California Goes to India

And from the Dept. of You Can’t Make This Up, we have a report from The Times of India of a judgment rendered by a court in Delhi, identified as the Delhi High Court.

Some Indian analogue to PETA had freed a bunch of birds from the cages in which a bird merchant was keeping them.  Legal proceedings ensued (the report doesn’t make very clear whether civil or criminal, and by whom initiated and against whom).  A trial court had directed that at least some of the birds be released  back to the merchant from whom “liberated,” and the animal rights folks had sought an injunction barring that release.  [I’m curious how the birds, who had after all been freed from their cages, were re-captured so as to be released back to the merchant in the first place.  I mean, if I’m a bird kept locked up and someone comes along and pops open the door to my cage, my country ass it outta there.  You couldn’t, as an old judge friend of mine says, find me with a search warrant.]

The animal rights group appealed that portion of the trial court’s action, and the appellate court bit down on their argument in toto, in language that seems alarmingly over-broad for a society which has some difficulty feeding itself.   Justice Manmohan Singh allowed:  “I am clear in mind that all the birds have fundamental rights to fly in the sky and all human beings have no right to keep them in small cages for the purposes of their business or otherwise.”  Really?  “All birds” have a “fundamental right” to fly “in the sky” and humans have “no right” to keep them for any “purpose” (how else can you read the “otherwise” in that sentence?).  “This court is of the view that running the trade of birds is in violation of the rights of the birds. They deserve sympathy. Nobody is caring as to whether they have been inflicted cruelty or not despite a settled law that birds have a fundamental right to fly and cannot be caged and will have to be set free in the sky.”

The breadth of that statement would sweep in chickens, geese, ducks, or any other bird raised for food or for their eggs.  According to Justice Singh, even keeping your chickens in a hen-house with an outdoor run enclosed by fencing would violate the birds’ “fundamental right” to fly “in the sky.”  The full opinion isn’t quoted in the article, but if the decision had turned on a law proscribing the birds’ being in the possession of the merchant — such as American federal law which criminalizes such private possession or trade (and I actually had a client once who’d recently been enlarged from Club Fed for precisely that offense) — you’d think the court would have mentioned it and the article likewise.  But there’s none of that, but rather only the categorical announcement of a “settled law” establishing a “fundamental right” to fly in the unrestricted “sky.”  The specific source for the right is not cited in the article, so I wonder whether it’s in India’s constitution or some statute somewhere, although the judge’s invocation of a “settled law” is a pretty strong clue that he’s just making it up as he goes along, the South Asian variant of black robe fever being presumably indistinguishable from its American strain.

Wow.  I mean, just wow.  Eating beef is severely constrained in India by reason of religious scruple.  Pork is considered by a sizable proportion of the population to be unclean, likewise on religious grounds.  And now an appellate court has decided that the only practicable way to keep domestic birds for eggs or food is as a proposition of “fundamental right” impermissible?  I guess the population living near the ocean or near rivers can fish, if the water’s not too polluted.  But what are the rest of India’s one billion-plus population to do for animal protein in their diet?

I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that Indian judges are just as susceptible to silliness as our own.

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