Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why the comparison?

I don't know about the rest of you, but I was thrilled to wake up this morning to the news that that execrable homo sapien, Salman Khan, had actually been sentenced to five years' imprisonment for having killed a chinkara, which, as we all know, falls under the endangered species category. By the time I reached the end of the news story, however, I was feeling rather disturbed - at the way the news had been presented. Rather than being glad that punishment had been meted out in an instance where the law had been violated, and that too to someone like Salman Khan, who had money, power and connections behind him, the newspapers have been busy drawing parallels with the Jessica Lal case, and asking: so if the death of a chinkara could receive justice, why not that of Jessica Lal? The implication is clear - animals seem to matter more than humans.

Now this is patently unfair. The Jessica Lal case shocked all of us - and anyone who's heard me raving and ranting about it cannot accuse me of dismissing it as not worthy of consideration. But I'm sorry, I have to ask - are these two cases related? I don't think so. So why, then, this comparison? This is not Salman Khan's only offence, people. He killed several chinkaras, a blackbuck (another endangered species) - there's a separate case pending against him for that - and he's also facing yet another lawsuit for reckless and drunk driving, which left three people dead. (It's another matter altogether that the man should have been tried for murder - 3 people dead! - but the indisputable fact remains that the dead happened to be pavement dwellers, whose lives don't matter, and the accused a Bollywood star, whose life and tantrums certainly do.) The man's been going around breaking laws with impunity, be it the wildlife preservation one, or the ones pertaining to drunk driving - and in one instance, at least, he's got what he deserved. I think the blatant misuse of the law and order machinery that we witnessed during the Jessica Lal case is precisely the reason why this is an occasion to rejoice - that somewhere, at least, the law is being upheld, and the accused brought to justice, regardless of who he might be.

I really wish people wouldn't make this an animals versus humans debate. And I'm not just saying that because I'm well-known for my passion for animals, wildlife, the environment. Most acts and bills that are passed are put in place because it serves some function, and protects some essential aspect of society and our lives - be it our right to religious freedom, protection of property and the sanctity of human life, or the preservation of wildlife, to name just a very, very few. Anyone breaking any law that serves to protect and preserve deserves to be punished through the proper channels - whichever they might be, it's hard to tell these days. How do we get to decide which laws are more important, and therefore which crimes more worthy of punishment? Isn't it enough that someone in some court has finally done something right?

And incidentally, animals don't have it good in India. Far from it. Like it or not, they have just as much a right to live on this earth as we do. And no, we do not have the right to play God merely because we're better equipped, for the most part, in terms of weapons, strength or technology to lord it over them. Maneka Gandhi's already done irreparable damage to the animal rights movement, which willy-nilly has come to be associated with her hysteria alone - and now the media seems to be following suit. Sure, go ahead and ask why justice could not be meted out in the same fashion in the Jessica Lal case, in the Sanjay Nanda (he of the BMW notoriety) case, in every case that comes up for trial - perhaps one day those accountable will be made to answer. But please, let's not trivialise the little victories that are taking place, merely because they happen to be vis-a-vis a different species.