Personhood for Animals: The Next Social Justice Movement

Meeting of rights organisations indicates move towards higher legal status for animals

New Delhi, 16th May 2018: Understanding animal rights to be an issue of both human and animal connections and interest, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) recently organised their first “National Consultation on Rights and Personhood for Animals and its Linkages with Other Social Justice Movements” at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.  The consultation invited leaders from multiple social justice movements including the rights for dalits, adivasis, women, children, environment and the LGBT community. The collective participation of leaders of different social sectors led to both debate and insight into the issue of personhood for animals.

Addressing the long overdue need for collaboration among different movements, Varda Mehrotra, Director, FIAPO said, “There are striking similarities between the animal rights and other movements as, at the end of the day, all movements are committed against violence, exploitation and oppression.”

Through this consultation, an open discussion on legal personhood of animals was initiated with various stakeholders having diverse backgrounds, skills, interests and perspectives. The consultation aimed to start a discussion around the current ‘property’ status of animals – where animals are seen no different than a table or a chair or a car, to one that gives recognition to the animal’s inherent value. Currently, any animal protection offered caters to the welfare of animals in relation to their utility to humans.

While explaining the concept of personhood of animals, Steven Wise, President of the Non-human Rights Project, USA said, ‘A person is essentially a container of rights. Rights for animals would be meaningless until the law treats them as legal persons rather than property.’

The discussion deliberated on a broad range of issues and conflicts between animal and human rights acknowledging the inherent conflict of animal and human interests with respect to people’s rights to food and livelihood in certain cases. As rights are not absolute (or without responsibility) in cases of conflicting rights between humans and animals, a balance of interests of both would have to be maintained. However, this is possible only when legal recognition is given to rights of animals so that their interests can be equally considered in the conversation.

The group went on to discuss the current status of elephants in the country and their abuse despite their heritage status. Given their ecological, historical and cultural importance, it was recognised that it would be most appropriate to take the case for their personhood to the public. There was also consensus on the fact that any effort towards achieving rights whether for humans or animals requires a multipronged approach which involves working with the government, community, public, media, as well as the legal system.

Currently, FIAPO’s personhood campaign is supported by the likes of Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, Dr. Chinny Krishna, former vice-chairman of Animal Welfare Board of India, Paola Cavelieri- founder of the Great Ape Project, Ms. Suparna Ganguly, one of the leading voice for elephants in the country and many other noted ecologists and rights organisations.

Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) is India’s apex animal protection organisation. Working with 82 member organisations, over 200 supporter organisations and 1000 individual activists in 63 cities, FIAPO is the catalyst that protects the interests of animals on local and national levels – through education, research, mobilisation, training and direct action. In addition to working with the government and consumers, FIAPO also engages with corporations and institutions to influence production and bringing down and ultimately ending the consumption of animal products in commercial consumption. Through effective campaigning, we cause industry-wide tectonic shifts by setting compassionate norms, and create a significant and lasting impact on the suffering of farm animals.