Protecting and improving the natural environment – including forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures are our fundamental duties as citizens, according to the Constitution of India. Text by Shreya Padukone.
All laws of the country flow from the Constitution, including the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act). Under the Act, the government also frames rules to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering to animals, such as in pet shops, the egg industry, and in transport.
Photo: Public Domain/UN.
Over 60 years ago, a woman was instrumental in enacting a powerful law for animal welfare in India. During her lifetime, she was honoured with many international awards for her service to animals. Can we carry on the legacy of Rukmini Devi Arundale? The first female member of the Rajya Sabha, a Padma Bhushan awardee and a Bharatanatyam dancer, she pioneered the enactment of the PCA Act in 1960. However, when she first introduced the bill in 1953, it was not moved in the Parliament. It was her indomitable spirit and resilient efforts to understand the nuances of policy and lawmaking that led to success. The law was passed within the next eight years. This remarkable accomplishment helped reduce pain and suffering for billions of animals for generations to come. Her resolve to help animals developed at a young age. She was horrified to see animals being butchered. She would say, “The frightened look in the eyes of the animals used to haunt me in my dreams for a long time.” The eyes of animals, human or non-human, evoke a purer emotion than any words or actions can. She let this sad experience become a powerful driving force in her life. To quote Rukmini Devi’s wise words, “Animals cannot speak, but can you and I not speak for them and represent them?” She opposed the use of animals for experiments and testing of products such as cosmetics. She even refused to take life-saving medicines because they were tested on animals, and passed away in 1986.
Rukmini Devi Arundale was an award-winning Bharatanatyam dancer. Photo: Public Domain/UN.
The PCA Act remains a strong piece of legislation. However, the law loses its bite without its sharp teeth of penalties for animal cruelty offences. Citizens of India are joining together to request parliamentarians to increase the penalty for animal cruelty, currently just Rs. 50, and speaking up in support of animals with the hashtag “#NoMore50”.
Rukmini Devi was moved by the plight of goats. Photo: Public Domain/Tetyana Kovyrina.
While it is evident that it is important to ensure animals are not kept hungry, thirsty, in discomfort, diseased or distressed, the freedom to express natural behaviours is also equally important for the welfare of animals. For instance, did you know that mama hens, when about to lay eggs, will prioritise nesting even more than eating food! These behavioural needs can be equated with their psychological needs.
Animal rights activists all over the world agitate against the factory farming of animals – a modern practice that is terrible for the environment, human health, and of course, the animals. Photo: Public Domain.
Animals are sentient beings, which means they can sense and experience feelings. If there are no basic standards for animal welfare, the poor conditions in which they are kept will cause stress, and impact their mental and physical health. This ultimately affects our food and environment, and human welfare too. This is called the One Health Principle. It states that animal welfare is closely interlinked with environmental health and public health. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) passed a resolution in 2021 at the conjunction of sustainable development and environment with animal welfare. Thus it is important to engage with policymakers in our country and to support reforms in animal welfare laws. We can write to the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying to introduce rules for better animal welfare standards under the PCA Act and carry on the legacy of Rukmini Devi.
Shreya Padukone is a lawyer by training and a conservationist by passion. She works towards better policies for animal welfare at the intersectionality of other social justice movements.