Ban animals in circuses

Saturday, 08 December 2018 | Hiranmay Karlekar

The Environment Ministry’s decision to prohibit animals in performances is laudable. It must not get bogged down by critics who do not want the draft rules to become law

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) has done well to issue a draft notification on November 28, 2018, banning the use of all animals in circuses across the country. The draft notification reads, “In the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001, under rule 13, the following shall be added — 13A — prohibition on exhibiting and training of animals for specified performances. No animal shall be used for any performances or exhibition at any circus or mobile entertainment facility.” Not only that, it has defined circus as “a large public entertainment, typically presented in one or more very large tents or in an outdoor or indoor arena, featuring exhibitions of pageantry, feats of skill and daring, performing animals, among others.”

The draft notification comes in the wake of a number of developments, including recommendations from the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA), which have been entrusted by the MOEF&CC to discharge, on its behalf, important regulatory functions regarding the use of animals in circuses. Besides, under the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, the AWBI is the designated authority for registering performing animals throughout the country.

Reports by inspection teams visiting circuses on behalf of the AWBI have, without exception, detailed the horrific treatment that animals undergo during training for life-threatening acts like jumping through rings of fire. They are — sometimes even during performances — beaten with sticks, whipped, poked with sharp metal rods (sometimes rusted). Bull hooks — heavy batons with sharp metal hooks at one end — are used on elephants despite being banned. According to the reports, many of the injuries/deformities reported in animals were attributable to cruelty during training as well as performances. Animals had shown, even after being rescued, the effects of physical and psychological trauma they had undergone during training.

The AWBI has further pointed out that circuses, that rarely communicate their whereabouts to it in time, were extremely hard to track. They repeatedly changed their stock of animals without informing it. Also, animals did not receive basic vaccinations, had no opportunity to exercise, did not receive veterinary treatment and were used for illegal breeding. There have also been reports of animals dying as a result of practices like the use of unsafe methods by their handlers, illegal trading in elephants and tusks — to name a few.

The AWBI has also conveyed to the MOEF&CC that several circuses were operating entirely in violation of rules. At the time of its writing in June 2017, 11 of them were performing without its mandatory permission. These routinely trained and performed with more animals than the numbers registered, used bull-hooks to control and train elephants and make animals perform unnatural tricks that could injure or maim them for life. Citing Article 51A (g) of the Constitution — which lists “compassion for living creature” as a “duty of every citizen of India” — and the law as laid down in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, it stated that the time had come for the Government to stop the use of animals in circuses and make appropriate legislative amendments preventing their use in circuses for all time to come.

The proposed ban comes in the wake of three important steps towards ending the torment inflicted on animals in circuses. The CZA de-registered all circuses using wild animals earlier this year and recommended a complete ban on all animals in circuses. Earlier, in 2013, the use of elephants in circuses had been banned and, in 1998, the Central Government had banned the use of lions, tigers, panthers, monkeys, bears and bulls in circuses.

These steps have come in the midst — and to a significant extent because — of a sustained campaign by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) and bodies like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), People for Animals (PFA) and Asia for Animals coalition. The FIAPO has been particularly active for the past four years through its End Circus Suffering campaign, which has been endorsed by organisations like the Born Free Foundation, Four Paws, Animal Concern, Asia for Animals and more than 200 national organisations.

All these organisations have outlined in detail the circus industry’s horrific treatment of animals. AS PETA points out in “10 Reasons Not to Attend an Animal Circus”, many of them are “bred in captivity and will spend their entire lives in close contact with humans in an unnatural, stressful environment.” The process of training is savage, animals are kept chained and caged, with barely room to even take a step in any direction. While not being trained, they suffer horribly when they are transported from one place to another over days. As PETA’s document cited points out, the tractor trailers in which they are carried are generally cramped, filthy, sweltering and poorly ventilated.

Animals in circuses become despondent and depressed, most develop abnormal behaviour patterns and, denied everything that gives their lives meaning, sometimes run berserk, attacking humans and destroying property and crops. The result is human deaths and, invariably, the death of the animal concerned.

The vested interests, that will be adversely affected by the notification, will try to flood the Ministry with protests during the 30 days which has been prescribed for comments from the stakeholders. The Ministry must not be deterred by such an engineered effort and make the draft a part of the rules. The basic message inherent in the use of animals in circuses is that humankind can capture, enslave, imprison and savagely torture them for their own entertainment, which is unpardonable. Besides, it is not just a question of the treatment of animals.  In Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, Charles Patterson writes, “once animal exploitation was institutionalised and accepted as part of the natural order of things, it opened the door to similar ways of treating other human beings, thus paving the way for such atrocities as human slavery and the Holocaust.”

Patterson cites Elizabeth Fisher as holding in Women’s Creation: Sexual Evolution and the Shaping of Society that the violence involved in the subjugation and exploitation of animals paved the way for men’s sexual domination of women. To make the torture and killing of Jews acceptable to the perpetrators, Hitler and Nazis projected them as animals and vermin. This is clearly what explains Theodor Adorno’s profoundly insightful statement, “Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”

(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)