‘Animal Sacrifice an Essential Religious Practice’, Analysing the Plea in Supreme Court Against the Judgment of Kerala High Court

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An appeal had been filed in the Supreme Court against the judgment of Kerala High Court. This judgment upheld the Constitutionality of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Act, 1968.

The petitioners contended that animal sacrifice is an integral part of their religion. He also contended that the judgment was against his right under Article 25(1) of the Constitution.

Animal Sacrifice in India

The practise of animal sacrifice is a worldwide phenomenon. Countless faiths practise it for different reasons. Mostly, devotees perform them to please the deity.

In India, people sacrifice animals during festivals and fairs. These practices can be traced back to the period of Vedas and Upanishads. Some superstitious beliefs deep-rooted in our society form their basis. The most important question that emerges is:

Can we allow cruelty towards animals in the name of religion?

What does the Law in our Country say?

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, is the primary legislation in India regarding animal cruelty. It governs and regulates such practices in India. Its objective is to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain on animals.

However, some of the States have their legislation to deal with such practices. In the State of Kerala, we have the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Act, 1968. The Act bans sacrificing animals for appeasing deities.

Present Case

On June 16, 2020, the Kerala HC dismissed a plea on animal sacrifice. It upheld the Constitutionality of the Kerala Animals and Birds Sacrifices Act, 1968. Two persons, Muraleedharan T. and Vimal CV, challenged the provisions of the Act. The bench comprised Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly. They made the following observation:

There are no materials to show which community of Hindus can sacrifice animals.

Contentions of the Petitioners

The petitioners had raised three grounds to allow the sacrificing of animals. They contended that the ban on such practices is:

  • Unreasonable interference with their fundamental rights. Specifically, Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
  • Violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • Void because of Article 254 of the Constitution.

The petitioners also contended that the Act was in arbitrary. The Act allows the killing of animals for personal consumption but not as a sacrifice to the deity. Hence, they contented it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is Central legislation. Section 28 of the said Act does not make a sacrifice of animals an offence. However, the impugned Act criminalizes this practice. Thus, they pointed out that it negates the former provision. Hence, the impugned Act is void in view of Article 254 of the Constitution.

The Court’s Observations

The Court observed that Article 25 and 26 only protect the essentials of the religion.

On the issue of Article 254, the Court observed that the objective of both the Acts is different. It further noted that Section 28 of the PCA Act is ‘killing’ and not ‘sacrificing’.

Taking all these into considerations, the Court dismissed the plea. However, the aggrieved petitioners had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.

The stance of the Supreme Court over the years

The Supreme Court has varied its stances on this issue. There are cases where the SC has not entertained cases on animal sacrifice. In some cases, the SC has observed that sacrificing animals is an old age custom. However, in some instances, it has closed its eyes towards such cruelty against animals.

Over the years, the SC has taken cognizance of this matter. A contrary view has been in the case of N. Adithayan vs Travancore Devaswom Board & Ors. The SC observed that it could not protect customs that do not have any material as proof. There are no materials to show which community of Hindus is allowed to sacrifice animals. Hence, the Court cannot allow it.

Further, the SC made another observation in the case of Ramesh Sharma v. State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors. The SC observed that Section 28 of the PCA Act, 1960, does not permit the sacrifice of animals. It allows the killing of animals in the manner required by the community but not sacrifice.

The Court is indeed bound to balance and maintain harmony among all faiths. Per contra, this does not allow people to use religion as a tool to commit cruelty against animals.

Awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is yet to decide the present case. Analyzing the observations of the SC on such cases, the Court will most likely dismiss the appeal.

Animal rights in India are still at an initial stage. At any time, faith, customs, etc. should not take precedence over the lawful rights of humans or animals. This practice of sacrificing animals to please the deity is superstitious. It is high time we recognize this and stop cruelty against animals.

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