RWAs must give up biases, actions against pets

The Vedas say, ‘Sarva-bhuta-hita,’ which encourages people to see life in all animals

A content creator from Noida, along with his husky dog Nawab, recently visited the famous Kedarnath shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva (also known as Pashupati, the lord of animals). Many people praised the footage of Nawab paying homage to the stone figure of a seated Nandi (the bull vahana of the Lord of Kedarkhand) and receiving blessings from the priest.

However, some people got offended and filed an FIR against the pet owner (but not against the priest) for hurting their religious sentiments. Mr. Tyagi, the pet owner, said that people should not be so bitter that they don’t spare a creature that can’t even defend itself.

Nepal and India revere dogs. The scriptures stress feeding animals, especially dogs, on Saturday. According to the Puranas, Indra’s female dog, Sarama, is the mother of all wild creatures. Many temples have dog murals. The Pandavas erected the Kilkari Bhairava Temple in Delhi. Dogs are common in this temple since they are Lord Bhairava’s vehicle. The same goes for Gujarat’s Goddess Hadkamai, whose vahana is a dog. The Khandoba and Mallana in the Deccan plateau and Revanta on the Eastern plateau (Bihar and Bengal), are all revered as guardian deities of animals.

According to Islam, Allah has given humans authority over animals. To treat animals inhumanely is thus to contravene Allah’s will.

Kindness to animals is also connected with righteousness in Hebrew texts. The story of Jonah also offers insight into God’s concern for animals.

While Nawab, which had visited many temples before, faced the ire of the more vocal, privileged, and ‘rational’ human species, the new government in Punjab came up with a Tuglaq-like diktat banning pets in government accommodations. There is no precedent for such a move. The government was forced to withdraw the order within a week after a justifiable outcry.

Soon after, a prominent high-rise in Vasundhara, Ghaziabad, came up with its own set of rules banning entry of pets in green areas, parks, and basements. They even went ahead and proposed that people have to take clearance from their residents’ welfare association (RWA) before getting a new pet. The Noida Authority, in one of the tweets, prevented the entry of animals into one of its parks.

These two examples from a state having an ardent animal lover as Chief Minister!

The Vedas say, “Sarva-bhuta-hita.” This encourages people to see life in all animals. People who can’t understand this idea of life miss the whole point of being alive and risk losing their humanity.

Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution deems it a fundamental duty of all people to exhibit “compassion for living creatures.” The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), a statutory body established under Section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960, mandates in its 2015 circular that the general body of an RWA cannot frame bye-laws or amend them in a manner that is at variance with the laws of the country. The Thane Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum ordered a housing society to pay the complainant pet owner towards compensation and legal expenses when the complainant’s dog was not allowed to use the lift.

The AWBI also encourages the use of parks by pets and suggests arriving by consensus at timings acceptable to all residents.

The Kerala High Court in People For Animals vs. State of Kerala (2021) held that the clauses in the byelaws of RWAs that seek to prevent owners/occupiers of residential apartments from keeping pet animals of their choice in the residential apartments are illegal, unconstitutional, and unenforceable in law. The court further stressed that RWAs should stop posting signs prohibiting pets on their premises.

The Supreme Court of India in AWBI vs. A. Nagaraja & Ors (2014) emphasized that “animal rights” is an issue of “seminal importance.”

In determining whether an action is ethically correct, the total amount of good that will result is compared against the entire amount of harm that will result. All religions talk about the cyclical embodiment of all living beings. RWAs’ colonial mindset stems from the concept of speciesism—‘a prejudice or attitude bias in favour of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of another one.’

The Kerala High Court lashed out at this anthropocentric view of RWAs that humans alone are seen as morally worthy and privileged to enjoy the bounties that nature has to offer.

Thankfully, we have a judiciary but the states should step up to set up active state animal welfare boards. Pet owners should come forward to educate their ignorant RWAs. They celebrate Gandhi Jayanti in parks (with ‘pets banned’ signage). They must reflect on Gandhi’s statement: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

(The author is a medical doctor, teacher, disability rights activist and a pet lover. The views expressed are personal.)

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