Human beings, ever since their creation, have never been alone on the earth. They live in harmony with many different species of living creatures, including plants and animals. In Indian tradition, the concept of (Vasudhaiva  Kutumbakam) that originates from Hitopadesh talks on similar lines. It means that the whole earth is just one family. The World of humanity is made of one life energy that is common to human beings and animals. However, in order to meet their materialistic needs, human beings have started pushing other species out of the way, without realizing that the impact felt by those other species as well as themselves has terrible and sometimes fatal consequences such as coronavirus; a deadly disease which is estimated to take millions of lives around the world. It has been suspected that the origin of the coronavirus is a “wet market” in Wuhan city that sells both dead and alive creatures. COVID-19’s animal source is not yet determined but the first host is trusted to be bats. Reports suggest that though bats were not sold in the Wuhan city market but they may have been selling other animals that were infected by bats. 

Such conditions provide a conducive environment for diseases to breed. But more importantly, it poses a serious question on what are we doing with animals in general and nature at large. Isn’t it time when we deal with various aspects of the human-animal relationships from an ethical point of view? The first step to creating positive change is recognizing the cruelty that is threatened upon nature by human beings. There is a dire need to analyze the role of animals in earth’s biodiversity in the light of recent pandemic Covid19 and to raise awareness about animal abuse, animal neglect, and animal cruelty and its impact on the environment. 

This propagates the belief that some, or all, non-human animals have the right to own their  own life and that their most fundamental needs, such as the need to prevent suffering should be given the same consideration as to similar to human interests. The animal movement of 1970, that first introduced empirical ethics to discuss many issues related to the welfare of creatures, and particularly utilitarianism goes together with the rejection of the concept of speciesism. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “One nation’s greatness can be measured by how it treats its animals.”

The need is to create a mindset and intention that allows each individual to feel loved and healthy including non-human animals. Humans must try to develop a deliberate evolving inclusive culture to meet the changing needs of its members and an inclusive society that offers positive participation and fair access to all living things through acknowledgment and support. We must accept inclusion as a way of enhancing the well-being of any member of the global community including non-human animals. Through working together, we will improve our ability to lay the groundwork for a prosperous future for us all.

Today, scientists on the subject of animal cognition stop seeing humans as the pinnacle of intelligence and look at animals not as dumb fuzzy humans, but as intelligent creatures who view the world profoundly differently. Tool-use is long thought to be a type of intelligence unique to humans. Soul-awareness is most often thought of as a special human trait, but recent research indicates that it could be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought. Indeed, the thesis claims that any animal capable of understanding their behaviors ‘potential consequences must have a fundamental sense of self. There is of course a lot of work to do before this theory is proven, but it certainly opens up some fascinating possibilities.

Against an anthropocentric speciesism to the effect that all human beings have a moral value higher than that of non-human animals simply in morality of being members of the biological species – Homo sapiens, many have objected that the latter property is not intrinsically valuable. However being a member of a biological species is not an intrinsic and essential property of organisms. The phenomenon of a ring species shows that the connection of being included to the same kind cannot be transitive, and it is here argued that this transitivity must be avoided by allowing that an organism can belong to more than one species and, thus, that species membership is not essential. This conclusion is important also because it implies that species membership can be no constraint on an organism’s numerical identity.

If we look back, Hinduism is based on dharma or righteousness which integrates obligation, universal rules and equality. The Vedas showed almost five thousand years ago, a strong understanding of the natural world and its biological diversity, the significance of the climate and natural resource organization. Hinduism and environment immerse themselves in the deep reverence of faith for all facets of life, forests and trees, rivers and lakes, animals and mountains all of which are divine embodiments. Mother Nature is revered in India: each village has a holy grove, each temple a holy garden and a holy plant. In one of her works, noted philosopher and ecologist Nanditha Krishna discusses both the traditional and tribal folk practices that revere Mother Nature, and strongly declare that only by finding answers in ancient wisdom can we save the world!

