The people of Karachi have long since ceased to expect paan and ghutka consumers to dispose of their betel leaf concoctions in garbage bins. But the recent photograph making the rounds on social media – of two crocodiles in Karachi Zoo slumbering in the sun, their backs decorated with crimson spit stains – shows that the matter has gone too far.
It was journalist Zia-ur-Rehman who tweeted the picture on the 16th of January, captioning it “A sorry sight: crocodiles soak up the sun at the Karachi Zoo after paan and gutka-using visitors spat on them, leaving their bodies with blood-red spots.” People responded with horror and disgust, condemning this act as atrocious and “jaahil”.
It’s easy to see why this image has struck a chord with us – it encapsulates perfectly the careless cruelty Pakistanis often show to animals. Of course, the zoo staff bear some responsibility for their negligence. In fact, our state-run zoos have a long history of cruelty towards their captives – throughout the years they have consistently failed to provide animals with adequate protection from the cold, or with hygienic surroundings. But it cannot be denied that as a whole, the Pakistani community seems to lack all sense of civic responsibility when it comes to the treatment of animals.
Perhaps it’s because of a pervasive and misguided cultural notion that animals were created by God solely to serve humans. Or perhaps living in a country where even child slavery doesn’t get a backward glance desensitises us. It can be difficult to muster up pity for animals when humans are suffering so gratuitously around us. In fact, “we have bigger problems” is often used to silence animal rights activists in Pakistan. But compassion to all living things is a basic tenet of what it means to be human.
Unfortunately, sometimes it seems as if animal cruelty is too pervasive within Pakistani culture to ever be eradicated.
There are laws against animal-fighting, but they are weakly enforced. Camel fights during the Layyah festival in Pakistan draw many spectators, and many people insist that this sport is an integral part of Punjabi culture. The camels are trained for a year for the fight, and any wounds that they incur are treated with village remedies. Vets are not summoned, because of expense and the illegal nature of the enterprise – and because animal hospitals in Pakistan are anyway few in number and poorly run.
During Eid-ul-Adha, many of the “butchers” hired for the ritualistic animal sacrifice are unqualified for the task. The animals are often housed in inhumane conditions before being slaughtered with unnecessary brutality, but all of this is overlooked because it falls under the protective umbrella of religion. Children witnessing all this grow up believing that animal abuse is justifiable.
Vegetarian Muslims have to contend with hostile attitudes from other Muslims, who accuse them of defying sunnah and claim that it is sinful to abstain from food that God has made lawful.
Restaurants in Pakistan also rarely cater to a vegetarian diet, since Pakistanis enjoy meat-heavy cuisines. However, a market study by Euromonitor International indicated that Pakistan has the second-fastest-growing vegetarian population in the world – although this is probably in large part due to the rising cost of meat.
This, along with the painstaking efforts of organisations such as PARO (Pakistan Animal Rights Organisation) and CAWO (Critters Ark Welfare Organisation), leads us to hope that with time there will be a shift in the way our culture views and treats animals. We have a long, long way to go – Pakistan was given an “F” under the Animal Protection Index and performed poorly under the Sanctioning Cruelty category, largely due to its treatment of captive animals (such as the animals kept captive in our zoos).
Initiatives such as the Vegan Muslim Initiative are working on a global level to highlight the religious obligations Muslims have towards animals, and to nature as a whole. Their efforts are especially relevant nowadays, with the reality of climate change posing a threat to our biodiversity and the entire natural world.