Animal lovers take to the streets Demand long-overdue Bill | Sunday Observer

Animal lovers take to the streets Demand long-overdue Bill

Pix: Chaminda Niroshana
Pix: Chaminda Niroshana

In the absence of strong laws to prevent Sri Lanka’s animals from harm and more importantly due to the lack of public awareness about the level of cruelty unleashed upon animals, a group of animal lovers organised a peaceful demonstration at Viharamahadevi Park, last week. The silent protest led by Extinction Rebellion Sri Lanka, the local arm of an international animal rights organisation was supported by a few other organisations working for the cause.

In the wake of the three-and a half-year-old dog - Kukee being brutally attacked and injured by a machete, the dormant notion about cruelty against animals was brought to life again in the hearts of animal lovers all over the country. It was not that long ago that we heard of similar incidents, where dogs were shot and killed in Kobeigane, Kurunegala, a tamed elephant in a leading Buddhist monastery was beaten by its mahout and a dog named Charlie was burned to death in its cage.

The 100-rupee fine

It is evident that Sri Lanka lacks laws to protect its animal population from the mistreat of its citizens. The best example is the centuries old Act, where any level of cruelty on an animal can be settled with a fine of Rs. 100, the maximum possible punishment available. Animal lovers have urged successive governments for decades to introduce a new law to ensure the safety of animals, understanding that the current law made no significant difference than having no law at all.

“There have already been two protests urging the passing of the Animal Welfare Bill this year. This is the third protest for 2020. We decided to bring all groups together to show that the public really wants a solution,” Tihana, a forerunner in the campaign and member of Extinction Rebellion Sri Lanka, told the Sunday Observer.

Believing that animals that live in Sri Lanka are also ‘Sri Lankan’, a key principle of this dialogue has been that animals also have a right to live and be happy.

“Pets, captive elephants and wild life are not legally protected from people who aren’t animal lovers.

This allows them to be physically harmed - taking away their lives, causing them pain, shackling them and keeping them locked away. These people hardly pay any penalty for doing so,” Tihana said.

She added, “Most of the battle is already won. There are other people working hard behind the scene, like writing and redrafting the bill. They have been doing the difficult job of agitating for more than a decade”.

Social activist Shanuki De Alwis was also among the group of protesters at Viharamahadevi Park, at the Nelum Pokuna roundabout. Advocating for animal rights for years, she wanted to highlight the fact that a perpetrator can get away with a Rs. 100 fine, irrespective of the inhumane nature of a crime against an animal.

“That’s ridiculous!,” she said.

Comparing how the world has progressed in terms of animal welfare, she stressed the need of bringing Sri Lanka back to where it used to be, built on compassion and kindness.

“We need laws in place to stop people playing God and having immunity against cruelty. It is very sad that it is taking this long. However barriers are being created by people in authority to make changes,” she said.

No vote, no voice

Gihan Dinushka, a leading animal welfare activist and founder of Baw Baw was also among the crowd. He has campaigned for a long time for sterilisation of stray dogs to decrease the dog population and is actively engaged with taking care of injured or attacked dogs. He thinks that only a fraction of Sri Lankan society has an understanding of animal welfare.

“The importance of this demonstration is to draw the attention of not only passers by, but also of people who see it on media.

If it makes at least one person think about animals in a different way, that is victory to us,” he said.

Gihan believes that as animals do not possess a vote, Members of Parliament pay no attention about violation of their basic rights. “As we are about to face a general election, it is a good opportunity to convince politicians to do the needful, by showing that we will only back politicians who support animal welfare,” he said.

Meanwhile, a promotional video on social media had passed the message among many about the demonstration taking place. As a result more than a hundred people were seen joining the cause.

Waruni Weerasinghe who introduced herself as an animal lover, thinks that it is high time for someone to take a stand for those who cannot speak for their rights.

“That is why I am here today. If we keep pushing and if people see the amount of cruelty on animals, they would never turn a blind eye to it,” she said.

SL can do better

Interestingly, a few foreigners were also seen among the protestors with trilingual placards.

Rebecca from the United Kingdom was also a part of the demonstration because she wanted to help Sri Lankan animal lovers.

“I am participating because I would like to see more laws for the protection of animals in Sri Lanka,” she said.

Rebecca had read several articles about the loopholes in animal welfare in Sri Lanka and she strongly believes that the country can do a lot better.

“There’s is a lot of support out there. It is quite clear from all the people who turned out today that Sri Lanka needs more for the animals, “she said.