Is animal welfare on election agenda in Sri Lanka?
Posted on July 11th, 2015

by Senaka Weeraratna

The concern for the welfare of animals dates back to the beginnings of Buddhist history in Sri Lanka. In the pre-colonial era an animal attracted far greater respect and moral attention from both the state and society than today. The Buddhist view best illustrated in the Karaniya Metta Sutra that compassion should be extended to all including other living beings in a manner similar to the way  ‘a mother loves her only child’ had a ripple effect throughout the length and breadth of this country including the halls of governance and temples of justice.

The Trusteeship power of the State was extended to protect animals, birds, and other living creatures of the land. Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to have wildlife sanctuaries. King Devanampiyatissa under the influence of Arahant Mahinda deserves full credit for establishing the World’s first wild life sanctuary in Mihintale.

The ethic of Ahimsa (non – violence towards other sentient beings) a cardinal tenet in Buddhism and Hinduism, was a cornerstone in society’s attitudes towards animals. However since the occupation of the country by three western powers beginning in 1505 there has been a gradual decline in affording State protection to animals and in the post – independence era i.e. after 1948, animal welfare has hardly been a topic in public policy making, platform for law making or deemed worthy of inclusion in an election manifesto of a major political party in Sri Lanka.

During the colonial era the relationship of man to the other animals was seen as one of unremitting exploitation. Animals were there for us. It was all pre-ordained. Even the taboo of beef eating was removed under Portuguese influence. The colonial type of education which we have inherited survives to this day in Sri Lanka.  However in the West there has been a remarkable paradigm shift in thinking particularly after the end of the second world war. There is an increasing respect for the rights of others particularly that of non – human living beings.

Internationally, the fast growing Animal Rights movement is destined to usher in the next great social revolution in the world. It is no longer a fringe movement. There is a gradual progression throughout history towards recognizing the rights of others. It started with the emancipation of slaves, women, children in that order. It is an unstoppable march.


We in Sri Lanka must not be seen to lag behind. If we value and consider ourselves as moving towards the ideal of establishing a compassionate society then it must be an all inclusive compassionate society – one that accommodates the voiceless animals who are trapped in Sansara as we are.   While  we price the freedom of our fellow humans we unfortunately tend to disregard the claims for freedom of other sentient beings.

Animals are sentient beings and like humans they too would like to have their freedom to roam in the fields, jungles etc. without restrictions. We must not deny them that freedom as we tend do in our Zoos. Buddhist Bhutan has shown the way in phasing out Zoos. There are no Zoos in Bhutan except for protecting their own endangered species. In a truly enlightened country there is no place for imprisoning animals for human viewing and pleasure. Sri Lanka must strive to become such enlightened country. A model for the rest of the world like Bhutan has become in safeguarding its rich natural environment.  Zoos imprison animals, overlook their pain and disregard their right to freedom.  Moral voices for humans must also become moral voices for animals. The Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Anagarika Dharmapala and the like in our part of the world had no compunctions in drawing public attention to the plight of animals.

Political parties in leading western countries e.g. England, Germany, France, Australia today display enlightened thinking and express concern for the rights and welfare of animals. It is a pivotal part of their election manifestos. In Europe it is a major topic of discussion in the electronic and print media and National Parliament.

Duties of the Cakkavatti King (Righteous King)

In the Cakkavattisīhanāda-sutta (DN.26) in the Digha Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka, the Buddha in spelling out the duties of an ideal ruler has declared:

The Cakkavatti King (Righteous King) will give protection, shelter and ward both to the different classes of human beings, and also to birds and beasts”

The Buddhist first precept which condemns taking of another’s life extends to all living beings.  The first Buddhist monarch of India, Emperor Aśoka, adopted the role model of a Cakravartin king and followed the advice of the Buddha that a good king should extend his protection also to beasts and birds.

Emperor  Aśoka, included in his Rock Edicts an expression of concern for the number of animals that had been killed for his meals, and expresses an intention to put an end to this killing. He also includes animals with humans as the beneficiaries of his programs for obtaining medicinal plants, planting trees and digging wells. In his fifth Pillar Edict, Aśoka decrees the protection of a large number of animals that were not in common use as livestock; protects from slaughter young animals and mother animals still milking their young; protects forests from being burned, expressly to protect the animals living in them; and bans a number of other practices hurtful to animals.

