Is there space in our moral universe for inter – species fellowship and justice?

Is there space in our moral universe for inter – species fellowship and justice? Posted on November 6th, 2020. Senaka Weeraratna. We are all familiar …

Senaka Weeraratna

Weare all familiar with catchcries’ such as inter – faith dialogue andconferences and inter – ethnic peace talks and the like.

Thiswas being broadcast almost day and night as a panacea for all our mundanetroubles ad nauseam, during the period of the previous Yahapalana Govt.

Everheard of Inter – species fellowship and extension of natural justice to membersof non – human species?

Ifyou have not it is time you hear of it and think of exploring it as a worthymoral cause.

Manyspecies of animals have families, have offspring and show love and affection totheir loved ones just like humans do.

Someanimals even show fellowship and offer companionship to members of otherspecies, including humans.

Thoughthis is evident and acknowledged, however when it comes to giving legalconnotations, problems arise.

Thepurpose of this article is to explore this area.

Inter– species fellowship and justice

Thepromotion of inter – species fellowship and justice, is a worthy proposition.

Thisconcept is very much in line with Buddhist doctrine and Buddhist Jurisprudence.

Buddhismviews animals as sentient beings and fellow companions in the SansaricJourney. Buddhism does not degrade Animals as Chattels as it is done inour courts. ‘Animal constitutes a chattel’ is a legal concept derived entirelyfrom Abrahamic religious thinking and entrenched in our legislation enacted inthe colonial era, that tends to view all animals as gifts from God for the benefitof humans and their dominance. An infinite number of animals in their trillionshave suffered and died throughout history because of such conceptually flawedthinking and insensitivity to suffering of non – human living beings.

Thereare enough examples to show affection, loyalty and virtue in animals.

Petsgive love, affection and companionship to humans far better than many fellowhumans. Our inner lives would be irreversibly crippled if not for theunconditional love we receive from our pets.

A femaleanimal defending her young with her life, a dog remaining with its unconsciousmaster in a burning house rather than saving itself. animals showing devotionto their offspring, being sympathetic to their kindred, affectionate to theirmates, self-subordinating in their community are all indicative of behaviourwhich qualify them to be removed from being segregated as chattels in judicialproceedings in our courts.

Sri Lankahad a pre-colonial legal system (influenced by laws of Manu and Buddhistjurisprudence) which treated animals as subjects of the State. It attributedgreater value to the lives of animals than the legal system which we haveinherited from our colonial masters (influenced by Abrahamic religiousjurisprudence) and which we are unable to reform in a manner that would ensuredignity, protection, fair play and justice to animals, as this country did inthe pre-colonial era.

An enlightened approachrequires us at this juncture of our country’s history to abandon judicialconcepts that are rooted in Abrahamic jurisprudence and are morallyindefensible. If Buddhist jurisprudence offers a better alternative, thenthe way forward for reformers of our archaic laws governing animals such as thePrevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907, is to choose themore humane and enlightened alternative.

Re categorize theHuman – Elephant conflict as an ‘ inter – species dispute’

For example, in thecontext of Sri Lanka, it may be feasible to re- categorize the so called ‘Human– Elephant’ conflict as an ‘ inter – species dispute’, and proceed to resolveit on the principles of natural justice rather on the basis of a one – sidedexercise of ‘unbridled power in the hands of humans’.

If promotion of inter –faith and inter – ethnic amity is in order and in the right direction, whatwould stop us from exploring inter – species fellowship and promoting inter –species justice?

What humans i.e. theBritish colonial rulers, have done to Elephants beginning from the time of theWaste Lands Ordinance of 1840 have been to steal their lands and destroy theirhabitats to establish tea and coffee plantations in a manner no different towhat the European Colonists did all over the world particularly in America wherethey stole land belonging to native Indians, colonized the land with Europeansettlers and put the native Indians in reserves.

Inthe process the British settlers and professional hunters such as Samuel Baker,encouraged and rewarded by the colonial Govt. decimated the elephant populationin the upcountry (Kande Uda Rata) causing a loss of over 10, 000 wildelephants. Samuel Bakerlater published a book titled “The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon” (1857)describing the brutal destruction of Sri Lanka’s wild elephants by him withpride. A man without a heart and lacking in respect for the sanctity of lifewhich is grounded in Buddhism, Samuel Baker nonchalantly illustrated his bookwith drawings of the massacres he had indulged in.

MassMassacre of Elephants in Sri Lanka

GodwinWitane in an article says as follows of Samuel Baker:

Accordingto the description in his book (“The Rifle and Hound In Ceylon”) hehad spent days and weeks in the unfriendly jungles enjoying homely comfort inwell-furnished spacious tents stocked with imported tinned meat, fish andfruits and also an assortment of imported spirits to mellow the bodily strainundergone during a day’s outing in the unexplored forests of the dry zone. Ithad been an army of servants and helpers such as carriers, cooks, trackers andhorse keepers numbering sixty to seventy he had employed at each safari. Aday’s success at hunting was measured by the number of animals killed in oneday not sparing even an orphaned destitute baby elephant that strode behindhugging the mother’s heel. Sometimes this figure reached thirty or forty innumber. In his narrative he has shamelessly admitted that when a lactatingelephant was killed he and his brother did not fail to enjoy the spilling milkfrom the animal’s udder sucking the nipples with their mouths as it was deemedwholesome. The picture on this page clearly illustrates the heartless crueltypracticed by this alien hunter on freely roaming herds of the champions of ourforests. Besides elephants he had killed other game for his food and that ofthe host of employees that accompanied him throughout his stay in the wilds”.

