by Senaka Weeraratna
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi
We have often heard of tyranny of one group over another e.g. Whites over Blacks, Nazis over Jews, Feudalists over peasants etc. But only a few among us would be prepared to admit unequivocally the tyranny of the humans over non – human sentient beings. If anyone is willing to examine the pain and suffering caused to the oppressed animals in this unequal relationship, one would see quite clearly that the scale of repression is much higher than that caused to a vulnerable group in any inter – human species relationship.
The fact that the exploited group i.e. non – human animals cannot themselves organize a protest against the harsh treatment they receive (though they remonstrate to the best of their abilities individually via body language and speech indecipherable to humans) intensifies the problem. Therefore greater is the moral challenge for us i.e. the concerned humans, to take up the cause of animals and speak on behalf of those who cannot speak and articulate their suffering.
In any law reform including the making of a new Constitution our collective moral sympathies should not be focused exclusively on human rights – the removal of oppression and injustices, real or imagined, among the human species. The position of both the weaker non – human species and our invaluable natural environment too deserves our moral attention and sympathetic consideration.
In addition, any Constitution making in Sri Lanka must be connected to the country’s heritage and history. It would be a national shame for a country that proudly boasts of a 2, 500 year old history and had won the acclaim of the wider world for preserving its Buddhist heritage in a pristine state within a Buddhist Social Order, to turn its back on the wisdom of our founding fathers and ancestors on questions of governance and instead turn to the wisdom of somebody else’s forebears unashamedly for new directions.
Buddhism, more than other ideology or religion, has played a singular role in creating an unique civilization and shaping the destinies of this country. It therefore falls on the current generation to ensure that Buddhism continues to flourish in Sri Lanka and that the State performs its historic public duty, as enshrined in Article 9 of the National Constitution, to extend patronage, protection and foster Buddhism both within and outside the country.
The issue of the viability of Buddhism in Sri Lanka- its continued existence as the dominant moral and spiritual force in this country- has unfortunately become inextricably mixed with extraneous issues involving politics and ethnicity. Its rightful place in the Constitution which is a continuation of its historical status as the foremost religion since the time of King Devanampiyatissa (300 BC) when full state patronage was extended to it has come under threat from forces that are pushing the hidden agendas of foreign sovereigns.
What profound principles shall inform the reform of Sri Lanka’s Constitution is an important question for both the law makers, law interpreters and the general public?
Thai Buddhist ideas on governance
In an article published in the Bangkok Post ( March 28, 2015) and carried in the ‘Buddhist Channel’ website, Stephen B. Young (global executive director of Caux Round Table), commenting on the preparations being made in Thailand to draw a new Constitution says that Thai Buddhist ideas on governance must be incorporated into the proposed new Constitution.
Some of his ideas are relevant to the public discussion now taking place in Sri Lanka on the reform of our Constitution. Stephen Young warns against relying heavily on borrowing from the Western tool kit of governing arrangements. He asks:
“Is Thailand to be in perpetual tutelage to the West? Does the West have a permanent monopoly on truth and justice? Are Western experts and their Thai students to be like Anna Leonowens scolding the children of King Rama IV for not being sufficiently Victorian?”
He frowns on designing a new Constitution merely to stop self-serving and corrupt wrongs and excesses of arbitrary power, which in the view of Young ‘is to look backward and not forward’.
He recommends that ‘A good constitution should be designed for the future as architecture, not as interior design for a particular temporary occupant’.Tastes in design change rapidly and often. Thailand‘s many constitutions have suffered from taking this short-term approach. Architecture should be for the ages drawing on timeless principles of harmony and form to inspire and reassure over years to come”.
In the concluding paragraph of his inspiring article Stephen Young says:
“ In planning their own constitutional future, Thais should take a stand on the best of their traditions and values. Sufficiency economy principles and the related principles of good public trusteeship contained in the Dasa Rajadhamma principles are valuable intellectual resources for a good constitution for Thailand.”
Buddhist Symbols and Imagery in the Indian Constitution
An Indian writer Himanshu Prabha Ray lays stress on the lasting legacy of Buddhism in independent India, in her book ‘The Return of the Buddha: Ancient Symbols for a New Nation’ (Routledge India; 2014) and explores the use of Buddhist symbols and imagery in nation-building and the making of the Indian Constitution,
She says that emerging Nations had recourse to symbols from the past to create a sense of nationhood and in this sense India was no exception. In addition to the Dharma Chakra, the Sarnath lion capital was chosen as an emblem of India to be represented on currency notes and coins, government stationery and the like. The Sarnath capital that was adapted for use as an emblem carries a legend from the Mundaka Upanisad reading satyameva jayate (“truth alone triumphs”).
