Notebook

An Academic Twist to Animal Welfare

An Academic Twist to Animal Welfare
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The discourse around animal rights has become shrill and often unscientific

IN THE LAST few years, while awareness about animal rights and campaigns against animal cruelty have increased in India, according to animal welfare activist Nuggehalli Jayasimha, the discourse around animal rights itself has become shrill and often unscientific. Jayasimha is the managing director of Humane Society International’s India office, a group that works on animal protection issues across the world.

“Just look at the cow slaughter ban issue, for instance. It’s all just rhetoric, from both sides. There is no scientific evidence to back anything. And neither side is really interested in the cow,” Jayasimha says. “Animal welfare activism in India is increasingly becoming eminence based, where it rests on the personality of some people. When in fact it needs to be based on evidence, on hard scientific data.”

“But now, we are hopefully going to do that,” he says. “We are going to shift the level of conversation.”

According to Jayasimha, animal welfare activism in India is taking a big step now, in the direction of making it more academic-oriented. A few weeks ago, Humane Society International set up India’s first Centre for Animal Law. This centre, which will come up at Hyderabad’s Nalsar University of Law, will offer a certificate course and begin accepting students from next year onwards. It will not be restricted to people with law backgrounds, but will be open to everyone with an interest in animal law. Jayasimha believes a large majority of students who will join the centre will probably be animal welfare activists interested in looking at animal law in India more deeply.

This new centre will create curriculum on animal welfare laws, including developing topics for research. It will also simultaneously conduct workshops on animal laws and animal welfare issues with judicial magistrates, animal welfare advocates, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders in the government. “We will currently focus on this particular institute. But in the long run, we hope that this centre will be the first of many institutions dedicated to animal law research, one of the most ignored branches of law,” Jayasimha says.

According to the Humane Society International, the new centre is being established not just to improve the quality of discussion around animal welfare and laws in the country. Over the years, the group has also found an acute shortage of a research institute of this nature. “In the past few years, you have had the judiciary, the Supreme Court and the High Courts playing a very proactive role in protecting animals in India. They have provided some landmark judgments, laying down great precedence in animal laws. But there has been little discussion around it. There has been no academic institute to take this forward. To study, engage and push forward discussions based on these judgments,” Jayasimha says.

At the inauguration of the centre, Menaka Gandhi, the union minister for women and child welfare who is known to be a crusader for animal protection, pointed out that when fighting animal rights cases in courts, they have often felt the need of such a research institute for animals. “While fighting various cases in courts, we spend a lot of time in researching,” she was reported as saying during the inauguration. “The centre at Nalsar can emerge as a resource group where studies for such cases can be conducted by students.”

There are several academically interesting issues, Jayasimha points out, around animal welfare that have come up over time in India which often go unexplored. “For instance, in Indian law concerning animal welfare, we have this principle called the doctrine of necessity, where it is not permitted to inflict unnecessary pain or suffering to animals. Now that’s an interesting idea with some points of discussion like what constitutes necessary or unnecessary pain, and who gets to decide whether it is necessary or unnecessary. For instance, animal testing for cosmetics can be argued as unnecessary pain and suffering today. But what about the case of jallikattu? Is that necessary or unnecessary pain and suffering? And who gets to decide it: the judiciary or the parliament?” Jayasimha says. “These are interesting discussions. But so far, there are no avenues for it.”

According to Jayasimha, the centre will be academically oriented and will not have any ideological push from animal welfare groups. “It will be a pure academic place, about animal law, the entire spectrum of it, and the application of law,” he says.

There are certain problems with animal protection in India currently, Jayasimha says. “Right now, animal welfare discussion in India tends to be very exclusionist. It almost exhibits something of a Brahmanical virtue sometimes,” he says. “But what we are trying to do with the centre is to establish a big tent. You can be a meat-eater, a vegan, a utilitarian, an abolitionist, or a pure constitutionalist. You can be in whatever spectrum of compassion towards animals. The centre will not conform to notions of right and wrong. It will be open to anyone interested in animal law.”