buffaloes are hoisted upside down by their back legs and their throats are cut, even though they often haven't been properly stunned,” said Dr Manilal Valliyate, veterinarian and CEO, PETA India. "'Speciesism’ is the belief that some animals' lives and experiences are inferior to those of humans or other animals simply because they are members of a different species, and it underpins all the most widespread forms of animal abuse. This deeply damaging mindset fails to acknowledge that all living beings have the capacity to suffer in the same way and to the same degree as the animals we share our lives and homes with. All animals experience pain, pleasure, fear, frustration, loneliness, and familial love, just as we do.”
So whose decision is it to ensure that animals stay protected? And if our legal system is saying that animals should be given the same legal rights as humans, should that also include giving them the Right To Life since our society doesn’t consider cannibalism legal? And whose job is it to ensure all kinds of equality?
I guess it’s the George Orwell saying that goes, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal” that can truly sum up the sentiment accompanying this ruling.
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