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Breaking: Animals Have 'Fundamental Right To Life': Tripura HC Bans Animal/Bird Sacrifice In Temples [Read Judgment]

Ashok Kini
27 Sep 2019 6:00 PM GMT
Breaking: Animals Have

"Sacrifice of an animal in a temple, not being an essential part of religion, is also violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India."

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The Tripura High Court has, in an important judgment delivered on Friday, banned animal/birds sacrifice in the temples of the state observing that the animals also have fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

No person including the State shall be allowed to sacrifice of any animal/bird within the precincts of any one of the temples within the State of Tripura, declared the bench comprising of the Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Arindam Lodh. It said that the sacrifice of an animal in a temple, not being an essential part of religion, is also violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The PIL and State's Defence Of 'Religion'

The bench issued these directives while allowing a Public Interest Litigation filed by a retired judicial officer, Subhas Bhattacharjee, against the practice of sacrifice of innocent animals, on the basis of a superstition, before the Goddess and other Gods & Goddesses and in particular, at two main temples i.e. Mata Tripureswari Devi Temple and Chatur Das Devata Temple.

It was submitted before the court that, at Mata Tripureswari Devi Temple, under the patronage of district administration, Government of Tripura, every day one goat is being sacrificed and on special occasions, substantial number of animals are being sacrificed as Bali (offering to the Goddess) by general public.

The state submitted before the bench that the practice of animal sacrifice, is as per the 'long accepted procedure of Hindu rituals of the Tantrik method of worship of the Dash Maha Vidya'.

Another interesting contention adopted by the state was that the petitioner confined the issue of animal sacrifice only with regard to Hindu religion and not laid any challenge to the practice of animal sacrifice carried out by the Muslim community during their festival of "Bakri Eid‟ and that petition has been filed ―only to disturb the Hindu sentiment and presumably by anti Hindu elements with a view to disturb public order and as such is politically motivated.

Referring to a Merger Agreement entered between Maharaja and Indian Dominion, the state submitted that it  prescribed that the State Government would worship Mata Tripureswari and other temples, in a traditional system. Since such practice was followed prior to the independence, from the regime of the Maharaja, that domestic animal sacrifice during worship, being an integral part of the worship and as such, is still continued and cannot be stopped, the state said.

Action of the State in offering such an animal for sacrifice is not permissible

Allowing the PIL, the bench held that the act of the State of offering one goat every day, for a sacrifice in the Mata Tripureswari temple and other temples on certain occasions, lacks the essence of economic, commercial, political or secular character and hence, the action of the State in offering such an animal for sacrifice is neither permissible under the Indian Constitution nor any statute.

The right of offering an animal for sacrifice is not an integral and essential part of the religion, protected under Article 25(1) of the Constitution. As such, no right of the freedom of professing any religion by the State can be said to have been violated. State has no religion other than constitutionalism and the expression 'person' under Article 25 has to be in reference to natural person . Withdrawal of such practice would not tantamount to any change, fundamental in character of the religion.

Referring to various Articles of Constitution, the bench observed that it calls upon every citizen of India to exhibit compassion for all living creatures and develop a temper of humanism towards all wildlife. and that the framers of the Constitution had desired to inter alia, develop a spirit of compassion and humanism, abjure violence and also exhibit the same towards all living beings.

Animals Have Fundamental Right To Life

Referring to judgments in Jallikattu case, Animal Welfare Board of India Vs. A Nagaraja and Ors., (2014)7 SCC 547 and Chief Secretary to the Government, Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Ors Vs. Animal Welfare Board and Anr.,(2017) 2 SCC 144, the bench observed

Right to life now stands extended to all living beings, thus the expression "person" has to be read contextually. Hence, insofar as the life of an animal with which we are concerned, cannot be deprived, save and except, in accordance with the procedure established by law. What is that procedure established by law, now stands succinctly explained by the Constitution Bench (7 Judges) in Maneka Gandhi Vs. Union of India & another, (1978) 1 SCC 248 which means due process of law.
The word "life" in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is wide enough to include every living organism be it humans, animals, insects or bird. Deprivation of life has to be as per procedure established by law. Thus it is pertinent in this regard that sacrificing of animal and taking away of their life also has to be in accordance with due process of law. Sacrifice of animal in the manner and nature with which we are concerned, in the garb of religion, of which we are of the opinion, is nowhere allowed by law. Only such practices can avail protection under Article 25(1) which amounts to an essential and integral part of religion. In Jallikatu (supra) it stands observed that animals also have life which also has to be protected under the purview of the said Article.

