• The Law Gazette

Should there be Animal Rights parallel to Human Rights?

Abusing animals is as wrong as abusing people if not more than that. The concern for the well-being of animals has given rise to the idea of "animal rights" parallel to human rights. Although the concept of recognition of animal rights is relatively new, in the past, animals were often put on trial in the court of law. Interestingly, they were mostly found guilty of committing crimes such as murder and assault and were consequently punished by way of hanging. The earliest record of an animal trial dates back to 1266 where a pig was executed in Fontenay-aux-Roses. The efforts to prevent animal abuse and recognize animal rights got materialized much later in the 1900s.

The advocates of this concept believe in the notion of 'sentience' instead of 'speciesism'. They discard the 'humans first' ideology of speciesism and consider sentience to be the real touchstone, as it unites all the species of the animal kingdom, be it human or nonhuman. Speciesism is believed to be analogous to homophobia and misogyny. They even go to the extent of claiming that human rights are a form of animal rights since humans are also an animal species. On the other hand, the opponents of this concept, taking a realistic view, usually contend that since animals do not have a sense of understanding of their obligations towards other beings, they are not supposed to have rights. However, the animal rights activists have rejected this view straight away, branding this argument as "speciesist”.


India, being a home to various religions that advocate non-violence and compassion towards all animals, has a rich history when it comes to animal welfare. Hinduism, the largest religion in India, promotes "vegetarianism" and killing any living being is believed to cause bad "karma". However, it should be noted that animal sacrifice is still permitted in some of the Hindu religious ceremonies. The emergence of Jainism and Buddhism, two other major religions in India, took this idea of animal protection a notch higher. Like Hinduism, both these religions have ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence towards all living beings as one of their central tenants, and also advocate vegetarianism. Jainism even goes to the extent of avoiding any harm to insects. Despite all this, meat-eating remains a common practice in India.

The development of laws in India for the welfare of animals can be traced back to the British Raj when Colesworthy Grant established the first Indian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 1861, which went on to pass numerous anti-cruelty legislation in the 1860s. Various cow protection movements also took place during that period. Later, Independent India's first national animal welfare law, "Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act" was passed in 1960 and "Animal Welfare Board of India" was also formed in the same year, to ensure that anti-cruelty provisions were enforced and promote the cause of animal welfare. Since then, this Act has undergone some minor amendments, although not a lot has changed.

In 2017, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change published four new Gazette notifications under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 to regulate dog breeders, animal markets, and aquarium and "pet" fish shop owners, namely, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing) Rules, 2017; Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017; the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Aquarium and Fish Tank Animals Shop) Rules, 2017; and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017. It also released the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017 under the Act in order to help remove animals from abusers.


Despite all the laws, rules and regulations put in place, animals continue to face inhuman treatment which makes the demand for animal rights even more important.

1. Testing on animals

Now and then, millions of animals lose their life, in an attempt to test the dangerous effect of consumer products, drugs and vaccines. Animals like mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other animals are forced to inhale massive amounts of test substances, which further leads to illnesses and death. Even after establishing that animal testing is incapable of predicting the human effects, still, these practices are a regular norm in the industry.

Neglect of Street dogs after birth control: Birth control Act (Dogs) 2001 gives specific guidance about how the surgery has to be taken place but is silent as to what is to be done once the surgery has taken place. As after the surgery animals are most venerable and become easy subject to attacks and cruel treatment.

Keeping animals in battery cages: India has the world's 3rd most significant poetry industry. Where 70% of this industry consists of commercial poultry farms. Cages used in this industry are called battery cages which are usually very small and congested, not allowing freedom of movement to the animals trapped inside. Hence clearly violating section 11(a).

2. Use of animals for entertainment

The use of animals as “entertainers” removes animals from their natural habitat, deprives them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviours, often involving cruel training methods. Although through the policy of the government and huge steps taken by animal rights activists, this problem has been reduced to a far smaller number. However, a long path is still left to cover.

