Personhood for Elephants in India

21. November 2018

To obtain personhood status for elephants (and other animals) is not limited to Steven Wise’s Nonhuman Rights Project. (See our posting of October 24: Captive Elephant in Court).

In early October the Times of India reported that the Federation of Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO) is actively supporting  personhood for elephants.  As the largest forum for animal rights in India, the FIAPO sent a detailed report to the environment ministers of different Indian states with large elephant populations. The report points out that “elephants have several special characteristics that make them autonomous and intelligent beings with extremely high cognitive, emotional and social skills. They are one of the most recognizable animals to the Indian public, extremely vulnerable to captivity and human exploitation.”

The report also mentions that the disregard and contempt of elephants’ rights results in barbarous and unjustifiable atrocities being meted out to them.  Wild elephants are permanently threatened by poaching and by accidents caused by human encroachment into elephant corridors and illegal expansion of farming into forests reserved for elephants. Elephants die from electrocution (not always accidentally), collision with trains, falling in trenches dug-up near cultivated areas or construction sites. Tragically, they are one of the least understood creatures, causing preventable conflict between people and elephants, often with tragic results for both. To counter harassment of animals in forests and zoos, the Ministry of State Forests and the Environment should enact stringent measures, particularly in states with large elephant populations. It should be the government’s role to protect elephants from chase and torture when they enter into human zones. Disturbing their peaceful life in forests and shortage of food and water in deep woods are some of the reasons that elephants enter human habitats.  Instead of trying to scare them away by means which ignore elephants’ nature and intelligence, the government should take measures to return elephants to their normal peaceful existence.

Wild Asian elephant family feeding on grass in forest. Photo credit: Chanwit Ohm / shutterstock

Legislation to grant personhood to elephants would be a first giant step in the right direction. It facilitates education of the general public and allows enforcement of rules and laws implemented for the protection of elephants. FAIPO explains:

“In the Indian law, the animals are seen as property – no different than a table or a chair or a car. The law gives no recognition to the animal’s inherent value and any animal protection offered in the legal system caters to human interest instead of the animals independent interests.

Now in an effort to bring a definite shift in the way our law views animals, FIAPO is working on personhood for animals. After months of research and consultations with campaigners and lawyers in India and internationally, FIAPO created a case for personhood for animals, giving insight into why we need to depart from the status quo and classify animals with legal personhood.

Understanding animal rights to be an issue of both human and animal connections and interest, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations on 12th May, 2018 organised their first “National Consultation on Rights and Personhood for Animals and its linkages with Other Social Justice Movements”, inviting people from a diversity of organisations such as Amnesty International, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, Oxfam India, Non-human Rights Project and Lawyers Collective to name a few. The meeting concluded with a consensus to take up the case of Personhood for Elephants, considering their condition in our country and their abuse despite their heritage animal status.”