Pratikshya Das and Lahama Mazumdar elaborates upon the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution of India with regard to animal rights.
Several shocking incidents of animal cruelty had surfaced in India in the last few months when the world was facing the COVID-19 pandemic. With this article, we are trying to bring across the different shades of sadistic activities of mankind around inflicting pain on the co-living creatures with whom we were normatively supposed to share our spaces. Three incidents have happened back to back within 14 days. A pregnant elephant, a jackal, and a leopard fell prey to the cruelties of village dwelling tribal people in the Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Assam. The question which hovers over all these incidents is whether the forest rights and rules fail in the jungle and whether the seamless co-existence of animals and members of the tribal community is an impossible thing to ask for.
CONCERNS OF THE UNHEARD
On May 27, 2020, an alarming incident triggered nationwide outrage. A sick fifteen-year-old pregnant elephant fell prey to human cruelty when it consumed a pineapple filled with explosives which exploded in her mouth. The elephant died standing in the Valliyar River with her trunk and mouth in the water. Later, in a statement by the Forest Department, it was claimed that the forest fringe farmers had placed the fruits filled with explosives in the cultivation land to keep the wild boars away to protect their crops and livelihood and with a sudden turn of events the elephant fell prey to it.
The country had not recuperated from the tragic incident of death of the pregnant elephant when the news of a leopard being lynched to death came forward. A leopard was allegedly captured and brutally beaten to death by villagers in Fatasil Reserve Forest in Guwahati, Assam. According to the divisional forest officer, the residents had claimed that the leopard was killing goats and poultry and was also attacking village dogs. According to few reports, the forest officers claimed that the villagers killed the leopard, but they chopped off its body parts – skin, teeth, nails.
Another monstrous incident saw the light of the day when twelve men of Tribal Community decided to kill a jackal luring the animal with meat-filled with explosives. As per the Forest Department officials, the gang was arrested by an alert cop because of the suspicious-looking bag that the gang was carrying. After interrogation, the twelve men admitted to killing the jackal for its teeth and meat.
UNENLIGHTENMENT OR BUREAUCRACY?
In a country as big as India, knowledge of tribals and villagers living in interior forest areas has stayed limited. We are already aware of the many problems that tribal people face because they are not aware of their rights, and the state bureaucracy responsible for raising this awareness fails to do so. In recent years there have been several decisions delivered by the Honourable Courts of India where the legal rights of animals have been recognized. In Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, 2014. The court held that animals are supposed to be brought under the protection of the rights provided in Article 21 of the Constitution of India, thereby extending the Right to Life to animal life and welfare. Here, the state of co-existence of Animals and Humans was reiterated to assert the norm of equality between the two species, bringing the fact that animals form a crucial part of the human environment, and their rights are also to be protected. However, this development is not new as reflected in the Kerala High Court Judgement in N.R Nair v. Union of India, 2000 where the court had considered the question of extending fundamental rights to animals and had decided that fundamental rights are non-exclusive to humans and therefore are supposed to be extended beyond them. In the widely discussed and hailed 2014 Nagaraja Judgement, the old practice of Jallikattu (Bull-fighting festival) and bullock cart races were banned in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra Punjab. The Supreme Court cleared its stance whereby it held that animal rights fall within the ambit of right to life under Article 21 but to the extent where human rights are not harmed. It pondered on the notion of protecting the dignity and honor of animals, whereby they had the right not to be beaten and not to be kicked. The relevance of this case law is not only particular to the recognition of Animal rights under Article 21 but also because of the decision on the angle of the historical, cultural, and religious significance of the practice. There was a hue and cry about the court abolishing the practice where locals had expressed their unacceptability. That it was their culture and tradition, the court declared that the evolved practice was not a culture or a tradition. Drawing reference to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, the court banned such unnecessary infliction of pain on animals.
In a criminal Revision petition: Karnail Singh v State of Haryana, Punjab and Haryana High Court recognized the privacy and rights of animals. The court held that the entire animal kingdom has distinct legal persona with corresponding rights, duties, and legalities of a living person. Justice Rajiv Sharma made several mandatory directions to ensure the animal kingdom’s safety and welfare, such as no animal is supposed to carry weights beyond the prescribed limits issued by the Regulations. Further, it was held that every species has the right to live and be protected by law. The court focused primarily on the part where animals of all species are conferred with legal entity status or legal person status to protect and promote the animals’ greater welfare.
In the aftermath of the judgments, the issue of preservation of culture and traditions of Tamil Nadu kept burning. There were protests and unacceptability among masses about the decision. However, customs and traditions need to change and have to evolve with the changing circumstances around the world. As has been rightly observed by Justices Dipak Misra and Rohinton F. Nariman:
“You say that jallikattu is an age-old tradition, so was child marriage until it was declared a crime.”
The tribals have customarily believed from time immemorial about the survival of the fittest in the jungle, which is believed as such because of the incident of the pregnant elephant’s death and even from the Assamese incident of leopard’s death. Farmers and villagers often use snares to keep wild animals away from their farms and crops, and they do it as they consider it a threat to their property. Laws and legal doctrines have geographical limitations, so there is no claim to general validity outside the geographical borders of the legal system concerned. Legal doctrines are limited to a normative system and acceptability among masses. So, the issue is about bestowing equal rights to animals and humans; it is also about engraving the change in the masses of that geographical area. The unfortunate practices need to end, and changed norms have to be engraved in their minds.
Pratikshya Das is an Advocate at High Court of Orissa & Lahama Mazumdar is Teaching Assistant at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.
P S Gopikrishnan Unnithan, One arrested in Kerala elephant killing case, more people under the scanner, Indiatoday.in (June 15, 2020, 12:30 AM) https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/one-arrested-in-kerala-elephant-killing-case-1685755-2020-06-05.
Trapped, Killed, body parts chopped: Fifth leopard death this year in Assam, Timesnownews.com, (June 15, 2020, 1:30 AM) https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/in-focus/article/trapped-killed-body-parts-chopped-fifth-death-of-leopards-this-year-in-assam/603009.
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Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, (2014) 7 SCC 547.
N.R. Nair v. Union of India, AIR 2000 Ker 340.
Jessamine Therese Mathew & Ira Chadha-Sridhar, Granting Animals Rights Under the Constitution: a Misplaced Approach ? (2014).(June 16, 9:30 AM) http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/F6A0FB5A-88EF-4DF0-9583-3CBE36BDB956.pdf.
Karnail Singh and Others v/s State of Haryana, CRR-533-2013.
Anjali Singh Deswal, Fact Check: Kerala pregnant elephant was not ‘fed’ Pineapple stuffed with firecrackers, International Business Times (June 16, 9:20 AM) https://www.ibtimes.co.in/fact-check-kerala-pregnant-elephant-was-not-fed-pineapple-stuffed-firecrackers-821484?fbclid=IwAR2OaXYOAlUNk9KJFalQYbKHapBZF51eANuBOUnU7nWpPcHODh2TD-FdPYk.
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