Rejecting the argument of the state, the bench observed that the issue of animal sacrifice by the minority community (Muslims) on the occasion of Bakr Id, already stands settled in the judgment in Mohd. Hanif Quareshi & others Vs. State of Bihar. The judgment also discusses various case laws on Freedom of Religion, Concept of Constitutional Morality, Hinduism etc. The bench made these observations:

"Which religion or community mandates infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal? Which religion prescribes that physical or mental pain or suffering should not be eliminated in the pre-slaughter stage? Which religion would want its followers not to treat animal with compassion, care or a humane approach? And above all, which religion would allow itself to be shackled to dogma, superstition and unfounded beliefs so as not to reform and be in tune with the changing times in pursuit of Constitutional goals and morality."

Religious practice based on a tradition cannot override Prevention of Cruelty To Animals Act

One of the contentions defending the practice was based on Section 28 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which carves out an exception and provides that nothing contained in the Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community. Interpreting this provision, the bench observed that Section 28 of the Act merely makes killing for a religious purpose not a punishable crime and but does not make it permissible to commit such acts in the temple. It said:

Its language is simple and unambiguously clear. It does not exempt applicability of any one of the provisions of the Act. All that is prescribed is that if an animal is killed in a manner required by the religion of any community, then such killing could not be construed to be an offence. It only exempts from the culpability of an offence. But that would not mean that provisions contained in Chapter I, II and III of the Prevention Act became ineffective, inoperative or made redundant, when it comes to killing of an animal for a religious purpose, unless such religion requires such killing in a particular manner, the provision of Section 3 would stare in the face of the State.

Section 28 does not in any way allow sacrifice of animal in temple. The word "as required by the religion' poses a question as to when will the religion require to inflict such pain on the animal? Can it be said that such manner of killing can be exempted under sec. 28 of PCA Act only when such killing is an integral and essential part of the religion. Most certainly yes, for the Prevention Act does not define religion, which in our view certainly has to be understood in reference to Article 25. Religious practice based on a tradition cannot have an overriding effect of the Prevention Act so enacted. With an object of safeguarding the welfare of the animal and to cure some mischief and old age practices, so as to bring into effect some type of reform, based on eco centric principles, recognizing the intrinsic value and worth of animals. The prevention of cruelty Act is a welfare legislation which overshadows or overrides the so called traditions.

Merger Agreement Has No Reference To Sacrifice Ritual

The state had, to justify the continuance of this custom, had referred to a merger agreement of the year 1949 entered into between the Governor General of India and His Highness the Maharaja of Tripura. Perusing the same, the bench noted that it dealt with the management of public places of worship in Tripura, but there is no reference of ritual, custom, tradition, tenets or practice of animal sacrifice in the State of Tripura.

In any event, we are of the considered view that in the light of N. Adithayan (supra), any custom or usage irrespective of any proof of their existence in the pre-constitutional days cannot be construed to be a source of law to claim any right when it is found to be violative of human rights which, in our considered view, would also include the right of animal to live with dignity. Further, no usage found to be pernicious and considered to be in derogation of law or opposed to public policy or social decency can be accepted or upheld by the courts under the Indian Constitution. Any customs, usages and traditions contrary to the constitutional spirit, cannot be a source of law. Equally, its sanctification has to be as per law. Doctrine, belief or tradition which is extraneous, redundant accretions to religion, holds no place to be adhered to in the name of religion, more so in the light of Article 13 of the Constitution of India

Sacrifice of an animal Not Essential Practice of Religion

Apart from rights which are fundamental in nature, Part IVA of the Indian Constitution casts duty upon every citizen under Art 51A(g) with a moral obligation to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. Human owe a duty to exhibit love and compassion towards animals, with an empathy and understanding of the sufferings of animals who are speechless and voiceless. This definitely are signs of a civilized society. Animals also breathe as humans and are sometimes said to have the same soul as humans. In our considered view, sacrifice of an animal, based on superstition or not being an essential part of practice of religion in a temple is absolutely an antithesis to compassion.

