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When a Compassionate Culture Exploits: A Secular-Constitutional argument for Animal Rights in India – Alok Hisarwala Gupta

Friday Forum

When a Compassionate Culture Exploits: A Secular-Constitutional argument for Animal Rights in India

Elephants are protected Schedule I species (the highest legal protection) under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA). Any capture of elephants from the wild – their natural home – is illegal. Despite this, in the year 2022 we have close to 2200 captive elephants in India – one of the highest numbers in the world.

A disproportionate number of captive elephants –as many as 1500 – remain in the hands of private individuals as their personal property used as temple elephants and for traditional/religious ceremonies and processions.

Administrative bureaucratic control and deep religious belief work in tandem to maintain the status quo of the captive elephant exception. Somewhere between the bureaucratic policy of regulation and the hindu worship of elephants as demi-gods, lies a deeply embedded belief to ‘control’ and ‘use’ the elephant. This control is exercised by inflicting extreme violence on the animal.

When an animal with the highest protection guaranteed under Indian law can be subjected to ownership and consequentially a lifetime of slavery, and treated as a tradeable commodity, just to meet the religious demand in temples, what does it say about our relationship with animals or for that matter ahimsa?

My work, inspired by the queer-feminist-civil liberties politics that I come from, is dedicated to posing a challenge and providing a humane alternative to our dominion over elephants (and also other animals) often disguised as protection, and sometimes as compassion and reverence.

In this talk I will present a few case studies and take you through the possibilities of making a secular, constitutional argument for animal rights that aims to respect the dignity of both human and non-human animals.

About the Speaker: 

Alok Gupta is a lawyer, activist and researcher working on Animal Rights with a background on LGBT and other civil liberties. Alok has written widely on section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalised homosexuality in India and he was part of the legal challenge against it. Alok’s research on 377 resulted in two publications: “Section 377 and the Dignity of Indian Homosexuals” for the Economic and Political Weekly, 2006 and “This Alien Legacy: The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British Colonialism” for Human Rights Watch, 2008.

Alok has done animal rights research, activism and campaigning work with the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisation and People for Animals, Goa (2018-2020). He has taught a seminar on Animal Rights at NLS, Bangalore, NUJD. Kolkata and V Salgaoncar Law School in Panjim, Goa). Alok is currently working on a documentation and research report on where the captive elephant trade and its violent abuse stands today, with the assistance of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Bangalore. As of June 2022, Alok has launched the Centre for Research for Animal Rights. He hopes in time to grow CRAR to be a vital advocate for the rights of non-human animals.

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