Animals deserve a dignified living – Hiranmay Karlekar

John Abraham

Hiranmay KarlekarThe greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. – M.K. Gandhi

A report in the Delhi edition of The Pioneer on Sunday, July 21, quoted the well-known actor, John Abraham, as saying that animals should be treated at par with human beings. Referring to the music video Unleash, sung by Kunal Avanti under the name of IAmAnimal, in which he features along with Jacqueline Fernandes, he further stated that peoples’ attitude towards animals should change and that he was against hunting and the felling of trees.

Abraham needs to be congratulated. The manner in which we enslave and treat animals would shame even the most savage colonialist. Consider our behaviour towards cattle. Cows are driven out in the cold after they stop yielding milk. They are suddenly thrown into the mercy of the elements after being sheltered from when they were very young, and forced to fend for food after being regularly fed. Many die of exposure or fall prey to tigers and leopards in areas close to forests.

As for food, they are beaten off crop-bearing fields when hunger drives them there. With starvation forcing them to eat plastic, they die slowly of toxicity. Bulls, no longer needed in agriculture, are abandoned as calves. Most die. Those that survive forage for food in markets and streets.

People attack stray dogs mostly because they derive sadistic pleasure from it. They kill or take away their puppies and call for their mass slaughter if they bite in retaliation. This, in fact, reflects their latent genocidal instinct. Since any expression of the desire to kill humans en masse will prompt severe condemnation, it is transferred to stray dogs particularly since they can, in the process, claim to be defending humans. To rationalise their savagery, they portray stray dogs as violent, dangerous animals.

Not just stray dogs but no category of animals is violent and dangerous by nature. Erich Fromm writes in his seminal work, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, “Man is the only mammal who is a large-scale killer and a sadist.” He further states that indulgence in destruction and cruelty can always cause a man to feel “intense satisfaction”. Animals, he states, “do not enjoy inflicting pain or suffering on other animals. Sometimes an animal seems to display sadistic behaviour—for instance a cat playing with a mouse; but it is an anthropomorphic interpretation that the cat enjoys the suffering of the mouse; any fast-moving object can serve as a plaything, whether a mouse of a ball of wool.”

To quote Fromm again, “If human aggression were more or less at the same level as that of other mammals—particularly that of our nearest relative, the chimpanzee—human society would be rather peaceful and non-violent. But this is not so. Man’s history is a record of extraordinary destructiveness, and man is in contrast to most animals, a real killer.”

Humans have also cited the so-called absence of rationality in animals to justify their enslavement and ill-treatment. Saint Augustine said that “irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are disassociated from us by the want of reason and, therefore, by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses.” Rationality, however, is not the defining attribute of human beings. It is another attribute like irrationality which, too, can move millions—for example, those joining the Nazis in Germany. Flawed reason can lead to wrong conclusions. Reason can be used to rationalize serious human rights violations.

Elizabeth Costello, the main protagonist in C.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, puts things in perspective when she says in a lecture, “Both reason and seven decades of life experience tells me that reason is neither the being of the universe nor the being of God. On the contrary, reason looks to me suspiciously like the being of human thought; worse than that, like the being of one tendency in human thought.”

Besides, the claim that animals lack rationality is under increasing challenge. According to a report in ScienceDaily (November 1, 2017), Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, argued in an article in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research that a wide variety of animals—elephants, chimpanzees, ravens and lions, among others—engaged in rational decision-making.

Human beings cannot treat animals as they like on the ground that they are ferocious and irrational. Doubtless, things were worse in the past, one of the most heinous practices being their use in wars. In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque gives a horrifying account of the suffering of injured horses during World War I. Then he writes, “Detering [a soldier who was farmer who loved horses] walks about cursing, ‘what have they done to deserve that, that’s what I want to know.’ And later on comes back to it again. His voice is agitated and he sounds as if he is making a speech when he says, “I tell you this: it is the most despicable of all to drag animals into a war.”

Detering was right. But animals—like sniffer dogs—continue to be used in wars, and other forms of abuse continue. One needs a mass movement to end their suffering. – The Pioneer, 25 July @019

Hiranmay Karlekar is an author and consultant editor at The Pioneer.

Lynn Townsend White Jr