Animals have the same abstract rights of life and personal liberty with man. – Edward Nicholson India’s shastras have considered animals fundamental to human lives and at the same time permitted their slaughtering to propitiate the Gods. Rajeev Dhavan remarks that the Indian law does not give animals a legal personality and they are the objects rather than the subject of human rights. The judiciary has almost always tried to uplift animal rights. In 1958, the Apex Court observed that mankind has realized that cow’s milk is the sustaining factor of life and so the cow has to be legitimately worshipped and protected. The Delhi High Court on May 19, 1997 directed the education boards to make animal dissection optional to senior secondary students.
We often hear about cruelty against animals. What we don’t know is if the law in India has legally permitted certain acts of cruelty on fulfillment of certain conditions by the order of an appropriate authority? Here is an eye-opener.
The first Act relating to animal rights enacted after independence – The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in 1960 provides that the performance of experiments including experiments involving operations on animals for the purpose of “advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or for prolonging life or alleviating suffering or for combating any disease, whether of human beings, animals or plants” will not be unlawful as per the Act.
The other significant legal provision is embodied in The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 providing permission “to hunt any wild animal specified in permit for the purpose of education, scientific research; scientific management, collection of specimens , derivation, collection or preparation of snake-venom for the manufacture of life-saving drugs”. The collection of specimen is allowed only for recognised zoos and for museums and similar institutions. Such permission can only be granted by the Chief Wild Life Warden by an order in writing stating the reasons on payment of such fee as may be prescribed. The permission may be granted subject to such conditions as may be specified therein. The same Act allows hunting of any wild animal by an order of the Chief Wild Life Warden if he is satisfied that any wild animal specified in Schedule I has become dangerous to human life or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery or any wild animal specified in Schedule II, Schedule III, or Schedule IV. The only feature which is within the scope of rights is allowing the killing or wounding in good faith of any wild animal in defence of oneself or of any other person and any such animal killed would be considered government property.
It is only after the 1990s that animal dissection no longer remained part of academic curriculum in India. At that time, when it was a part of the education system, it was considered against the ethical beliefs of few students, who were forced to do so. Dissection of various animals such as earthworms, cockroaches, leeches, starfish, crayfish, frogs, sharks, fishes, reptiles, pigeons, mice, rats, etc. was prevalent. Schrock has justified dissection as it provides real material and real experience.
The duty imposed under Article 51A(g) under the Constitution to protect and improve natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for all living creatures requires efforts from all of us in order to promote the concept of animal rights by not taking advantage of the loopholes in the laws.