State responsibility for animals in pre-colonial Sri Lanka

The social and legal history of Sri Lanka provides innumerable examples of the Buddhist attitude to animal life. Five of the kings governed the country under the ‘Maghata’ rule, which banned completely the killing of any animal in the kingdom.  King Parakramabahu I had commanded that safety of life be extended to all creatures without exception living on dry land and in the water on the four uposatha days in every month. Several Kings established Animal Hospitals and one King, namely Buddhadasa (341 AD) became a reputed medical and veterinary surgeon.

The people, influenced by the principle of ‘Ahimsa’ generally kept away from occupations that required the killing of animals to earn a living- e.g. hunting, fishing and the slaughter of animals for food.  Those who resorted to these activities were usually relegated to the margins of the society.

There were constant appeals from the rulers to the public as seen in the epigraphical records to extend compassion to animals, grant freedom to birds and spare the lives of fish in the lakes. An inscription engraved in an upright stone slab at Ruwanwelisaya, Anuradhapura, which is a transcript of a decree issued in the late 12th Century by King Kirthi Sri Nissanka Malla, who had his Royal Capital in Polonnaruwa, reads as follows:

“Ordering by the beat of the drum that no animals should be killed within a radius of seven gau (leagues) from the city, he gave security to the animals.  He also gave security to the fish in the twelve great tanks, and bestowing on (the region’s people) gold and cloth and whatever other kind of wealth they wished, he commanded them not to catch birds and so gave security to birds ………….”.

Being sentient beings, like humans, animals were recognised by the traditional Lankan society as having moral claims to reasonable consideration of their basic interests.

Animal Advocacy Political Parties in the West

In recent years, several political parties have been established in western countries that have as their main goal the improvement of animal welfare and the recognition of animal rights. Increasingly people in western societies like to be seen and generally consider themselves as caring towards animals. These political parties have come into existence to remind politicians that voters do care about animals and make animal welfare an issue of mainstream political concern.

Some examples:

The Animal Rights Party USA was founded in the United States in 2011. It is modeled after the Dutch Party for the Animals (PvdD). Like the PvdD, it is a political animal welfare organization that focuses on improving animal welfare and animal rights, and solving related environmental problems

Animals Count Party

The Animals Count Party in UK , was established in 2006 from the Dutch Party for the Animals. The latter has two MPs (with more expected in the forthcoming Dutch national elections), one senator and 23 elected representatives at provincial or local level. Political parties for animals now exist in some 10 countries worldwide, including Austria, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The main objective of this party i.e. Animals Count, is to introduce serious, rational consideration of animal welfare into politics and policy making. It encourages other political parties to improve their policies on animal welfare, by cooperation and pressure, which may include directly contesting elections. Its leadership seeks to demonstrate that voters care about animal issues, and that votes will be drawn to parties that unfailingly highlight animal welfare matters.

The major topics of discussion include the establishment of an animal protection commission, animal experimentation and the banning of foie gras – a culinary delicacy produced in some European countries from the enlarged, fatty livers of force-fed geese and ducks.

Labour Party

The Labour Party made a significant contribution to the cause of animal welfare when it oversaw the passage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which substantially updated the Protection of Animals Act, first enacted in 1911 and designed to prevent outright cruelty to animals. Under the new act, animal owners and keepers also have a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to provide for the needs of their animals. If they fail to do so, they would commit an offence. This potentially includes the provision of veterinary care, insofar as animal guardians now have an explicit duty to protect animals from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

In Sri Lanka the Animal Welfare Bill prepared by the Law Commission in 2006 has yet to be enacted in Parliament. Nine years have elapsed since then. Feet dragging, lack of political will and fear of losing votes for taking up the cause of animals in public are the major shameful factors to explain why Sri Lanka is falling behind most other regional countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia which have enacted new Animal Welfare statutes in the last two years containing modern standards for treatment and protection of animals.

Green Party

The Green Party election manifesto contains the most detailed policies on animal welfare of any political party, other than the Animals Count Party. It is a 50 page document.