3. Carelessness of citizens

Cases of animal abuse and cruelty against animals take place every day in our regular life. People throw stones or hit animals in whatever ways possible just for their pleasure. It has been done to the extent that, last month in Kerala a pregnant elephant was killed by busting of a firecracker in her mouth after that two more such incidents took place in Chhattisgarh. This list of cruelty goes on and on. Lack of awareness and lose laws plays a crucial role in promoting this cruelty.


A 'person' is understood as a free individual with a sound mind and certain inalienable rights. This definition of a person extends to all human beings regardless of race, caste, gender or sexual orientation. It focuses on mental attributes rather than physical attributes. Studies have shown that some animals are intelligent and emotional enough to live a life similar to that of a human child. Consequently, it is argued that they deserve the fundamental rights that are given to a human child, such as the right to life and not to be tortured. However, this argument is not widely accepted due to the fundamental differences that exist between a human and an animal which cannot be overlooked.

Some people contend that animals should at least be given a legal identity. This legal identity can be accorded to nonhuman entities where they are given some fundamental rights and are subjected to certain obligations as well. This idea has been picking up heat from the last couple of decades, and amendments are being made by various countries all over the globe. In 1992, Switzerland amended its constitution to identify animals as 'beings' rather than 'things'. Countries like Germany and Spain have also taken similar steps in order to provide animals with some fundamental legal rights.


Judiciary has played a proactive role concerning the development of animal rights in India. Below are a few significant judgements passed by the courts of law in India that have proved to be stepping stone in that context.

In 2014, the Supreme Court[1] had struck down the practice of Jallikattu (bull-wrestling) and bullock cart racing in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, respectively. More importantly, it looked at the evolution of the rights of animals in the international context, giving examples from Germany, the UK, and a host of other countries. The Supreme Court stated, and the new High Court judgment quotes this, "that since we are dealing with welfare legislation of a sentient being, over which human beings have domination and the standard we have to apply in deciding the issue on hand is the 'Species' Best Interest', subject to just exceptions, out of human necessity."

In 2016, Uttarakhand High Court in its 56 pages judgement[2] stated that "the entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic, are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person. All the citizens throughout the State of Uttarakhand are now declared persons in loco parentis as the human face for the welfare protection of animals."

In 2019, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, in the case of Karnail Singh and others v State of Haryana,[3] recognized that all animals in the animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic species, as legal entities. All citizens of the state of Haryana were declared persons in loco parentis (in place of a parent), which will enable them to act as guardians for all nonhuman animals within the state of Haryana. The court further stated that legal personhood has not and should not be restricted to human beings.


India is one of the better-performing countries in the global Animal Protection Index 2020 but still needs to improvise. It is pertinent to note that though India has laws for the protection of animals and their welfare, recognition of animal rights still has a long way to go. There is a vast difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Animal welfare reflects a common-sense approach that all animals should be treated well, and animal cruelty is wrong and barbaric. One the other hand, the concept of animal rights is an extremist ideology which recognizes no differentiation between humans and animals. Though the judiciary has played a comparatively active role in contributing to the development of animal rights, there is a considerable gap when it comes to the legislative aspect of it.

Moreover, the recognition of animal rights also poses some crucial questions which cannot be ignored. The consequences of vesting such 'rights' in animals seem to be unassessed. Will extending such rights to animals be sustainable? If the entire animal kingdom is given the status of 'legal entities', how will the right of having pet animals be affected? Being legal entities and having the capacity to enter into contracts, assume obligations, sue or be sued, how will animals be held responsible for all this? Such questions act as blockades in the way of development of animal rights and thus, require immediate deliberation in order to move forward.


[1] (2014) 7 SCC 547

[2] MANU/UC/0431/2018

[3] MANU/PH/0580/2019.


This blog has been authored by Bhumika Khandelwal who is a 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at ILS Law College, Pune and Gourav Sharma who is a 2nd Year B.B.A., LL.B.(Hons.) student at United World School of Law (Karnavati University), Gandhinagar.