Mahatma Gandhi is once said to have remarked that, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. The decimation of animal habitats, the hacking of nesting places of birds and the savage machismo on Indian roads that cuts short the lives of dogs and cats would have mortified the Mahatma. But it’s doubtful if the Uttarakhand High Court’s attempts to play saving angel for the “entire animal kingdom” would have impressed him. On Wednesday, the court declared all animals including “avian and aquatic” ones as “legal persons”. The jury is out on whether being vested with the rights of “a living person” is good news for Uttarakhand’s fauna, but undertaking the “duties and liabilities of a living person” could be an interesting proposition, given the times we live in.
The court hasn’t specified if the decision constrains cows from chewing cud — or plastics — when the national anthem is being played or whether broiler chickens have to come out of their antibiotic-induced stupor in order to protect national honour. Does it mean that tigers and elephants have to live up to their majesty by protecting forests? Does it call on lab rats to develop the spirit of scientific temper and humanism?
The court has also directed that all residents of Uttarakhand are guardians of animals with the duty to “ensure their welfare and protection”. This, we surmise, also holds for a certain Ganesh Joshi, who, about two years ago, lost it on a horse. In a moving display of anthropomorphism, the Uttarakhand government dedicated a memorial to the animal, who, however, could not adjust to prosthetic limbs and succumbed to the lashing. And once Joshi’s party assumed office in the state, it initiated measures to absolve its MLA of any crime. We do not have the reactions of the equestrian community on the court verdict. But then does it care?