It’s difficult to argue for the preservation of animal rights in a country like Bangladesh, or a world like the one we currently find ourselves in, when the very notion of even simple, obvious things, such as the rights of humans, face an existential threat.
Dogs were killed in Chittagong, you say? Animals are being needlessly tortured? War, famine, starvation rage across the plains of our earthen shores and you want to sit in your air-conditioned office speaking of how inhumane it was to have killed a few dozen dogs? Spare me the grief.
There is hypocrisy on both sides; there is a growing need for understanding across the divide. But if you don’t see how the treatment of animals reflects on a society, maybe you need to spend more time with them
If you’ve ever been out on the streets of Dhaka, if you’ve ever taken a walk, you have noticed both immense cruelty and kindness amongst the people who inhabit the sidewalks and roads. You have noticed children play with puppies and kittens and you’ve seen people treat them with utter violence, and how the helpless animals have yelped and squealed in pain.
This speaks of two things. One: There is humanity, if I may call the virtues of kindness and empathy thus, in us. And two: There are those amongst us who lack it.
These aren’t breakthroughs in psychosocial behaviour. These are qualities present in any population large enough to be called a people.
But, if the most disenfranchised in our society, if those who find themselves clinging on for dear life to the lowest rung in the ladder that is the socio-economic make-up of Bangladesh, can find it in themselves to care and cater to the un-humans which sometimes dare to occupy the same space as we do, it behooves us, even from the laid back position of our bed of roses, to argue for the ethical treatment of animals.
The reason we should care if dogs -- the most selfless of creatures, the most religiously persecuted -- and other animals are mistreated is because it is indicative of how morally defunct a society can be. Of course, I’d be the first to admit that caring about animals seems secondary when there are people, actual people, in our country, who suffer at the cruel hands of those who rule us, who seek to create a divide based on wealth and privilege, who exist in separate spheres of society merely because they weren’t born in the right place, at the right time.
As such, some of us have looked down and rolled our eyes at the way certain cultures treat their animals. We cannot comprehend, for example, how people have animals in their homes, how they have dogs in their midst, licking their feet and faces, sharing their beds, cuddling kittens. We have done this because we have concluded that it’s because they, perhaps, don’t have enough to worry about, and can afford to look towards animals and protect them, care for them, love them.
But these cultures are also the ones where the rights of its oppressed people, not just animals, are better served and catered to. Even though Trump rages on against the immigration of Muslims (or, rather, citizens of countries with a majority Muslim population), it has allowed for a great number of people to grow sympathy and empathy for the marginalised.
It has at least allowed for a culture to flourish which lets people speak up (somewhat) in favour of the oppressed (to some extent). It has, both in theory (which we do, somewhat) and in practice (which we hardly do), taught people to see the world less in the lines that our ancestors had drawn, and more in the way hearts beat, across nations and species, much the same.
Some might find the idea of equating immigrants to animals objectionable but that’s exactly how many see people of other cultures, races, religions, classes, as less than that. Some might mention the hypocrisy involved in fighting for the rights of dogs while one sits at their dinner table and gorges on a rib-eye steak.
And the further hypocrisy of the upper-middle class who allow their pets to come up on the bed, nuzzle them, while they treat their servants as if it is they who are the animals, reserved for certain places, caged in factions of ill-repute. Some might say that the connection between how a society treats its animals and how it treats the weakest amongst it is tenuous at best.
And none of that would be wrong. There is hypocrisy on both sides; there is a growing need for understanding across the divide. But if you don’t see how the treatment of animals reflects on a society, maybe you need to spend more time with them. Maybe, if you find it so inexplicable, you can find yourself at a dog-owner’s house, and see how humans can only hope of being as doting and as loving as a dog is.
Only then maybe you’ll see who the animals really are.
SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune.