18/08/2015 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

NHRC, Being Speciesist Hurts People Too

It is deeply irresponsible of the NHRC to make a comparison between two vital social-justice issues and essentially dismiss one in favour of the other, especially when a failure to protect animals often results in a failure to protect humans, too.

PETA Foundation

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently issued a statement saying that "human rights should weigh above animal rights". This action follows the death of a young child who was attacked by strays. The NHRC further remarked, "while the measure of sterilization may help contain the increase in the dog population, it does not save or shield people from the bites of existing dogs". This is not true, and it is deeply irresponsible of the NHRC to make a comparison between two vital social-justice issues and essentially dismiss one in favour of the other, especially when a failure to protect animals often results in a failure to protect humans, too.

The large amounts of garbage that can be found on nearly any Indian street and slaughterhouses help sustain stray-dog populations.

In 1990, the World Health Organisation and The World Society for the Protection of Animals (now called World Animal Protection) collaborated on the publication of "Guidelines for Dog Population Management", which proposed a long-term method for the control of stray-dog populations by means of a methodical sterilisation program, as cruel mass-killing methods such as strychnine poisoning or electrocution, which were formerly used by many municipalities in India, did not work, because dogs quickly repopulated areas which had been emptied by poisoning or other methods. The sterilisation method was tested and found to be successful, and sterilisation is thus now also recommended by the government advisory body Animal Welfare Board of India and required of municipalities under the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001.

Sterilised dogs are vaccinated against rabies and returned to where they were found. As a result, they are far less likely to bite. As the Welfare of Stray Dogs organisation explains:

[S]tray dogs are surgically neutered and then replaced in their own area. They are also vaccinated against rabies.

  • Since territories are not left vacant, new dogs cannot enter.
  • Mating and breeding also cease.
  • With no mating or crossing of territories, dog fights reduce dramatically.
  • Since fighting reduces, bites to humans also become rare.
  • The dogs are immunised, so they do not spread rabies.
  • Over time, as the dogs die natural deaths, their numbers dwindle.

The dog population becomes stable, non-breeding, non-aggressive and rabies-free, and it gradually decreases over a period of time.

Dogs are normally friendly, social, good-natured animals who would not usually attack a person unprovoked. Yet when humans shout at stray dogs, kick or beat them, throw rocks at them, toss hot water or acid on them, poison them or abuse them in other ways as they commonly do, they may feel cornered or be put in the fearful mindset of feeling that they need to protect themselves or their puppies.

However, despite the abuse that stray dogs routinely face, it seems that most dog bites may be from companion dogs, such as those who play roughly, and not from strays. For example, statistics show that stray dogs were not responsible for the majority of the bite cases reported by General Hospital Ernakulam between 1 January and 12 July 2015. Companion dogs, not strays, were reportedly the cause of 75.6 per cent of the bite cases.

Martin Luther King Jr famously said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". Animal rights and human rights go hand in hand. A lack of respect for other species often translates into insensitivity and cruelty towards our own species.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one trait that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders used in the US lists cruelty to animals as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders. Moninder Singh Pandher - in whose house the Noida serial child murders took place - reportedly enjoyed hunting animals. Veerappan was an elephant poacher, murderer and abductor.American serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs and cats on sticks, while serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy tortured animals.

Peter Singer, professor of ethics and philosophy at both Princeton University and the University of Melbourne, points out that "the most blatant racists or sexists think that those who belong to their race or sex have superior moral status, simply in virtue of their race or sex, and irrespective of other characteristics or qualities". This is a prejudice, he explains, that survives because "it is convenient for the dominant group". He also says that if we ignore or discount the interests of animals simply on the grounds that they are not members of our species, the logic of our position is similar to that of racism or sexism - it is speciesism.

For the sake of human rights if not animal rights, the NHRC must not be a speciesist organisation. The abuse of any living being, including animals, is unacceptable and endangers everyone.