A rash of reports of cruel attacks on animals have surfaced in 2016, most recently when a resident of Dwarka area in Delhi – an unemployed man with a history of alcoholism and a domestic violence charge – allegedly used a hacksaw to chop off a front and a hind leg of a 2-month-old stray puppy. He invited the puppy in, offering it food and acquired a scratch in the process from the excited creature when it eagerly reached for it. Flying into a rage, he revenged the scratch by committing the dastardly deed on the defenseless little animal.
What makes this ruthless act ‘unexceptional’ is that it is merely the latest among the several reported acts of cruelty against animals (and possibly thousands of undocumented ones) that have been committed this year in India. Hardly a fortnight ago, a monkey was reportedly tied, beaten and killed by some students of Christian Medical College, Vellore and a leopard was brutally beaten to death by the villagers in Sohna village near Gurgaon. A police horse died in Dehradun due to beatings it suffered from MLA Ganesh Joshi at a rally in Dehradun. Other reports – often with outraging video evidence – have surfaced this year from Kerala, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad in which dogs and puppies have been burnt alive, stabbed, thrown out from heights and smashed to death against boulders. Yet, all those perpetrators are out there, walking scot-free – perhaps within a few hours of indictment. One doesn’t have to be a professed animal lover to feel appalled at these wanton acts of cruelty and murder.
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Animal cruelty provides a sadistic pleasure to the perpetrator(s) in watching a voiceless being suffer without fear of reprisal. Clearly, an effective law could constitute an actual deterrent, but the corresponding law of this country has always been weak and its laughable penalty has not been updated in 56 years. Unless the holy cow is involved — a first-time offender can walk free on paying the maximum penalty of paying a fine of Rs 50 – a sum so paltry that it would not even constitute a slap on the wrist. A second time offender would face a fine of Rs 100 and up to 3 months of imprisonment. This joke of a punishment under a toothless law almost serves as an encouragement to those who abuse and torture animals. In contrast, this is the year the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US has reclassified animal abuse as a ‘group A’ felony under which it would be prosecuted with a seriousness at par with arson, kidnapping and homicide. It would also make it easier to obtain harsher sentences for convicts and to identify young offenders.
It is our humanity that is at stake. But there is more to it. There is a growing body of research that correlates sociopathic tendencies with acts of abuse against animals. While one must be circumspect in handling that weighty claim, there is considerable evidence that those who abuse their companion animals rarely do so in a vacuum and have a tendency towards other interpersonal forms of violence – familial as well as domestic. The underlying, disturbing desire is common — to attain and feel in control. It is little wonder that the recent offender charged with mutilating the puppy, is also allegedly a wife and child beater.
India must re-examine its law as there is no other way to immediately address this oft-sidelined form of violence, one that stray animals are most vulnerable to. Neither the BJP nor the Congress have updated the ancient Prevention against Cruelty to Animals law so far. While several working days and considerable time in the Parliament is spent over ‘more’ important, high profile issues such as the GST Bill and demonetisation – this is also important. In the words of the Father of the nation, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. And we also don’t want potential perpetrators of cruelty-against-humans roaming fearlessly.