The following resolution was proposed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and passed in the Constituent Assembly on July 22, 1947, just prior to India’s independence:
“ Resolved that the National Flag of India shall be horizontal tricolour of deep saffron (kesri), white and dark green in equal proportion. In the centre of the white band, there shall be a Wheel in navy blue to represent the Chakra. The design of the Wheel shall be that of the Chakra (Wheel), which appears on the abacus of the Sarnath lion capital of Asoka”
Why did Nehru choose the Dharma Chakra or wheel of the Dharma as an emblem?
Nehru explains as follows:
“ For my part, I am exceedingly happy that in this sense indirectly we have associated with this Flag of ours not only this emblem but in a sense the name of Asoka, one of the most magnificent names not only in India’s history but in world history . . . Now because I have mentioned the name of Asoka, I should like you to think that the Asokan period in Indian history was essentially an international period of Indian history. It was not a narrowly national period. It was a period when India’s ambassadors went abroad to far countries and went abroad not in the way of an empire and imperialism, but as ambassadors of peace and culture and goodwill” (S. Gopal, edited, 1973, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Vol. 3, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 71–72)
Himanshu Prabha Ray adds “ The adoption of an ancient symbol by a modern nation is significant, but what is also striking is the twentieth-century reference to Ashoka who ruled in the third century bce”
Buddhist imagery was finally enshrined in India’s most significant political document, the Constitution of India because it rose to the surface of visual rhetoric (through archaeological investigations, publication of Buddhist literature throughout Asia and distribution of Buddha relics) and communicated vital messages of peace and non – violence (ahimsa).
Himanshu Prabha Ray further says “ at the same time, the genealogy of the visuals that illustrate the Constitution also trace their conceptualization within the itihāsa purā a tradition of the subcontinent that locates continued Buddhist presence in historical consciousness”.
A Compassionate Constitution
Globally, Animal protection has become an important ethical and political issue commanding worldwide attention. A growing body of international standards (under the aegis of the World Organization for Animal Health, or the OIE), which have been agreed by governments now covers this area.
World Animal Net (WAN), a well known animal protection organization in the world with over 1,500 affiliated societies, has launched a project to start an international movement to acknowledge the legal status of animals and recognize them in constitutions. Animals are sentient creatures with an intrinsic value. Measures to take full and proper account of animal protection in international, national and regional constitutions are long overdue.
It is very unfortunate that many countries including Sri Lanka have still not yet secured even the basic foundations for humane treatment of animals in their constitutions, and many others have only outdated and inadequate provisions.
The moral stature of Sri Lanka’s Constitution would be enhanced if it recognizes the claims of other living beings for compassion and appropriate consideration from human beings, and the protection of their legal rights. The philosophy underlying the Constitution must encompass the view that legal rights are not the exclusive preserve of human beings. This standpoint is consistent with the philosophy underlying the Dasa Rajadhamma which was a basis of governance in the pre-colonial era.
The inclusion of these ideas would enable a modern Constitution in Sri Lanka to serve also as a basis for advocacy on behalf of these suffering and unrepresented interests.
There exist international precedents. Several animal protection objectives were included in the Indian constitution from its adoption in 1950. In particular, Article 48, which dealt with agriculture, included a prohibition on the slaughter of cows, calves and other milk and draught animals. In 1974, further provisions were introduced including Article 51A, which made it a duty of every citizen of India “(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”.
Animal protection has been included in the Swiss Constitution (Article 80), providing the mandate for federal legislation on animal welfare. This specifically covers animal keeping and care; animal experimentation; the use of animals; the import of animals/animal products, animal trade and transport; and slaughter.
In 2002, Germany introduced a provision to its Constitution that is widely read as upholding the protection of animals as a major state objective, binding on all state actors. It reads: “Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the state shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals by legislation…”
Chapter VI, Article 225(1)(VII) of Brazil’s Constitution (1988) provides that the government must protect flora and fauna from all practices that subject animals to cruelty prohibited by law.
Part 4 of the Serbian Constitution (2006) refers to the “protection and improvement of flora and fauna” as an area for government protection, although the term “fauna” here is generally considered as meant to applying only to wildlife, not animals used in food production.
Animal Holocaust Museum
Animal protection must have a constitutional ranking
1) A provision similar to Article 51A(g) in the Indian Constitution requires to be introduced into the Constitution of Sri Lanka, thereby imposing a Fundamental Duty on every Sri Lankan citizen to have ‘compassion for living creatures’, and
2) The Chapter dealing with the Directives of State Policy in the Constitution of Sri Lanka should include among its objectives ‘the acceptance of State Responsibility for the protection, and the promotion of the welfare of other living creatures’.
Internationally, the 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. The next stage is animal liberation. It is an unstoppable march.
Constitutional Reform in Sri Lanka must be in step with these global trends on Animal Welfare and Animal Rights.
Senaka Weeraratna is an Attorney at Law. Holds a Bachelor of Laws degree (University of Sri Lanka), and Master of Laws (Monash University, Australia). Holds a Diploma (Buddhist Studies) and Master of Arts (Buddhist Studies) obtained from the Post – Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya.