Agreed that we belong to the Animal Kingdom and that some of us are more brutish than the brutes, but still do we not deserve a fairer deal when we juxtapose our Rights with the Rights of the rest of the Animals?
Our affinity to the Animal World is proven so scientifically that we have no escape from that un-glamorous family environment: Kingdom- Animalia, Class- Mammalia, Order- Primates…. Only later in that taxonomical scale can we claim to be something above them, or better than them, in a somewhat self-styled glorification: Genus - Homo, Species - Homo Sapiens (Wise Man).
So, thanks to the Latin nomenclature, we are the Wise Men, because we think that in our Intelligence or wisdom we are far above the others in the Animal Kingdom.
But in the tussle between Man and Animal, or between Human Rights and Animal Rights, Man invariably gets a raw deal as incidents across the country reveal. It may be street dogs, which multiply in a logarithmic fashion, going berserk, biting all and sundry in cities, towns and villages alike, hordes of monkeys making life utterly miserable for those living in the borderlands of forests, wild animals like buffaloes, boars or leopards descending on human habitats, elephants in heat going on a killing and destructive spree, the list is endless and the human suffering and loss of life indescribable.
In all such cases there is no decisive action on the part of the authorities to neutralize the animals to save precious human lives, or to safeguard humans from animal harassment or depredation, as the authorities invariably did in the distant past. No one in authority now would act as the laws are heavily loaded in favour of the animals, whether they belong to the so called endangered species or they themselves are the endangering species as far as the humans are concerned.
Why do we hesitate to harm the animals that harm us? We are not a nation of vegetarians and every day, repeat every day, we kill millions of fowls, sheep and cattle, perhaps in the most unhygienic conditions and in the most inhuman manner, to provide food for the people. That kind of daily butchering is condoned by the law of the land. At the same time animal lovers, who may even seem to harbour an ill-will towards the human species, and the law enforcers will take up arms against anyone killing, or even harming, street dogs that bite, and occasionally kill, unwary children and aged people. Even if a leopard descends on a human habitat and goes on a killing spree, it will not be shot dead by the law enforcers, as was done by that hero of humanism Jim Corbett once upon a time in the past or by that zoo warden at Cincinnati who shot and killed a Western Lowland Gorilla, an endangered species, to save a three-year old boy who fell into its enclosure. The attempt now is to catch the violent animal alive, an enterprise that often leads to more injury and loss of life to humans. Even deadly poisonous snakes cannot be killed on the ground that some unseemly law had them listed as endangered species.
The problem for humans is compounded by the animal lover groups who often take matters to their ridiculous extreme. If any exasperated resident tries to harm, even if not to kill, a street dog or a stray cat, the animal lovers would soon descend on the scene and ensure that the police register a case and file a First Information Report before a court of law.
The tragedy of the hapless residents is that they have no support from any NGO or group as the animals do have everywhere. Just as in the case of People for Animals, perhaps there should be NGOs in the fashion of People for People to take up action whenever there is an instance of animal attack on humans or animal harassment to them.
Constitutionally speaking We the People are placed much above the animals. We drafted the Constitution and gave unto ourselves that great Testament guaranteeing to us certain Fundamental Rights, like Right to Equality before Law, that can never be violated by anyone or any power. We the People are Citizens of the country and we have such glorious identifying marks as Aadhar, PAN and Voter ID and we provide the money for the running of the country. As against these, the animals, from the menacing, dirty, drivelling street dogs to the wild ones in the wilderness, are NOT citizens of the country, do not enjoy any Fundamental Right, nor do they enjoy Right to Equality before Law.
In spite of all this, when a violent street dog is countered by a harassed resident and the so called animal lovers take up the matter, the highly obliging disposition of the local police at times ensures that an FIR is promptly registered and the wayward resident arrested. The absurdity and the injustice of such an action can be understood if we put the man and the canine in a different perspective. When a street dog bites a man, can that man go to a police station and make a complaint and would the police promptly file an FIR in court? Or ‘arrest’ that offending canine? Or go after him as in the case of goondas who cause harm to the society? Just as the goondas are detained without trial under the provisions of the Goonda Act, would the police ever impound canine goondas that freely roam the streets, making life miserable for the people in every imaginable way? Never.
Justice, or at least fairness, demands that if the man is arrested for harming the canine, the canine also needs to be arrested for harming the man. At least in this weird way the law enforcers could be satisfied that the Right to Equality before Law is not compromised in the case of the humans.
It goes without saying that the animals do not have Constitutional Rights and that they have only certain laws like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 and certain sections of the Indian Penal code in their support. In all such laws relating to animals the guiding principle is humanitarian treatment. They deserve, definitely, humanitarian treatment and there should not be wanton violence against them. There should also be no poaching of wild animals or hunting for fun. But if any animal, found in the street or in the wilderness, poses a threat to humans, the authorities should have the right under the law to neutralize it, whether it is a canine or a feline or even a bigger animal like pachyderm. The guiding principle should be the safety and well being of We the People for whom those inviolable Rights are enshrined in the Constitution.
It is imperative that the whole gamut of laws relating to animal rights are given a fresh look to ensure that in every tussle involving humans and animals the humans get a fairer deal. Our thinking on endangered species also needs a re-look. Why should there be concerted, well- orchestrated campaigns or programmes aimed at enhancing the population of those animals that ultimately harm the society at large?
One good example is the Crocodile Farming Programme taken up by the Kerala Government in the 1970s. It was an FAO expert who visited the state in the early 1970s with the project for the conservation and preservation of crocodiles that according to him was a threatened species. In fact it was beyond anyone’s comprehension how the world was becoming a poorer place to live because of the dearth of crocodiles. Anyway the crocodile tears shed by the expert were taken as genuine and the Kerala Government accepted his project for implementation. A Crocodile Farm came up in the Neyyar Dam premises in Thiruvananthapuram District, initially making the crocodile hatchlings in their cages a tourist attraction. Well fed and well looked after in the farm, the crocodiles began to increase and multiply in such a way that there were many, many more amphibians than the farm could handle. As a way out the government decided to release the grown up crocodiles in the Neyyar Dam reservoir, a disastrous decision as far as the people living in the vicinity of the reservoir and its tributary rivers were concerned. In the years subsequent to that decision hundreds of people who ventured into water were attacked by crocodiles, many of them maimed for life. This was a clear case of how an endangered species transformed into an endangering species with the whole-hearted assistance of the government.
Poet Kumaran Asan had once given a clarion call for change of laws, Mattuvin Chattangale, warning that if you do not change the laws, the laws will change you. That warning certainly applies to the present day laws relating to animal-human interaction.