Open Letter to India’s National Human Rights Commission from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India

15 August 2015

To: Shri Satyanarayan Mohanty, IAS, Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission

Dear Mr Mohanty,

I am writing from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India on behalf of our nearly 400,000 members and supporters. It has come to our attention that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a statement yesterday saying that “human rights should weigh above animal rights” and that the stray-dog population “calls for a debate by the civil society”. It is our understanding that the NHRC has also issued notices to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Chief Secretary, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi, calling for reports to ascertain their views on the issue of stray dogs and that this action follows the death of a young child who was attacked by strays. We further understand that your statement said, “while the measure of sterilization may help contain the increase in the dog population, it does not save or shield people from the bites of existing dogs”. Most respectfully, this is not true, and it is deeply irresponsible of the NHRC to make a comparison between two vital social-justice issues and essentially dismiss one in favour of the other, especially when a failure to protect animals often results in a failure to protect humans, too.

It is in the interests of animal rights proponents to protect people, too. However, the choice need not be between animals and humans, because what’s good for other species is good for humans, too. Our hearts go out to that young boy who lost his life and his family, and this is precisely why it’s vital that the NHRC understand that kindness to strays, adequate garbage collection and sterilisation, rather than cruel killing, are the best ways to address the stray-dog population.

The large amounts of uncollected garbage that can be found on nearly any Indian street help sustain stray-dog populations.

In 1990, the World Health Organisation and The World Society for the Protection of Animals (now called World Animal Protection) collaborated on the publication of “Guidelines for Dog Population Management”, which proposed a long-term method for the control of stray-dog populations by means of a methodical sterilisation program, because cruel mass-killing methods involving strychnine poisoning or electrocution, which were formerly used by many municipalities in India, did not work, because dogs quickly repopulated areas which had been emptied by poisoning or other methods. The sterilisation method was tested and found to be successful, and sterilisation is thus now also recommended by the government advisory body Animal Welfare Board of India and required of municipalities under the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001.

Sterilised dogs are vaccinated against rabies and returned to where they were found. As a result, they are far less likely to bite. As the Welfare of Stray Dogs organisation explains:

  • [S]tray dogs are surgically neutered and then replaced in their own area.
  • They are also vaccinated against rabies.
  • Since territories are not left vacant, new dogs cannot enter.
  • Mating and breeding also cease.
  • With no mating or crossing of territories, dog fights reduce dramatically.
  • Since fighting reduces, bites to humans also become rare.
  • The dogs are immunised, so they do not spread rabies.
  • Over time, as the dogs die natural deaths, their numbers dwindle.

The dog population becomes stable, non-breeding, non-aggressive and rabies-free, and it gradually decreases over a period of time.

Dogs are normally friendly, social, good-natured animals who would not usually attack a person unprovoked. Yet when humans shout at stray dogs, kick or beat them, throw rocks at them, toss hot water or acid on them, poison them or abuse them in other ways as they commonly do, they may feel cornered or be put in the fearful mindset of feeling that they need to protect themselves or their puppies.

However, despite the abuse that stray dogs routinely face, it seems that most dog bites may be from companion dogs, such as those who play roughly, and not from strays. For example, statistics show that stray dogs were not responsible for the majority of the bite cases reported by General Hospital Ernakulam between 1 January and 12 July 2015. Companion dogs, not strays, were reportedly the cause of 75.6 per cent of the bite cases.

Martin Luther King Jr famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Animal rights and human rights go hand in hand. A lack of respect for other species often translates into insensitivity and cruelty towards our own species. It is well documented by psychologists, sociologists and law-enforcement officials that violence towards animals is often an early warning sign of future acts of violence towards humans.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one trait that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders used in the US lists cruelty to animals as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders. Moninder Singh Pandher — in whose house the Noida serial child murders took place — reportedly enjoyed hunting animals. Veerappan was an elephant poacher, murderer and abductor. American serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs and cats on sticks, while serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy tortured animals. In the UK, the abuser of “Baby P” also tortured animals, including frogs, whom he would skin before breaking their legs. “Baby P”, a 17-month-old boy, was found dead in his bed with a broken back. His fingertips had been sliced off, his fingernails had been pulled out with pliers and he had been punched so hard in the face that he had swallowed a tooth.

As long as we as a society accept the “might makes right” mentality and allow discrimination to occur against those who are different from us — whether in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or species — we are aiding and abetting the forces responsible for human slavery, the denial of women’s and gay rights, factory farming and other abuses of both animals and human beings, and we will never be able to guarantee respect for our own right to live free from suffering. In other words, if we accept and condone cruelty or the killing of an individual simply because he or she differs from us — in this case, as a member of a different species — what’s stopping someone else from doing that to us, based on the same twisted logic?

Peter Singer, professor of ethics and philosophy at both Princeton University and the University of Melbourne, points out that “the most blatant racists or sexists think that those who belong to their race or sex have superior moral status, simply in virtue of their race or sex, and irrespective of other characteristics or qualities”. This is a prejudice, he explains, that survives because “it is convenient for the dominant group”. He also says that if we ignore or discount the interests of animals simply on the grounds that they are not members of our species, the logic of our position is similar to that of racism or sexism — it is speciesism.

Please don’t be a speciesist organisation, NHRC. For the sake of human rights if not animal rights, we hope you will recognise that the abuse of any living being, including animals, is unacceptable and endangers everyone. Please join us in encouraging municipalities across India to collect garbage and to start or run comprehensive and effective animal birth control programmes, as they are supposed to do under The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001.

Respectfully yours,

Poorva Joshipura


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