A few days ago, a news article caught my attention. It mentioned how a man had treated his parents ‘like an animal’ and behaved with them as humans ‘behave with animals’. Here, the implication was that it is not okay to treat a human like one does an animal. But it continues to be okay to treat animals in a certain way.
This trope, referred to as speciesism, is reminiscent of the belief that humans are above all other creatures and should be treated as superior to them. This also justifies the exploitation and abuse of animals for purposes as varied as food, clothing and business.
However, for the discerning, there can be nothing worse than standing by and seeing other animals being used, abused and exploited in the name of anthropocentrism, which is the belief that human beings are the central or most important entity in the universe. The term can be used interchangeably with humanocentrism, and some refer to the concept as human supremacy or human exceptionalism.
Over the centuries and spread across continents, the belief that has been sought to be drilled into the human subconscious — that humans are the centre of the known universe and that other animals exist or should be considered to be of any perceivable value only in relation to their relationship with humans — is deeply flawed. Some would even say that it is downright morally-repugnant.
Animals of other species have as much right over our planet as humans.
Some Abrahamic religions erroneously seek to convince themselves and others of the supremacy of the human race and thereby justify the excesses committed by humans on the planet and on other animals. To hear some people hold forth on the ‘but natural’ complexion of patterns of abuse of the natural world is disheartening and deeply concerning.
Hence, while it is considered okay to tie up animals like dogs, donkeys, horses, elephants and keep confined to cages other beings like lions, leopards, snakes and lemurs, the same behaviour comes in for heavy criticism when remotely tried out on humans.
Last week, the video of a man went viral on social media. This man had been tied up with a collar around his neck and was being pushed around using the chain connected to the collar. This incident happened in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. It drew condemnation across the country, with people calling it horrifying and ‘unacceptable’ in a ‘civilised’ milieu.
It got me thinking how duplicitous humans can be. They have different reactions for the same set of actions, the only distinguishing characteristic between the varied responses being the species of the victim.
So, while it is acceptable to treat a dog like property or a commodity and pull and drag the hapless animal by the chain attached to the collar around his neck, the same behaviour, when practised on a human being, turns ‘outrageous’ and ‘abominable’. It is this dichotomy of human reaction in relation to the same behavioural pattern that seems to me to be the root cause of so many ills plaguing us as a species.
How can the same treatment be defended or justified when the only thing setting it apart is the species of the victim? How can we turn a blind eye to the confinement and treatment of animals of other species when the same act would draw heavy censure, even penal action, if done to a human?
It is my strong belief that once we let go of the shackles of speciesism and resolve to treat all sentient beings as deserving of the same respect, consideration and affection, the path towards greater harmony with the natural world and consequently with each other will become clearer and easier.
However, until that day dawns, it is imperative to be on the lookout for examples of egregious treatment of animals of all species other than humans — not just for them but also for the emancipation of our own self and spirit.