Saturday January 22, 2022

Confronting cruelty

November 04, 2018

Prime Minister Imran Khan has launched the Pakistan Citizens’ Portal to give the public an opportunity to make complaints and have them redressed. Will it be successful? We can only hope so as ventures like these are launched with great fanfare and then gradually fail to take off.

We wish this undertaking full success. I would suggest to all those who are interested in animal rights to start using this portal to the maximum extent. Let’s hope some positive results may emerge. Our country has innumerable problems, but one issue that doesn’t receive due attention is the rights of animals.

In 1890, the British introduced a law to prevent cruelty to animals. Societies were established at the provincial level to implement these laws. When the British left at the time of Independence, these societies vanished. Fortunately, the animals remained, but we are now left with fewer people to look after them.

The 1890 act applied only to domestic or captured animals. In other words, it didn’t cover wild animals as it was perhaps believed at the time that either humans cannot be cruel to wildlife or animals don’t deserve our mercy. This act has hardly received any attention since Independence. The fines it stipulates are ridiculously low, ranging from Rs50 to Rs100. As a result, the law has lost all its deterrent value.

The Pakistan Citizens’ Portal ought to be used to have this archaic law replaced by a new modern law as a nation’s moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. So far, we haven’t made much progress in this respect. If enough concerned citizens write to the prime minister, we can persuade him to do something positive about this


Successive governments often enacted laws overnight and even gone to the extent of getting constitutional amendments passed by both houses the same day when it was considered necessary. But so far, we haven’t been able to find time during the past 128 years to do anything positive to prevent animal cruelty in any province or at the federal level. An issue that is closely aligned with preventing cruelty to animals is the plight of stray animals all over Pakistan. In a country of Pakistan’s size, we don’t have a single government-sponsored shelter for the protection of stray animals. Instead, we choose to either poison them or simply shoot them. This is something that all those concerned with animal rights and issues of animal welfare should bring to the prime minister’s attention throughthe portal.

It is ironic that while we struggle to look after the animals that we already have in the country, we keep importing new animals for our zoos. On the one hand, the dearth of funds is a common excuse that is advanced when the issue of animal rights is raised and, on the other, we spend millions on importing animals and then spend millions for their upkeep. Some animals are kept in air-conditioned rooms as the weather isn’t conducive for them to live here. Does this make sense? Of course it does. It means that more money can be made in the name of looking after these imported animals.

We can speak at length about the cost of purchase, the upkeep of exotic animals, and the losses incurred on account of their death. Zoos everywhere are in a bad shape, filled with suffering animals. Far from being places where diversity can be celebrated, zoo facilities in the country are mostly candy-wrapper-littered wastelands where creatures of the wild are confined. Even in the developed world, where zoos are sanctuaries, a movement that seeks to not confine animals is gathering momentum. In Pakistan, where they are kept in abject conditions, there is an urgent need to dismantle zoos altogether.

It would be good if we visit zoos in our localities and bring their plight to the attention of the concerned authorities and the prime minister through the portal. It hopefully won’t take too much of your time to raise this issue on the platform and it might even change the life of the animal involved.

The Islamabad Zoo has an unfortunate elephant named Kaavan that had been chained for a long time. I brought the elephant’s condition to the attention of the Capital Development Authority quite a few times. But their excuse was that the elephant could be dangerous and, if unchained, may kill people. Then, the matter somehow got the attention of animal rights activists across the world. More than 150,000 people signed a petition addressed to the prime minister of Pakistan to unchain the elephant and it was done soon after. He hasn’t killed anybody since then.

The elephant’s female partner died a couple of years ago under dubious circumstances. Kaavan is kept alone under miserable conditions even though elephants love to live in a community in a small enclosure. Many activists and NGOs, including Four Paws, a British organisation, are willing to repatriate the elephant to a sanctuary. However, things haven’t materialised at a fast pace.

Although the Senate’s Committee on Cabinet Affairs passed a resolution to repatriate the elephant, nothing has been done in this regard.

While inaugurating the portal, the prime minister promised the nation that their complaints will be redressed within 10 days. This is fantastic news. Let’s test the efficacy of this facility by bringing the plight of our animals to the prime minister’s attention. Let’s hope that something positive comes out of this. It’s worth a try, even if we are able to help only one animal.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court.