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The law and animals in India: Why Maneka Gandhi’s animal rights book has kicked up much-needed debate

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Posted on August 19, 2015: Sonia Gandhi’s sister-in-law and a part of the powerful Gandhi clan, Maneka Gandhi is known for her staunch opinions and fierce confidence. Even before one registers her as a Gandhi bahu or a Member of Parliament what comes to mind is her love for animals and her long drawn struggle for animal rights.

Her popularity as an animal rights activist and environmentalist supersedes her status as a politician. She entered politics much later in 1984 after the death of her husband Sanjay Gandhi. But even before she won the elections, she earned several international awards and acclaim for environmental and animal protection.

She played a key role in eliminating practices like municipal killing of homeless dogs with a sterilization programme, regulating the sale of air guns and the banning of mobile or travelling zoos all with the simple power of a public interest litigation.

And her love for animals and passion to strive for a better life for them does not just stop there. She went on to found the organisation People for Animals in 1992 which is the largest organisation for animal rights/welfare in India. She is a self-described vegan and a patron of International Animal Rescue. Her weekly TV programme "Heads and Tails" highlighted the cruelty meted out to animals for their commercial exploitation. And her interest in the animal welfare world has also led her to pen books on this subject. Due to her immense efforts Maneka Gandhi has rose to the rung of prime animal welfare protagonists in the country. And even in her recent role as the Women and Children Minister in the Modi cabinet, her animal lover instincts are being beckoned.

The law and animals of India

Recently, Union Law Minister Sadananda Gowda wrote to the Chairman of the Bar Council of India, Manan Kumar Mishra, with a recommendation to include books written by his colleague Maneka Gandhi on animal rights in the curriculum of law schools and colleges.

Attributed to the constant nudging by Maneka, highlighting lack of awareness about animal welfare laws, Gowda is believed to have also written to chief justices of high courts and chief ministers asking them to conduct annual workshops for judges and public prosecutors to help them adjudicate on cases of cruelty to animals. Since no law college takes up animal laws as a subject this seems as a welcome move.

According to an online law journal, Gowda wrote: “… leaving aside the meat consumption issue for the time being, we need to sensitize our citizens about cruelty caused by us to animals in many forms while using them for farming purpose, religious activities, sports activities, recreational activities like circus and while transporting animals etc. We need to make lawyers acquire comprehensive knowledge on various laws governing animal rights and prevention of cruelty to animals. The best way to start forward is to include these aspects in the curriculum of law colleges.”

He further stated, “I am herewith attaching a list of Acts pertaining to animal rights and also the books written by Smt. Maneka Gandhi for including the same in the curriculum on law schools and colleges.”

Opposition and reactions

However, the acceptance from members of law colleges may not be equally warm. In a newspaper interview, Dr Ranbir Singh, vice-chancellor of National Law University, Delhi, said the recommendation of a particular book was “unethical”. And he added that animal welfare laws are already covered in law schools under the environmental law discipline.

His view was supported by Dr S.N. Singh, former dean of Law Faculty Delhi University, who told The Indian Express newspaper, “Even Bar Council does not have the mandate to do so. It is wrong to recommend a particular book. Only one book on Professional Ethics, that too because books on the subject are not easily available — the council suggested in an indicative way that it may be used. Otherwise, it is the call of law schools what books they teach. As for animal welfare laws they are covered a bit under environment and also when Article 51A of the Indian Constitution is taught that talks of compassion to animals as one of the duties of a citizen.”

The law-makers also argued that there was no lacuna in animal laws in the country, giving evidence of course materials and master training provided by the Animal Welfare Board of India, a statutory body formed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) 1960, to the Bureau of Police Research and Development and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Pointing out that animal welfare laws are now mandatory at all police training colleges, the believed Gowda’s move to be an overreach. While changes in law procedures have been introduced in some states like Delhi, orders have been issued to ensure trial in every case relating to cruelty against animals and scrupulous recording of court proceedings, they added.

Even if the books cannot be formally accepted in the curriculum, there is no harm in putting them as references for students. Such measures will ensure understanding animal rights at a micro level and help create awareness about the needs and suffering of animals in our society. It is a move to towards building a more sensitised society and would be a solution to the current problems faced by animals and animal lovers.

Aren’t animal rights being formalised into law a much-needed debate to be had in this country? What do you think?

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