By Hiranmay Karlekar
01 November 2014
The most helpless, and hence the easiest to dominate and torture, are animals. Things will only change if people stop regarding animals as inferior beings and grant them the moral space that humans occupy
On October 17, First Information Report No 0366 of 2014 was filed at the Chittaranjan Park Police Station, Delhi, against a person who had allegedly deliberately set fire to a heap of leaves under which about 10 puppies were lying. According to the FIR, the person was in the habit of burning leaves which had been banned for causing pollution. A little more than a month-and-a-half earlier, another report had been lodged at the Tughlak Road Police Station, Delhi, against a man who had allegedly severely beaten up a dog in Golf Links who is locally looked after.
The outcome of these cases will be watched with interest, especially since Mr Deepak Mishra, Special Commissioner, Law and Order, of Delhi Police had, on February 7, 2014, circulated a landmark communication to all Joint Commissioners and district heads of Delhi Police, stating that it had been noticed “that while dealing with crime against animals, most of the police officers either do not know the various provisions of the relevant Acts or show apathy to it by treating such cases as frolicsome and a waste of time. At times, specific sections of IPC like 428, 429, 379, 503 and Delhi Police Act 1978 are not invoked.” It added that henceforth it was “the responsibility of the area SHO and ACP/SDPO to properly educate/supervise/guide the IOs to ensure that while dealing with crime against animals, all the sections of the relevant Acts are properly mentioned in the FIRs and investigation/action is taken up accordingly.”
Mr Mishra deserves to be congratulated for his remarkable initiative. Cases of wanton cruelty to animals occur regularly the world over. These, however, are particularly unfortunate in India because comprehensive laws against cruelty to animals exist here but are not implemented, thanks to apathy — even active sanction or perpetration of cruelty — by the authorities themselves.
The harsh fact is that a very large number of people are cruel to animals. There are several explanations for this. Desmond Morris, writes in The Human Zoo, “Cruelty to animals has long provided a major outlet for re-directed aggression from the times of the earliest civilisations, right up to the present day, and it has certainly not been confined to the lowest levels in the social hierarchy.”
According to Mr Morris, tribal hunters and early farmers had a spirit of kinship with animals and respected them. “But the moment that urban populations began to develop, large groups of human beings became cut off from direct contact with animals, and the respect was lost. As civilisations grew, so did man’s arrogance. He shut his eyes to the fact that he was just as much an animal as any other species. A great gulf appeared: Now only he had a soul and other animals did not. They were no more than brute beasts put on earth for his pleasure.”
Mr Morris further points out that animals came in for a rough passage with the spread of Christianity. He writes, “We need not go into the details, but it is worth noting that as late as in the middle of the nineteenth century Pope Pius IX refused permission for the opening of an animal protection office in Rome on the ground that man owed duties to his fellow men, but none to the lower animals.” He further cited a Jesuit lecturer writing in the same century that “brute beasts” were not persons because they had no understanding and hence could not have any rights. Humans, therefore, had no duties of charity “nor duties of any other kind to the lower animals…”
Christianity’s attitude to animals has been changing and becoming more compassionate. But things have been made worse by growing human aggression which has many causes. Mr Morris attributes it to tensions and conflicts occurring among humans, who have biologically remained the tribal hunters they were for a million years, living in cities which are not their natural habitats. John Gray writes in The Silence of Animals:On Progress and Other Modern Myths, “Barbarism is not a primitive form of life, but a pathological development of civilisation.” Put very roughly, in Civilisation and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud discusses the fundamental tensions that exist between individuals seeking instinctual freedom in pleasure and civilisation’s demand for conformity and instinctual repression deemed necessary for the community. The most notable of the immutable characteristic instincts of humans are the desire for sex and the predisposition to violent aggression toward authority figures and sexual competitors.
As has been noted by many authorities, the first targets of such aggression are animals and children, who are the least capable of all to defend themselves. Next come women.
Another important cause is the desire for domination, which assumes the form of sadism. In The Fear of Freedom, Erich Fromm says that both sadism and masochism (the tendency to surrender one’s will and self to an individual or authority), emerge from the process of individuation in a person’s life. An infant’s life, Fromm argues, is a part of his or her mother’s and of the security it provides. As a person grows up and becomes an individual — which is what individuation is — he or she becomes increasingly aware of the many perils of the world around. The growing feeling of insecurity this produces, is ideally resolved by becoming one with the surrounding world through love and creative activity. Most persons, however, are incapable of doing so. Instead, they seek to overcome their feeling of insecurity by deriving a sense of power by completely dominating, physically and/or mentally, an individual or a plurality of people.
If the process leads to aggression, the latter’s expression is facilitated by masochism, which stands for deriving a sense of security through total surrender to a powerful person or organisation, seeking reassurance from being a part of the latter’s collectivity and divesting oneself of the agony of decision-making through blind obedience to the authority to which one had surrendered.
The most helpless, and hence the easiest to dominate and torture, are animals. Things will only change if people stop regarding animals as inferior beings and grant them the same space as they occupy in their universe of morality. They may not have reason but as Linda Bender shows in Animal Wisdom: Learning from the Spiritual Lives of Animals, they have qualities of instinctive perception and premonition far superior to those of humans.