The Greens are demanding the phasing out of intensive farming, banning the production and sale of eggs from hens kept in battery” cages (including enriched” cages), the end of live animal exports, and restriction of journey times for all transported animals. They will immediately ban harmful scientific animal use, and invest and promote the development of non-animal alternatives. They intend to regulate the companion animal trade and impose a ban on the importation of exotic pets. They will enforce strict animal welfare standards.

Animal Protection Party

The Animal Protection Party in England has similar aims to give voice to animals politically. Though it is not a major political party its strategy is to lobby and stand against a few diehard MPs who are outspokenly anti-animal, or who hold small majorities. It aims to lose some of these people their seats in order to gain genuine political influence and move human and animal rights to the top of the political agenda”.

The Animal Welfare Party

Its Policies for the 2015 General Election were listed as follows:

  • Improve human health, save NHS funds, protect the environment and global food security by promoting healthy plant-based diets
  • Re-direct EU subsidies away from livestock and fisheries farming and into plant-based agriculture
  • Phase out farming practices and systems with poor welfare consequences for animals
  • End live animal export and reduce journey times for animals travelling to slaughter within the UK
  • End all slaughter without prior stunning
  • Independently monitored CCTV for all slaughterhouses
  • Phase out animal experimentation with binding targets for reduction combined with proper funding & real support for alternatives
  • Increase penalties for those convicted of animal abuse
  • Clear labelling of all products with information which allows consumers to make informed choices in line with their own principles on the environment, health, animal welfare and the social circumstances in which a product is produced
  • A ban on ‘puppy farms’ and the sale of animals in retail stores
  • Ban the export of live animals for slaughter

No greater crime in the history of humankind can match the unrelenting and unceasing war that members of the human species are waging almost every moment of the day against members of other species for their flesh and bones.

This is the biggest war of human kind being waged from time immemorial i.e. snuffing out the life of other species in an almost one –sided contest without pity without remorse. Kill and eat as a practice has become so ingrained in human society that deprivation of the valuable life of another living being – a life that is so dear to it as much as it is to us humans, is no longer seen as a moral or ethical issue. In closing our eyes to the suffering and death of animals at our hands, and disregarding their cries for help, we suppress some of the most noble impulses that a human being is capable of  generating – that of sympathy and pity towards other living creatures—and by mutilating our own feelings in such fashion we unwittingly become cruel.”

Eternal Treblinka

There are no Nuremberg type trials for those who engage in mass murder of animals and commit crimes against animals in the most barbaric manner.  When over 500, 000 innocent animals were brutally murdered in a neighbouring Asian country to appease gods last December not a voice was raised in protest. Everyone preferred to adopt the safer option of looking the other side.

The holocaust of Jews at Auschwitz and other concentration camps we like to see as an aberration. For some types of animals i.e. food animals, holocausts engineered by humans are part of their daily life. The Eternal Treblinka is at their doorstep.

Our loss of capacity to express moral outrage at injustices inflicted on others whether they be
humans or animals is a sad comment on the type of society we are now fashioning.  It is time to reassert our humanity for the benefit of all living beings. Ideally speaking, a just world for all beings is the best conceivable world.

Animals are undoubtedly the most vulnerable and exploited members of our society. They are entitled morally speaking to receive a basic level of political consideration. Sri Lanka’s political parties must address the issues pertaining to animal welfare and animal rights. On our part, we the voters must stand up and convey to the local political parties and candidates that their stand and record on animal welfare related issues do matter to us and would influence our judgment when casting our votes.

Senaka Weeraratna

2 Responses to “Is animal welfare on election agenda in Sri Lanka?”

  1. Christie Says:

    The writer has forgotten the killings of Sinhalese by Indian terrorist arm; trained, armed, financed, managed and branded Tamil Tigers by India. Then killing of Sinhalese by Indian financed Sinhala terrorists the J V P. These animal talks are ways of cunning people to create distractions.
    Senaka looks like you are writing from the West.
    What about the Sex Party. a political party I have seen in the West?

  2. Independent Says:

    Exploitation of the Elephant for political purposes shall be stopped. How many elephants have our presidents donated to other countries as if they were own by the President ? These animals spend a sad lonely life in distant countries and die a sad death there. This has to be stopped.

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