Impact On The Psyche Of Children

Article 51A(i) further mandates humanism to abjure violence, which sense of duty would only be against human, but in ones considered view against every living creature on this earth. A child witnessing continuous violence towards animals may fail to inculcate moral values of showing an act of love, kindness and compassion towards animals. Sacrifice of animals in temples is not pleasing to the eyes and this inhuman religious practice in the name of religion has a definite impact on the psyche of a child.

Which Religion Allows This?

Which religion or community mandates infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal? Which religion prescribes that physical or mental pain or suffering should not be eliminated in the pre-slaughter stage? Which religion would want its followers not to treat animal with compassion, care or a humane approach? And above all, which religion would allow itself to be shackled to dogma, superstition and unfounded beliefs so as not to reform and be in tune with the changing times in pursuit of Constitutional morality?

Stopping Sacrifice Will Bring No Change In Religion

The bench also observed that the sacrifice of animal in temples is not done out of necessity but merely on the unsighted conviction and credence that such activity would please the deity, who in return would bestow them with blessings and wellbeing. Disengaging sacrifice of animal in temple, from the way of worshipping the Godess will bring no change in the religion, the bench added.

Testing the argument of sacrifice being core to the worship of the said deity/idol, can it be said that after stoppage of human sacrifice, almost 200 years ago, the deity, temple or the place, stood defiled having lost its relevance, significance or importance? or the people having suffered any consequential wrath as stoppage of such observance? Most certainly not. In fact, with each passing day, since then its glory, popularity and influence has ever increased, more so, for it is perceived to be the place where one of the body parts of Goddess Sati fell. If the substratum of the ritual of animal sacrifice is taken away, the ceremony of performance of puja cannot be said to have been defiled or the right to practice and profess religion, obstructed, hindered or diminished in any manner.

Practices Rooted In Fallacy

Had it been such, that the sacrifice of animal in temple is mandatory in nature, which remain inseparable from the tradition and religion being so deeply rooted to the people then there would have been no occasion of offering prasads with fruits and sweets to the deity, asides animals by way of sacrifice. Not every devotee goes on to worship the deity in these temples by sacrificing animals. Evidently this particular practice by tradition is merely optional and cannot be figured as an essential and integral part of religion. For sacrificing innocent, helpless and voiceless animals does not conquer constitutional morality. Perhaps, such practices can only be said to be rooted in fallacy.

Other Directives

-Anyone of the devotees desirous of offering any animal out of personal faith, belief or desire, may do so, but, shall take back the animal and under no circumstance any activity of animal sacrifice shall be permitted to be carried out. Prudently, the Government can earmark land for opening shelter home for rearing such livestock.
-The District Magistrate & Collectors of the respective districts and more specifically, District Magistrate & Collector, Gomati District, Udaipur as also District Magistrate & Collector, West Tripura District, Agartala under whose jurisdictions Devi Tripureswari temple and Chatur Das Devata temple are situate, respectively, shall forthwith take action for ensuring implementation of the orders; The Superintendent of Police of all the districts shall also ensure strict implementation of the order. Such officers shall be personally liable for implementing the orders;
-The Chief Secretary, Government of Tripura shall also ensure compliance of the order. Also he shall ensure that at least in two temples i.e Devi Tripureswari temple and Chatur Das Devata temple in Tripura, where act of animal sacrifice is carried out profusely, CC TV cameras are installed forthwith; every month he shall have a soft copy of such video recording placed on this file;
-Such video recording of the temple(s) shall form part of record of the present petition and shall be constituted as part of the record of the appeal preferred, if any, by any person, including the State;
-District Magistrate & Collectors of all the districts shall initiate all measures of educating and sensitizing the general public of the constitutional mandate and its importance, relevance and significance, more so, of adopting an attitude of love, humanism and compassion towards all animals/birds;
-The State Government shall give due publicity and also sensitize the general public of the constitutional values and passing of the order and implementation thereof.

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