On mercy to animals, let's follow our texts

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On mercy to animals, let's follow our texts

Saturday, 26 December 2015 | Hiranmay Karlekar

There is a need to bring crimes against animals within the ambit of the universe of human morality. Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which covers murder, should be extended to the killing of animals too

What kind of a person would abduct a blind, utterly friendly seven-year-old bitch named Khushi from the Race Course Towers in Vadodara, where she lived, and either kill her or release her somewhere elseIJ The second crime would be worse; unable to see and, therefore, utterly helpless, she would die amidst acute suffering caused by starvation and attacks by local dogs who, being territorial, would want to drive her away. ‘Monster’ is the mildest possible term applicable to the perpetrator/s, who perhaps had also beaten to death Rheo, another friendly and meek community dog, in the same complex two-and-a-half years ago.

The incidents recall Erich Fromm’s statement in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, that biologically non-adaptive, malignant aggression is a “characteristic only of man; it is biologically harmful because it is socially disruptive; its main manifestations-killing and cruelty-are pleasureful without needing any other purpose… Malignant aggression, though not an instinct, is a human potential rooted in the very conditions of human existence.”

Animals, on the other hand, “do not enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on other animals, nor do they ‘kill for nothing’. Sometimes an animal seems to display sadistic behaviour — for instance, a cat playing with a mouse; but it is an anthropomorphic interpretation to assume that the cat enjoys the suffering of the mouse; any fast moving object can serve as a plaything, whether it is a mouse or a ball of wool.”

Significantly, Fromm, perhaps the best-known social psychologists of the 20th century, adds, “Man’s history is a record of extraordinary destructiveness and cruelty, and human aggression, it seems, far surpasses that of man’s animal ancestors, and man in contrast to most animals, is a real killer.” The truth of Fromm’s assertion becomes clear on recalling another incident-from Kavesar in Thane near Mumbai, where six dogs and a number of puppies were killed in and around a cooperative housing society between November 26 and December 3. There would have been a furor in both cases had the victims in Vadodara and Thane been humans. The reason for the public’s indifference is the exclusion of stray dogs — indeed, all animals and plants-from the universe of morality that humans have constructed for themselves, and the belief that all non-human living beings exist for the benefit of humans who can kill, hurt or evict them from their habitats at will.

This belief emerged in Europe as far back as the time of the classical Greeks and early Christianity. Aristotle held in Politics that nature made all animals for the sake of man and it was permissible to enslave people who did not have reason as it was to enslave animals. According to him, slaves and animals did little for the “common good” and lived “at random”.

As the gladiatorial combats between humans and animals showed, the Romans had little regard for the lives of both slaves and animals. Matt Carmel states in A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature Through History, that “animals were routinely treated with a mixture of brutal indifference and sadism” in the Greco-Roman world. Cicero, the Roman orator and statesman, maintained that “the corn and fruits produced by the earth were created for the sake of animals, and animals for the sake of man”.

As for Christianity, Paul Walden writes in The Specter of Specialism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals, that the new morality that early Christians defined, did not apply to non-human living beings. It provided another version of the explanation why humans were “special relative to the rest of the animal kingdom”.  He adds, “In both Christian and non-Christian communities, the general method of describing other animals was reliance on the traditional generic discourse in expressing a dismissive attitude.” In City of God, St Augustine rejected the extension of the commandment, ‘Thou shall not kill’, to plants and animals. It did not, he said, apply to bushes as “they have no sensation, nor to unreasoning animals (irrationalibus animantibus) because they are not partners with us in the faculty of reason”.

Modern science has shown that plants have feelings. Animals may not have reason in the manner humans have, but, as studies have shown, far stronger intuition — recall how they can anticipate the coming of natural calamities like tsunamis and earthquakes —and have  innate wisdom. Some of them can even communicate with one another in their own language, which is supposed to be a unique human feature which, along with reason, it is claimed, sets the species above all other living beings. linda Bender writes in Animal Wisdom: learning from the spiritual lives of animals, “Prairie dogs are able to survive [despite many threats] because they communicate with each other in sentences. Instead of just making sounds of generalised alarm when a threat is approaching, the first prairie dog to spot it tells the others what kind of a threat it is, where it’s coming from, how far away it is, and how fast it is approaching.” Bender points out that Con Sobodchikoff, who first deciphered their language, found different colonies using different dialects,which suggested that language was “being transmitted culturally (that is, by adults teaching the young) rather than genetically”.

The idea of human superiority, therefore, does not wash, particularly since the possession of rationality, the other phenomenon  on which it is said to rest, is a potential and not an absolute attribute. People are at least as often irrational as rational. Hence, the exclusion of animals from the universe of human morality has no basis. Crimes against animals have to be treated at par with those against humans.  For example, Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to murder, should be amended to cover animals as well.

Such a move will be in tune with the worldview embodied in the Upanishads, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas, which believes that the entire universe is a manifestation of the Universal Soul, the Brahman, which pervades everything, animate and inanimate. The Srimad Bhagavata: The Holy Book of God, as translated by Swami Tapasyananda, states, “A person who injures lower creatures for selfish purposes goes to the purgatory called Andhakupa [Dark Well] and there he will have to live in a low type of body, attacked by the creatures he had injured. In darkness, without sleep, and restless, he would have to drag on a wretched existence.”


 Even before that, there has to be punishment on earth.

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