By Saurabh Gandhi:
“I had been to Goa as a child. We had stayed at a beach resort. Dolphin watching was something that we couldn’t miss”, said the tourist. So we went. The tourist guy was pointing at each dolphin as it came above the surface of water and vanished in a second. He went on to say that now a days, spotting dolphins had become difficult as their population had decreased. I hardly listened to him then, as I was busy taking pictures of the beautiful living being.
Hang on for a second. Did I use the words “living being”? Sorry, I had forgotten that animals do not have rights. Or rather I should say, they have animal rights but not human rights. World over, rights are segregated into human rights and animal rights. I wouldn’t mind the segregation if we paid equal attention to both of them. But that hardly is the case. ‘Voice’ — this ability to express oneself is most superior in human beings and very minute or nil in other living organisms. And this, some say, is providing us an upper hand in ill-treating our so called subordinates for our personal benefit.
This year though, India has taken two initiatives which if implemented in letter and spirit can be termed as our acknowledgement of animal rights. In the midst of a policy paralysis, the Government of India through a circular dated 17.05.2013 announced that it has decided not to allow the establishment of dolphinariumsÂ in the country. The reasons cited were three-fold. Firstly, that the Gangetic Dolphin (by the way, this is our national aquatic animal, if you didn’t know) was an endangered species. Secondly, it cited researchers who had concluded that dolphins have unusually high intelligence as compared to other animals, and therefore should be treated as “non-human persons” and as such should have their own rights and not be captivated for human entertainment. Moreover, they do not survive well in captivity (as if anyone would).
The other initiative taken by India (and this can really be called an initiative as with this India is the first country in South Asia to have done it) is the banning of testing on animals for products such as cosmetics and their ingredients. India was the fourth country in the world to ban dolphinariums. Add to this the fact that the Constitution of India makes it the responsibility of the state to take care of the wildlife and also demands compassion for the animals from the citizens and it makes India much more responsive to animal issues than the United States.
However, it’s not that everything is hunky-dory in India. These are just two specific cases where rules have been positive. However, with all rules and regulations all over the world, the fact that many of them remain true only on paper is a huge danger to the implementation of these initiatives on the ground-level. Also, there are specific issues with regard to the ban on testing for cosmetics. According to the fine print, the ban is on testing in India, meaning that those cosmetics which are manufactured after testing on animals in other countries can be marketed and sold in India. This is in sharp contrast to the blanket ban imposed in Europe.
The question is when will all countries sit up and think of giving credence to the concept of animal rights or rather isn’t it time that human rights and animal rights are merged together to “rights of living beings”?