The Uttarakhand High Court at Nainital, in a petition praying for restriction of movement of horses and mules between Nepal and India, declared all animals (non-human animals including birds and fish) as legal entities. Animal welfare and animal rights advocates across the country are celebrating this landmark judgement.
While it is important to recognise the rights of animals, it is even more essential to recognise the duty of care that we, as humans, have towards animals. The Supreme Court recognised this duty of care towards animals, mandated in section 3 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja& Ors. The High Court at Nainital too vested the responsibility of protecting animals, ensuring their welfare, on us- the human citizens. The recognition of animal rights must be harmoniously read with the duty of care- without which, we cannot secure the ideal concept of rights.
This declaration is an opportunity for us to introspect on our relationship with the non-human animals we share the world with. A majority of the interaction we have with non-human animals is through their exploitation. We interact with animals when we raise them in intensive factory farms for slaughter, when we confine them for experiments in the name of science, breed them for trade and encroach upon their habitats. While we theoretically confer them with personhood and rights, animals are still held in zoos, circuses, and scientific laboratories.
For too long, we have regarded non-human animals as objects, having no intrinsic worth beyond their use for us. This judgement is the beginning of the dialogue to change the narration, to recognise the animals as living, sentient beings. The education system must include material that instils an interest in and respect for all living beings. These are objectives best fulfilled by providing knowledge that emphasizes animals as living, sentient creatures who share the environment with humans.
The key to realising this historic judgement is to forge a lasting and comprehensive change in human consciousness of and behaviour toward all animals in order to prevent animal cruelty, exploitation, and neglect and to protect natural habitats.
The Government of India must recognise its fundamental duty towards non-human animals, as enshrined in Article 48-A &51 A(g) and reiterated by the Hon’ble Courts of this country, and implement animal welfare laws in letter and spirit. Only then can we, as a Nation, protect and preserve the entire community of life.
The author is an animal welfare law consultant. She conducts training sessions for law enforcement agencies and workshops for magistrates in many States for better understanding of animal welfare laws. She has been awarded the Nari Shakti Puruskar by the President of India in 2018, which is the highest civilian award for women in India. Her efforts have led to several landmark judgements in the field of animal welfare.