Furthermore,the British colonial Govt. had no compunction in destroying the lives of bothhumans and animals. The manner in which they suppressed the Kandyan Sinhalauprising of Uva – Wellassa (1818) and the Sinhala Rebellion at Matale (1848),that resulted in Inquiries being conducted in the British House of Commons(1850) regarding the savagery and barbarity with which the British suppressedthe popular rebellion against British occupation of Ceylon, is a sad andpoignant tale.

TheBritish were enthusiastic hunters who destroyed the fauna in their colonies inAsia and Africa in the name of game and sport. In Ceylon they soon began huntingelephants for sport. One British officer, Major Thomas William Rogers, isestimated to have killed over 1,400 elephants during a period of 11 years. Itwas an atrocious crime against wildlife of the country. It is said that hehimself lost count of the number of defenseless elephants that he had killed inthe later years.

However,on the 7th of June 1845, Major ThomasWilliam died struck by lightning while staying at the HaputaleGuest House.He was buried in NuwaraEliya and a tombstone was erected on his grave, which too had been struck bylightning many times over the years, leading people to believe that karmicretribution had finally caught up with him for his heinous crimes.

See also

Holocaustof Elephants by the British Raj in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka,unfortunately we are doing exactly the same thing to our Elephants in the post– independence era by taking over their habitats under the guise of developmentand restricting their movements in their own traditional Homelands. There is noend in sight to this brazen and unlawful grab of terrain that ought to betreated as wild life sanctuaries for elephants and other forms of wildlife.

The best precedentcomes from our own history when King Devanampiyatissa upon being convinced byArahant Mahinda in their very first encounter at Mihintale of the blatantlyunrighteous and evil nature of hunting (deer and other innocent animals) turnedaround and in deep regret for causing the death of countless animalsestablished the world’s first wildlife sanctuary.

LegalAid for non – human species

Inany resolution of inter – species conflict, the non – human species, ideallyspeaking, must be entitled to and given access to advocacy services like LegalAid. They too have interests that are precious to them i.e. their life andtheir natural territory and space. That must be protected. We require aparadigm shift in thinking to accommodate the vital interests of animals in ourevolving legal system.

Onesided hearing and biased decision making is a violation of naturaljustice. Law is an expanding canvas. It is not meant to be static. Thereis always scope for replacing outdated and archaic laws with new laws thatreflect modern standards of treatment such as the Animal Welfare Bill.

Rememberthe Declaration of Arahant Mahinda to King Devanampiyatissa at Mihintale, overtwo thousand three hundred years ago:

“Oh! Great King, the birds of the air and the beasts have anequal right to live and move about in any part of this land as thou. The land belongsto the peoples and all other beings and thou art only the guardian of it.”

Thisis one of the greatest declarations ever made in favour of the rights ofanimals in world history and the fact that it happened in Sri Lanka is a hugeboost to the image of the country’s age-old Buddhist civilization.

Along line of Buddhist Kings for over 2000 years have faithfully followed thisadvice of Arahant Mahinda until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505.

Zoo– a concentration camp for animals

Itwas during the colonial era that concentration camps for animals called ‘Zoos’were introduced. The injustice inherent in this colonial legacy of animalprisons is plain to see and understand by anyone with a sense of justice. Thevery same types of people established ‘Human Zoos’ in European countries andUSA exhibiting a wide variety of people brought over from their colonies forthe joy and merriment of the locals. These were crimes and affront to thedignity of the subject peoples.

Zoosand Rule of Law are incompatible. Imprisoning someone for life withoutcommitting a wrong is morally indefensible by any yardstick. But that isexactly what Zoos deliver to animals with the sanction, if not indifference, ofthe country’s rulers.

Ruleof Law must ensure natural justice for animals

A‘Rule of Law’ that overlooks the rights of animals is perverse and immoral. Atrue Rule of Law must ensure that animals too receive the protection of naturaljustice.

Itmust be said that ever since independence in 1948, we have had rulers inthis country who never saw fit to look into the plight of animals or raise avoice for them in Parliament or take inspiration from the pages of theMahavamsa which is replete with instances of how our Buddhist Sinhala Kings caredfor the well – being of our animals.

Eventhe Tamil King Elara (also known as Manu Neethi Chola) who ruled at Anuradhapura in the thirdcentury B.C. upheld the laws of Manu while dispensing justice to hissubjects, which included all living creatures in his kingdom. It was said thatthere hung a bell outside his palace gates and anybody seeking justice couldring it any time to bring their case to the notice of the King. The storyof how a distraught cow had run and rang the bell when its calf was run over bythe chariot driven by the son of the king is well known to be repeatedhere. Even the Mahavamsa acknowledges that he i.e. Elara, was a just king andsays that the king ruled ‘with even justice toward friend andfoe, on occasions of disputes at law’.


Inconclusion, it must be said that we require a paradigm shift in thinking inrespect to reforming the law including the Constitution to protect animals whoare also subjects of the state. State responsibility for animals cannot bediscarded nor palmed off to animal rights groups.

Aconflict with any animal species e.g. stray dogs, must be resolved on the footingof an ‘inter – species dispute’ and on the basis of Justice and invocation ofthe ethical principle of Protection of the Weak by the Strong. Destruction ofstray dogs en masse as we saw being done in a neigbouring country a few yearsago is not a solution for a civilized state or for any nation aspiring to berecognized as civilized by universal standards.

Allanimals including wild elephants and stray dogs, have a right to live on thisland and morally speaking, to be treated with understanding and compassion.


Former Hony. Legal Consultant to theLaw Commission on Animal Welfare legislation