Animals in Indian culture have been worshipped in various ways: in the form of gods like the elephant (god Ganesha) and the monkey (god Hanuman); in the form of avatars such as fish, tortoise and boar forms of Vishnu; and in the form of vahanas or vehicles of major deities such as swans, elephants, lions, and tigers. Although some creatures, such as the snake, are worshipped out of fear, and some birds, such as the crow, are identified with the dwelling of the dead or the ancestors’ souls. Whatever the reasons for this, the ancient community of India adopted the customs and practices that led to animal worship and protection. 

With rapid growth, animals have been forced toward extinction by humans through hunting, habitat destruction, and industrialization leading to consumerism. Rising human populations and growing demand for agricultural products and animals themselves by poaching are driving some of the iconic animals on the brink. Besides, the pathetic condition of wet houses where animals are kept in cramped cages, suffocated and tortured (their skin peeled without any sedative) poses crucial questions before humanity. “In these unusual conditions, when you put animals together, you have the possibility of emerging human diseases,” said Kevin Olival, an EcoHealth Alliance disease ecologist and conservationist, to National Geographic earlier this year.

Not only this, but humans also capture wild land for building houses, factories, shopping centers, amusement parks, garbage dumps and scare the animals that used to live at that place, starting from the insects in the field to the birds that eat those insects, all vanish. Some of them are forced to go to new places but most of them die. Often, when farmers use pesticides excessively on their crops to save the product from unwanted pests (insects and molds and things that consume the plants), the chemicals products are mixed in the water and even the species that don’t damage the crops, suffer and die. The birds and creatures that consume these poisoned insects might also die, or they cannot reproduce, or their offspring die young. Chemicals are released in the air by manufacturers, cars, trucks, and planes. The pollution carrying smoke from their engines produces little specks of harmful chemicals that mix with the water, on trees, on the ground. Then, when the creatures intake the seeds, drink the water or if they made their nest in the field, they get into the animal’s body. Here these animals, too, either die or become incapable of reproduction. But the most heart-wrenching scenarios can be seen in wet markets, fur trade industries or animal testing labs where animals are subjected to extreme tortures. They are forced to live in urine-encrusted cages, hung up and skinned alive, abused, and suffocated. Some cattle endure painful processes as dehorning, tail-docking, and branding. 

In a stark and shocking figure based on the latest iteration of the WWF’s Living Planet report from 1970 to 2014, the size of vertebrate populations has dropped by 60 percent on average. To ensure a sustainable future for all living things, we need to urgently curb the loss of nature. The biggest challenge and biggest opportunity lie in challenging and changing our approach to progress and to remember that protecting nature also helps protect people.

The scientists and animal activists have been making efforts to put things in order for a very long time. During the Animal Liberation movement in 1975, philosopher Peter Singer argued that the distinction between human beings and creatures is totally arbitrary. Although movement groups like the RSPCA (founded in the 19th century) have long been trying to improve animal welfare, Singer’s book arguably kicked off the modern animal rights movement. The result of these campaigning created some pressure that eventually resulted in a number of regulations. In 1998 the European Parliament adopted a regulation specifying that all the creatures those kept for farming use must embody the “five freedoms”- freedom from 1. hunger and thirst; 2. discomfort and pain; 3. injury and disease; 4. fear and distress; 5. freedom to express normal behaviour. These five principles were applied in Europe and resulted in many radical regulations. In the year 2009, the Lisbon treaty finally acknowledged animals are sentient i.e entities with feelings and emotions.  

In 2012, a global group of researchers gathered at Cambridge University to sign the Cambridge Declaration on awareness (in the presence of Stephen Hawking), which stated that “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates”. This was a big breakthrough in the field of animal rights. 

Many organizations such as WWF are collaborating with governments, companies, and communities to minimize carbon emissions, avoid habitat loss and promote climate change policies. They, despite their efforts, have not been able to achieve the desired results because of a lack of awareness, sensitivity, and cooperation from individuals. Till the time we, as individuals, do not concentrate on saving wildlife and conserving natural resources such as forests, seas, fresh water, and grasslands, as well as finding new ways of feeding our population without harming the ecosystem, big differences will be difficult to make. The planet finally needs to come together and make a global bargain to save humanity. Human beings need to take a logical, holistic, and integrated view of life where nature is considered an integral part. They need to develop the potential to enable the coexistence of human and non-human animals, in an optimally harmonious way.

