An Interesting Decision From India


India is often in the news due to its struggles with women’s rights, and is often in the top 10 of most dangerous countries in the world for women. However, it has also proved itself to be at the forefront of certain animal rights issues as well.

Last year, India declared cetaceans to be non-human persons, thus giving them certain rights and effectively banning dolphin shows throughout the country.

The declaration states:

  1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
  2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
  3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
  4. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
  5. Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
  6. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
  7. The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.

I cannot say that I disagree with the declaration. Cetaceans are highly intelligent, and it is virtually impossible to keep highly intelligent animals happy in captivity. Compounded with the fact that they live in the open sea, no tank can be large enough to accomodate dolphins, orcas or beluga whales well.

The only comment I have to add, though, is that we currently have a very piecemeal way of confronting animal rights in general. It is unrealistic to assume that we can stop keeping any animal in captivity at all. However, it could be reasonable to attempt to make a more comprehensive ruling, one which decrees that humans can only keep animals in captivity if they are capable of keeping them without causing them harm, suffering or distress. With certain highly intelligent species, this is impossible, and thus they cannot be kept in captivity at all. With others, such as dogs and chickens for instance, it is perfectly doable. The ways in which one measures harm, suffering and distress, on the other hand, will require a lot of consulting with Zoologists, and plenty of additional research into animal behavior.

Still, it is not an unreasonable goal to try to reach. I think there is value in trying to reach a place in society where cruelty and subjugation is abhorred, regardless of whether it is directed towards humans or other species.

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