The personality of animals

The Personality of Animals

AuthorJoanna Hadassah Kareem,
3rd year law student,
School of Law,
CHRIST (Deemed to be) University
Persons as per the definition under jurisprudence and law, possesses distinct characteristics  than what is portrayed by laymen. The German writers attributed it to being the one who has- the capacity of will[1]. Karlowa affirmed that personality is not only one’s body but soul as well –
“- it is not only as a being which has the possibility of willing but as a being which can have manifold bodily and spiritual needs and interests as a human centre of interests, is a man, a person”[2]

Gauri Maulekhi vs State Of Haryana And Ors on 15 February, 2018:

The case is a collection of 5 Public Interest Litigation petitions, due to the gruesome treatment of Camels which were being illegally transported into Haryana for the Gadhimai animal sacrifices in Nepal. The petitions being for the issuing of a writ of mandamus or any other appreciative writ, under article 226 of the Indian constitution, to direct the respondents to prevent entry of camels within the jurisdictional area. Also to ensure that illegally transported camels were turned over into the custody of a nearby Gaushala, who is later to transport the animals back to an NGO in Rajasthan or Gujarat. A justification for the registration of an FIR against the owners of the camels for directly violating the sections under PCA through such illegal transportation.

It was stated in the petition that camels in large numbers are being brought into the State of Haryana illegally. The transportation of these animals is done in a cruel manner as a result of which some of them succumb to suffocation, over-crowding and injuries inflicted upon them by their handlers. Those animals who do not die enroute are slaughtered soon thereafter, which is in violation of the law. It is also stated that the petitioner had rescued a number of camels who were being transported illegally from Rajasthan and due to his initiative, several FIRs were registered under various provisions of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 as well as Indian Penal Code, 1860.

The court held that the state is to ensure the conditions for carriage of animals as per Rule 94 of the Haryana Motor Vehicles Rules, 1993 are being followed. If any such vehicle is found plying in contravention to the said Rule, then action as per the provision of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and Rules made thereunder shall be taken against the offender. It is also stated that the offence prone districts have constituted special police cells to curb the present menace. The Haryana Police are regularly registering cases in various stations of Haryana.[3]

Can there be a Non-human person?

As stated before, the common conception of a person is completely different from the legal or juristic sense of the term. There should be a distinction brought between the terms ‘human’ and ‘person’. Zitelmann states: “Personality is the legal capacity of will. The bodylines of men is for their personality a wholly irrelevant attribute”[4]Being ‘Human’ refers to the biological category of the homosapien species, where as a ‘Person’ is one that has the capability of owning rights along with duties. That brings us to the questions of
  • Who is a person?
  • Are there Non-human persons?
There has been an establishment made that a ‘person’ is not necessarily a human being, for example slaves, who were denied all rights. There could also be legal persons such as corporations, and under certain laws, idols.

Salmond stated that a person is one who the law regards as capable of rights and duties, whether human or not.[5] 

Now that we’ve established who is a person, the next question is- Can there be Non-human persons, such as animals?

The common stance on the legal status of animals is that since they are neither natural or legal persons, they are not provided with rights and duties. In fact, they are merely things used as objects of legal rights and duties, much like property. But certain writers, state otherwise. Law protects animals from cruelty, and puts a duty on the state to ensure their safety.[6] What other rights can they possess? Can they possess all the rights that humans have?

‘Rights’ are a very complicated conception, which are always associated with certain duties. So, the only determinant for who gets these rights is an ‘inherent characteristic’ that awards person one right and not the other. Take for example a baby, it is incapable of rationality and understanding but since science has proven that growth and development would ensure those abilities to the baby as it gets old. But why do we feel the need to protect the baby and not animals? Science has also managed to prove that animals can sense and feel emotions, such as pleasure and pain, they have the ability to empathise, raise their young, recognise and acknowledge their family, they have a distinct thought process. The whole problem with what assertions rights is that we have taken a human centric approach and not a species centric approach. There should be a species neutral set of certain criteria for allocation of personhood.

There are two major definitions of persons under bioethics:
  • The ‘Capacity X’ View – this view states that for one to be a person and possess rights they must have the capacity to do something (X)[7], for example the ability of humans to derive a systematic thought process, because they are able to comprehend and retain information, they are said to be capable of rights, but what about animals such as elephants or Koko the gorilla who has learned a large number of hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language? What about humans who don’t have the ability to comprehend and retain information due to developmental disabilities, are they protected by law?
Another capability is the ability to feel pain and pleasure, humans feel emotion, be it from receiving a present or spraining an ankle, in the same way animals too feel pain and pleasure, be it resting in the shade on a hot day or the sorrows of losing a loved one.
  • The Potentiality view – this view is commonly associate with argum
    ents on abortion and stem cell derivation, the view is that a person need not have the current capacity to have a capability, but a future potential for the capacity, in the ordinary course of things
    [8]. Again, babies are a great example- they grow, develop and eventually understand hence we treat them as persons. In the same way wouldn’t Koko be an example of the potentiality of animals, a dog could be trained to assist his blind master.

In various cases in history we see that animals have been deemed to have the capability of sustaining duties and are therefore to this extent a legal person, the Greeks and Germans have managed to try animals for offences against humans and their property.[9]

The law in India, under article 51A (g) of the Constitution of India states that it is a fundamental duty- to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion on all living creatures[10]. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 states the specifications of what cruelty could consist of as well as rules on the slaughtering of animals. Animals have the basic right against cruelty and heinous slaughter (which includes humane conditions of living, and slaughter)[11].


In 2014, the Hon’ble Supreme Court banned the illegal transport of cattle to Nepal for the Gadhimai festival, which played an important role in bringing down the number of animals sacrificed that year. Prior to this, the Sahastra Seema Bal worked with the petitioner to draft a set of regulations related to animal markets, cattle markets and creating infrastructure for cattle, thus creating a set of recommendations that the court certified. In passing the order, the Supreme Court declared that these recommendations would have to be adopted[12].

Various cases have been raised to justify the dignity and survival of all animal species. There have been arguments on both the Capacity X view as well as the Potentiality view. Though the process and achievements in the field to grant rights to animals through jurisprudence, the progress is still visible.


[2] Id at 1 page 1

[3] MANU/SCOR/13132/2015

[4] Id at 1 page 1

[5] Id at 1 page 1

[6] Id at 1 page 1


[8] Nicola Poplawski and Grant Gillett, Ethics and embryos, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

[9] Id at 1 page 1

[10] INDIAN CONST, art 51A, cl. (g)

[11] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960


Leave a Comment