This blog has been written by Nileena Banerjee, 3rd Year Undergraduate Student at The National University of Advanced Legal Studies.
This essay explores the dire state of circus animals in India, shedding light on their rights and welfare concerns in the face of inhumane treatment, harsh training, and confined living conditions. Despite legislative safeguards, the exploitation of these animals persists, prompting the need for a paradigm shift in how society views and treats animals. Legal efforts and judicial perspectives further emphasize the importance of recognizing animals’ intrinsic value and extending them the compassion and care they deserve. The essay calls for an ethical transformation that promotes natural behaviors, positive reinforcement, and the elimination of harmful practices, envisioning a future where animals are respected and protected rather than subjected to suffering for human entertainment.
The longstanding belief in human supremacy over other species has led to imbalances in the delicate ecological equilibrium, frequently causing tensions between humanity and the natural realm. Throughout history, animals have been exploited for recreational purposes. In response to this troubling trend, India has enacted legislative measures and regulations with the intention of protecting animal rights and fostering a culture of compassion. Despite these noble endeavors, the cruel treatment of animals persists, casting a shadow over the nation’s efforts. The use of animals in recreational activities, specifically in migrating circuses, has raised concerns over abuse and exploitation. The Indian Constitution, under Art. 51A(g) has acknowledged the importance of promoting animal welfare and compassion for animals. Yet, in a disheartening paradox, the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals continues to afflict India, defying the legal framework established for the well-being and protection of these vulnerable beings. The dissonance between the country’s aspirations for animal welfare and the reality of their suffering underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reform in the treatment of animals, especially within the realm of circus entertainment.
THE DARK SIDE OF CIRCUS PRACTICES
Migrating circuses have remained a cherished source of entertainment in India, captivating audiences in both urban and rural settings for generations. Nevertheless, this source of amusement is fraught with moral quandaries, as circus animals endure harsh training techniques, confined living spaces, and inadequate care. Physical punishment, such as beating, whipping, and electric shocking, has been commonly employed as part of the standard training procedures for circus animals. Moreover, these animals are often confined to cramped enclosures like cages or crates, leading to severe negative impacts on their physical and psychological well-being. The overarching issue of animal rights in circuses stems from a lack of accountability concerning the sourcing of animals, the training methods employed, captive breeding practices, the animals’ living conditions, and the essential provisions for their health, safety, and overall well-being. Consequently, there is an urgent imperative for the enactment of effective legal measures that either completely ban or rigorously regulate the use of animals in circuses.
LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS AND JUDICIAL PERSPECTIVES
Within the Indian context, the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 extends legal safeguards to include common circus animals such as monkeys, prohibiting their public display or private ownership. Similarly, the Act takes a stern stance against the use of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions, and bulls for entertainment purposes in circuses or public spaces, except when animals adhere to legally established registration protocols. Additionally, as per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, owners are required to provide details about the animals and the nature of performances or training in a register maintained by the prescribed authority. The judiciary is also empowered to restrict or prohibit the exhibition and training of performing animals if unnecessary pain or suffering is involved.
In the case of Balakrishnan v. Union of India, the Kerala High Court made an observation that circus animals endure inhumane treatment, being made to perform unnatural tricks, kept in small and uncomfortable enclosures, and subjected to experiences of fear, hunger, and suffering. This leads to them living undignified lives with no respite. The court advocated for extending legal rights beyond humans, breaking down the divide between humans and non-human animals. It questioned why the existence of non-human animals, though different from humans, holds no less value. The court also underscored the unrealistic and inappropriate comparison between zoos and circuses, emphasizing the monetary motives of circuses versus the conservation and educational goals of zoos. Subsequently, the Central Government released a notification that included a list of animals, such as bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, and lions, which are prohibited from being exhibited or trained for performances.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors., the Supreme Court upheld the principle that every species has the right to life and security, as long as it complies with the laws of the country. The Constitution’s Article 21 safeguards human rights, extending protection to all forms of life, including animals, which are vital for human existence. Animals, too, deserve a life with intrinsic value, dignity, and respect. In the case ofN.R. Nair and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors., the Supreme Court upheld a notification from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which banned the exhibition and training of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, and lions as performing animals. The court also emphasized that the principle of unrestricted movement extended not only to living human beings but also to non-living entities, reflecting a broader commitment to humane treatment and welfare.
The Performing Animals (Registration) Amendment Rules, 2018, expanded the definition of “circus” to encompass a range of public entertainment, including performances in large tents or outdoor/indoor arenas featuring exhibitions, skill demonstrations, and performing animals. This suggests a need to broaden and modify the circus definition to encompass all its facets. Additionally, the use of animals in any circus or mobile entertainment facility performance or exhibition is also prohibited.
In conclusion, the exploration into the plight of animals within the realm of entertainment, particularly the analysis of circus animals’ rights and welfare, unveils a disheartening reality of suffering and exploitation. Progressing beyond these harmful and exploitative practices requires a shift in the perspective of animal welfare, recognizing them as ends in themselves rather than mere means to human ends. A paradigm shift is required in societal attitudes towards animals – a transformation that treats them not as mere means to human ends, but as sentient beings deserving of empathy, care, and consideration. Animals, irrespective of their physical attributes or vulnerabilities, should not be coerced or compelled into activities that jeopardize their well-being. Moreover, the prevalent use of performance-enhancing or appearance-altering substances for competition should be restricted if not outright prohibited. Instead, promoting natural behaviors and positive reinforcement through mindful training, accounting for confinement, physical activity, and innate behaviors, offers a more ethical approach. Activities that involve the forceful treatment or torment of animals must be discouraged to prevent public misconceptions and normalize harmful actions. By unraveling the layers of exploitation and shedding light on the challenges faced by circus animals, we take a step closer to a world where animals are cherished for their intrinsic value and offered the compassionate treatment they rightfully deserve.
- Circuses: Three Rings of Abuse, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/animals-used-entertainment-factsheets/circuses-three-rings-abuse/ (last visited Aug. 7, 2023).
- Zoos: the Life of Animals in Captivity, Animal Equality, https://animalequality.org/news/zoos-the-life-of-animals-in-captivity/ (last visited Aug. 7, 2023).
- Circuses, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/circuses/ (last visited Aug. 7, 2023).