Eid-ul-Azha is just around the corner and, once again, the “moos” and “mehs” are being heard from every corner of Dhaka. Parades of men with cows of different shapes and sizes ply the streets, flaunting their purchase eagerly waiting for passersby to ask that desired question.
While asking people “how much did it cost?” we also need to ask ourselves “what are it’s rights?”
Rights and wrongs
In a country like ours, advocating the rights of the helpless is considered a hobby for those who can afford the time. Hence, shouting for a cow or a goat to be treated like any other living things is a far cry here.
In Bangladesh, despite being pious and faithful, our actions defeat the sole purpose of this religious occasion.
Every year at the time of Eid-ul-Azha, there is a huge demand for cows in cattle markets. To meet demands, they are imported from neighbouring countries, while some arrive in Bangladesh through illegal means.
Cattle smuggling is rampant over at the India-Bangladesh border.
Every day, almost 300-500 cows are smuggled over the border in inhumane and degrading ways. Most of them are tied with ropes and hurled from narrow exits within the border.
As a result, many cows die in transit, mostly out of suffocation.
What does religion say?
In Islam, it is forbidden to treat an animal cruelly or to kill it except when needed for food (also known as Zabiha). Zabiha is the prescribed rule for slaughter in Islamic law. The rule ensures minimum suffering to animals when slaughtering them for food. Among the many laws, two suggest:
1. Usage of sharp knife so that it is done swiftly, not allowing the animal to feel any pain
2. Cutting the throat, windpipe, and blood vessels, keeping the spinal cord intact, to minimise pain
Islamic law clearly recognises animal rights as it is an obligation for all Muslims to be kind to animals. Even while handling a cow which is about to be sacrificed, Islamic law tells you to be merciful and try to make it easy for them.
But in reality, that is hardly the case.
In times when religious duties are forgotten, the sole driving force is the law
Cows arrive in Bangladesh bruised, suffocated, and punctured by the barbed border fence. They get crammed in trucks and sent all the way to Dhaka. Some of them get sick on the long journey while many die due to the congested space.
Even after they make it to a customer’s house, they are kept tied-up for hours until the moment of sacrifice.
They die writhing in pain, for the sacrificing is often not done properly. In times when religious duties are forgotten, the sole driving force is the law.
What does the law say?
It is the fear of sanctions that has the power to instill the idea of animal rights in us. The only law that talks about animal rights in Bangladesh is the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920, which has a provision for a Tk100 fine or an imprisonment of three months, or both, to anyone found guilty of torturing an animal.
Section 4 of the act states if any person: (a) Overdrives, unnecessarily beats, or otherwise ill-treats any animal, or (b) binds, keeps, or carries any animal in such a manner or position as to subject the animal to unnecessary pain or suffering, or (c) offers, exposes, or has in his possession, for sale, any live animal which is suffering pain by reason of mutilation, starvation, thirst, overcrowding, or other ill-treatment, or any dead animal for which there is reason to believe to have been killed in an unnecessarily cruel manner -- then one shall be punished for every offense with a fine which may extend to Tk100 or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with both.
In addition to this existing law, something new is on its way.
As per the draft of a proposed new Animal Welfare Act, 2016, any person killing or badly injuring an animal would have to face two years’ imprisonment or a Tk50,000 fine, or both.
This surely is good news for all the animals in our country.
Such a law will not only curb the abuse that our stray dogs and other animals go through almost every day, but also regulate the treatment of cattle in Bangladesh.
While PETA is busy trying to stop cows and livestock from being ill-treated at dairy farms, we are tossing them over fences like badminton.
But recent developments suggest that the cause for animal rights is progressing in this part of the world.
Effective enforcement of such strict liability would ensure that even the cows that are to be sacrificed during Eid-ul-Azha gets fair treatment. This way, we can retain the holiness that this occasion requires.
Aiman R Khan is a trainee lawyer, Dhaka Judge Court.