Less than a year ago, the heart-breaking story of a pregnant elephant killed after allegedly being fed a fruit stuffed with explosives in Kerala, India, went viral on social media. People were horrified and called for more stringent punishment against animal cruelty.
As terrible as it was, the story of the elephant is no isolated incident. There have been innumerable instances of animal cruelty taking place across the country for years on end. One of the primary reasons for this has got to be the lack of deterrent. I was appalled to learn that the 60-year-old archaic Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, allowed people to get away with committing heinous acts of violence against animals for a paltry penalty of Rs. 50 (which is less than a dollar).
The proposed Amendment: What it entails
The recently proposed amendment to the PCA Act is a leap in the right direction. While this is indeed a welcome move for animal lovers, the proposed draft amendment to increase the penalty up to Rs. 75,000, or three times the cost of the animal, or a jail term of up to 5 years or both, is far from an overnight change.
According to Alwyn Sebastian, a legal consultant for animal welfare organizations such as People for Animals (PFA), Bangalore and CUPA, the amendment proposal has been lying in Parliament since 2016.
“One of the reasons they haven’t talked about it earlier is because animals remain a non-issue for the government. They are not vote-banks, and will not garner any sympathy votes. I think activism is what pushed for change”.
There were several intertwining factors and collective efforts that led to this move.
Animal Lovers Push for Change
People for Animals (PFA), Delhi (India’s largest animal welfare organization founded by Maneka Gandhi), along with the Humane Society International (HSI), launched a campaign wherein they called for all animal welfare organizations, activists, lawyers, individuals and pet owners across the country to write to the Central Government and demand for change. Apart from this, the lockdown saw several instances of animal cruelty take social media by storm. People finally had enough.
A change.org petition was circulated garnering over 7 lakh signatures in less than a fortnight from citizens demanding that the archaic law be strengthened.
Mass Sensitization: The Need of the Hour
The Bill is yet to be passed in the Lok Sabha, and only once it is passed and made available for public opinion will we know what it entails. While the Bill would certainly be a step in the right direction, it still doesn’t necessarily do away with another issue that plagues the animal welfare movements across the country- the sheer lack of awareness and desensitization among the people.
“I work on the ground; we receive at least 5-6 cases of animal cruelty per day in Bangalore. It’s incredible how many instances of animal cruelty remain unreported. People don’t talk about it enough, there are several societal taboos associated with these issues. We receive some shocking cases on a regular basis”. – opined Alwyn.
One of the issues he spoke about at length were of the horrific cases of sexual abuse on dogs. He believes that people don’t speak about these issues because of the stigma surrounding them, as well as the notion that it’s not sexual violence if it isn’t inflicted upon a human being.
In 2018, the Supreme Court of India struck down the draconian Article 377 under the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized homosexual activity. While this was certainly a much-needed move, what a lot of people remain unaware about today is that the Act also included Bestiality as a serious criminal offence, a part of the law that remains intact.
Several people have been under the impression that the entirety of the Act has been decriminalized, due to which several sexual abusers can walk away scot-free! The state of misinformation in the country is so grave that it permeates all ambits of authority including the police and even the judiciary to a large extent.
Another issue he shed light on was with regards to the regularization of transport of poultry and farm animals. I’m sure most of us have had the experience of looking at chickens tied together at the back of a scooter, or cows crammed together at the back of a van while we wait for our turns at traffic signals.
“I understand that they’re eventually going to be killed, but the fact that they are treated like they’re already dead, is something that the government really needs to change”- says Alwyn. Regularizing a system wherein poultry transport and poultry factories are required to meet certain basic hygiene standards, must be strictly enforced by the government.
While researching for this article, I thought it would be fitting to include the perspective of those who have a practical understanding of matters on the ground. Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), Bangalore, is a non-profit, NGO, that provides rescue and rehabilitation care for suffering animals.
According to Nitish, a representative of CUPA, Bangalore, who works under their response to cruelty against animal’s wing, the majority of complaints they receive have to do with negligent pet guardians. “Getting a dog when it’s a puppy is all fun and games, but eventually we find that many pet owners begin to slack off. The most common complaint we receive is that of dogs that are kept chained all day, or in very small kennels without being fed or walked sufficiently.
He believes that the core of the issue lies in the fact that for a big chunk of the Indian population, owning a dog of an exotic breed has become somewhat of a ‘status symbol’. While this may be a matter of personal preference, the demand for certain breeds has led to increasing cases of illegal backyard breeders mushrooming everywhere. They use unhygienic confinements and often perform illegal medical treatments on the dogs to sell them for high prices.
“When we try to approach the police to report such instances, they are usually so overburdened with work that animal welfare falls at the bottom of their priority list”- says Nitish.
These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. The list of issues that plague animal welfare movements appears to be endless. From pet animals to farm animals, or even animals used for entertainment purposes, the issues are widespread and deep-rooted. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a priority for any of the stakeholders involved, be it the government, law enforcement agencies or even common citizens. The snail-paced legal processes under which we operate in India has allowed for innumerable heinous crimes to be committed for negligible fines. This is not only infuriating but also unacceptable. Mass sensitization and a change in the narrative are the need of the hour.