NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 01

Animals too have rights, really?

The scene appeared to be a kind of amusement for most of nearly half-a-dozen people, who had gathered near a donkey-cart with the poor animal suspended in the air. The unfortunate creature was swept off his hooves as his master had overloaded the cart in his hunger for earning more from the supply order. Near Tibba Badar Sher Chowk of Bahawalpur city, the labourer-cum owner of the cart was making futile attempts to bring down the donkey without offloading some of the material from the cart.Though a painful sight for Sania Waheed, an A-Levels student at an Islamabad institute and currently visiting her maternal grandparents in Bahawalpur, the onlookers were taking it as a normal occurrence. In a video talk with the writer, Sania regrets that most people don’t show any sympathy towards domesticated animals being mistreated by their owners, or stray animals in some trouble. She wonders what kind of human beings and Muslims we are if we don’t follow the commands of the Creator about all creatures around us.Allama Abbas Shirazi says Allah Almighty has clearly commanded the faithful to take care of all creatures, including animals, as those are very much part of the ecology of each and every region of the earth. The Holy Qur’an says: “There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you…”Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) loved animals and he called upon all Muslims to treat animals with kindness and sympathy. Allama Shirazi quotes a Hadith, which says: “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.”There are many stories and sayings of the Holy Prophet that demonstrate his concern for the welfare of animals. “Once someone travelling with the Holy Prophet took some eggs from a nest, causing the mother bird great grief. The Prophet (PBUH) saw this and told the man to return the eggs.When the Holy Prophet was asked if Allah rewarded acts of charity to animals, he replied: “Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast alive.” Also, the Holy Prophet said, “Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, Allah will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.” The Prophet (PBUH) explained that a killing would be for a just cause if it was for food.In the light of the Quran and Sunnah, true Muslims believe that treating animals cruelly, making them overwork or overloaded, neglecting animals, hunting animals for sport, cutting the mane or tail of a horse, animal fighting as a sport, etc. are not permitted in Islam, and doing such acts would invite the wrath of Allah Almighty.Rights of all animals, both domesticated or wild, have been protected under the Constitution of Pakistan. Agha Intizar Ali Imran, a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, says cruelty shown towards animals is an offence according to the law of the land. “A breach of the anti-cruelty provisions in Sections 3 to 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) is punishable with fines and imprisonment. A breach of any parts of the Punjab Animals Slaughter Control Act (1963) is punishable with fines and imprisonment. Animals may also be forfeited to the government,” the senior lawyer quotes from law books.Agha Imran says a case about an elephant kept in Islamabad zoo made headlines in the national and international press almost two years back. The Islamabad High Court had held that “animals have natural rights and are entitled to protection under the Pakistani Constitution”. The case before the court was threefold, involving an elephant held in solitary confinement at a zoo, a rescued bear, who had been forced to ‘dance’ and perform tricks, and the killing of stray dogs. Despite at times anthropocentric framing, the ruling unequivocally recognized that animals have legal rights, recalls the senior lawyer.Agha Intizar Ali Imran says people can call 1819 to report animal abuse also. The law says an animal ethics committee will be established and abusers would have to face penalties for violations of the law. Shooting and poisoning of animals is also banned under the Pakistan law, he adds.According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) statistics, Pakistan is home to at least 177 mammal and 660 bird species, making it part of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Unfortunately, conservation and rehabilitation efforts are few and far in between. Pakistan has been graded an overall ‘E’ on the World Animal Protection Index with an ‘F’ in government accountability and ‘G’ in animal protection, which ranks the country lower than its neighbour India and higher than only a few countries where even the human rights situation is abysmal.The Supreme Court lawyer says animals kept in zoos and wild animals owned privately are both examples of animals in captivity. Although Articles 3 and 5 of the PCTAA apply to these situations, such wildlife is considered the responsibility of provincial governments, and there is no national policy on zoos.The lawyer regrets that the animals are not even regulated under most provincial wildlife ordinances. As far as wild animals held privately are concerned, the Northern Areas Wildlife Preservation Act 1975 prohibits wild animals from being kept as pets without the permission of the Chief Wildlife Warden for either scientific purposes or as part of a ‘recognized’ zoo.As for pet or companion animals, though Articles 3 and 5 of the PCTAA may again apply, there are no express provisions related to them specifically. Interestingly, despite Article 429 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860, which makes it a criminal offence to kill, poison, maim or render useless any animal of value above Rs50, there still exist innumerable instances of inhumane acts, such as the culling of stray animals, particularly dogs. The lawyer says that although the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890 may be a good base for animal rights, which acknowledges that animals feel pain and suffering, the sentence has not been explicitly recognised in any form of legislation.

The writer is a physician by profession. She has worked as an intern at the Capital Health (New Jersey) & the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital (New York). Rights and gender issues are the areas of special interest to her. She can be reached at: [email protected]