Australian expert on sustainability Professor Glenn Albrecht created a new word – eutierria by combining eu = nice, tierra = earth and ia = a condition. This is, he explains,  “.. a pleasant and optimistic feeling of harmony with the world and its forces of creation. This experience is one where the distinctions between self and the rest of nature are dissolved and awareness is pervaded by a profound sense of harmony and connectedness” (Albrecht 2011). This new word is strange, neo-scientific, a bit alien, but the feeling that he evokes, strikes a chord. The point is animals need more than simple kindness—they deserve to have the right not to be abused or exploited in any way. Coexistence is the key to survival. Humans and non-human animals can flourish in interdependence. If one tries to overpower the other, such calamities are bound to happen. The situation is really serious, perhaps more than we assume it to be and it is the time to “rewindle human attitudes” (Bekoff, 2009). 

According to a recent study conducted by geoscientists, Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the way Earth moves. The scientists have registered a lowering in quivering noise due to changes in the activities of human beings. They note a decrease in quivering sound, the hum of quivering in the upper crust of the earth, that could develop from the breakdown of transportation networks and other activities related to human beings. Researchers claim that this would allow detectors to spot smaller earthquakes and increase efforts to track volcanic activity and other seismic events. Also, many cities in India and world have observed cleaner rivers and purer air. We can see animals roaming on the streets of the cities as if they are trying to regain their lost territories. It shows that the Earth needs time to heal. And we, human beings, need to do the important task of getting connected with the world, not only ecologically but also spiritually. We should attempt to make our journeys inward and remove superficial boundaries to truly connect with nature which will eventually lead to connecting with self. 

Chinese wet markets have come back to life, selling bats and other animals, as the world continues to struggle. There are many questions that we need to answer. Do non-human animals not have the right to exist? Can this system survive without the existence of nature? When we brutally abuse nature do we consider our future? Do we ever value long term survival issues over short term adventures? But the bigger question is; are we learning any lessons?

Dr. Ankita Khanna
Associate Professor and Chairperson, Centre for Humanities
School of Liberal Arts and Management Studies 
P P Savani University

Dr. Ankita Khanna is an Associate Professor of English and the Chairperson, Centre for Humanities at P P Savani University, Surat. She is also the Programme Coordinator for foundation courses for BA (Hons.) with the School of Liberal Arts and Management Studies. She has teaching and research experience of over 15 years. She is a postgraduate in English from CSJM University, Kanpur and also the recipient of the gold medal at the undergraduate level. Her incessant learning has endowed her with a doctorate in English. She has acquired the CELTA certification from The British Council and a Language Teaching certification from the University of Southampton, UK.   

Her research interests include Indian Writing in English, English as Second Language Studies, Language and Society, and English Language Teaching.

Her extraordinary flair for the subject is duly complemented with linguistic competence. She has also authored/edited more than 20 research papers, 2 books and 4 book chapters that have been spaced into various literary outputs. Her erudition gets pronounced in her teaching modules of Indian Literature & Culture, Communication Skills, Linguistic Proficiency, and Critical Writing. She has also made her presence in many national and international conferences and seminars. Dr. Khanna sits on the advisory board of three international peer-reviewed journals and is a regular reviewer for many others. She has worked rigorously with many institutions as the founder member and has contributed heavily to establishing the Liberal Arts schools.

Dr. Khanna is deeply committed to philanthropic activities in the area of animal protection. In pursuit of knowledge in this domain, she has taken a course on Animal Ethics from Koyoto University, Japan. She tries to explore the nexus between environmental issues and the importance of animals. She is a member of various animal protection NGOs including People for Animals, Prayas Foundation, and PETA. She does her bit by creating awareness about the sufferings of non-human animals by sensitizing people.


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