For animal lovers and activists in India, there is now a sliver of hope, following the recent news reports pertaining to the Centre's new draft rules banning the use of all animals in any form of mobile entertainment including circuses.
Once upon a time, the traveling circus was like a magical wonder world that drew family audiences to it. World over, many European and Asian countries have now made it illegal for circuses to use or train wild animals for their shows. For animal lovers and activists in India, there is now a sliver of hope, following the recent news reports pertaining to the Centre’s new draft rules banning the use of all animals in any form of mobile entertainment including circuses. However, if implemented, it also delivers a big blow to circuses across the country. Mexico and Peru, for instance, have banned wild animals in circuses. The Mexico city’s legislator’s famous words as she introduced the bill is that it “isn’t in a bear’s nature to wear roller skates or in the elephant’s nature to sit on a stool.”
Documentary evidence: How Circus Animals are Treated
Historically, animals in circuses are often put through tough and brutal treatment as part of their training. Hunger is a circus trainer’s strongest and meanest weapon. An untamed lion, according to a House of Commons Enquiry, is documented to have been kept for five days without food or drink during training. A cursory reading of Alfred Court’s famous book ‘Wild Circus Animals’ may wake us up to the grim reality of how circus animals are treated. The famous trainer candidly shared how an untamed circus animal is given “severe correction” . For instance, he writes that ‘a tiger immediately received four or five lashes.’
Further, Alfred Court on page 61 refers to black panthers that tried to “get the better off me.” Result? One black panther was killed and the five others were “brutally” tamed. The author’s own words are, “Javanese panthers are not to be tamed with lumps of sugar.”
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Circuses
In Indian Circus Federation vs Union of India, 1998 SCC OnLine Del 944, the petitioner challenged the Environment Ministry’s notification issued under section 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The notification stated that animals such as bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and dogs are banned from being trained or exhibited. Later, a subsequent notification showed that the ban was withdrawn, which was stayed by court through an interim order.
Though the Circus Federation’s claim was that their animals are better than those in zoos, the hard hitting reality is that circus animals are constantly transported under dismal conditions. As part of training, these animals are reportedly whipped, starved, punished and rigorously made to work, unlike the wild animals that are kept in zoos.
Can traveling circuses prevent suffering of animals?
For animal lovers, there’s one question that remains: Can circuses prevent sufferings during transport of animals from one place to another? It is a fact that traveling circuses in our country are not keeping animals under the best conditions. Even the structures that are used to move the animals around are those that can be dismantled and transported easily within the confines of a lorry unit. At times, this poses potential danger to the public as the animal has very little space inside the moving truck.
In the aforementioned case, the Indian Circus Federation relied heavily on Dr. Marthekiley Worthington’s study “Animals in Circuses and Zoos, Chiron’s World”.
The study revealed how circuses in the UK are ensuring proper maintenance and upkeep of the animals under their charge. However, the study has several drawbacks.
Firstly, it is restricted to the conditions prevailing in the UK, which may not be relevant to the circuses in India. Secondly, it omits a vital aspect namely, the frequent transportation of circus animals from one place to another in varying climatic and other conditions that place the animals in unnatural environments.
Another pertinent point is that the report places emphasis on running and exercise yards as necessary for keeping circus animals fit. In India, there is no documentary material to suggest that any of the circuses are maintaining such exercise yards to keep their animals fit. Also, it is a proven fact that inbred animals lose their vigor and heterogeneity.
However, in the aforementioned case, the Delhi High Court held that a court cannot substitute its own opinion with the opinion of the government and that a stay of the notification is not called for.
Article 48A of the Constitution clearly lays down that it is the state’s duty to protect the wild life of the country. Further, Articles 51(A) (g) stipulates compassion towards living creatures. The founding fathers of the Constitution of India laid emphasis on the moral duty of the state to make laws in furtherance to the duties that are mentioned in the Directive Principles of State Policy.
Kindness wins no applause when it comes to training wild animals. The only way to train wild animals is through instilling fear through methods such as whipping, starving and so on. However, the Centre’s new draft rules that look to tackling the maltreatment of circus animals legally. Courts view it as the moral duty of the State to make laws in furtherance of the duties as contained in Article 51(A)(g).
As eminent jurist Mr. Fali S Nariman recently stated on the occasion of Constitution Day, the greatest innovation of Indian courts is that a creative judiciary has expanded the scope of Article 21 to include many aspects that have been mentioned under the Directive Principles of State Policy.