By, Karishma Venkiteswaran and Saumya Trivedi, SYBMM, KC College
In the summer of 2007, in one of the most crowded suburbs of Mumbai, a harmless dog was brutally beaten up with hockey sticks by a group of ‘fun-loving’ teenagers. This was an act committed with no prior provocation. The consequences of this incident not only turned the otherwise ordinary young boys into criminals, but also led to the untimely gory death of the dog. In the light of this heinous deed, is it possible for us to tag humans and animals as separate entities?
Cruelty to animals essentially means inflicting suffering or pain upon animals for reasons other than self-defense. The Puritan definition of animal cruelty classifies it into two sub categories – active and passive. Active is the committing of intentional physical atrocities against animals, whereas, passive is the apathy and ignorance to the needs of animals.
Recently, animal cruelty has become a topic of debate in the wake of the Victoria carriage controversy, wherein, Sultan, the horse died due to negligence of the rider; this created a furore regarding the safety of the horses in our city. Shirley Advani, founder of the Save Our Strays Organization, believes, “Dogs and horses don’t belong to such a congested city. How do you expect them to ply in the traffic ridden roads of Mumbai?” It has been reported that the horses are not only forced to work all day, but also made to brave the monsoon without a proper shelter.
Not only horses, but also cattle and monkeys are falling prey to cruelty. As per the Food and Agriculture Organization, in the year 2000 alone, 24,300,000 cattle were killed in India for other industrial purposes. Circus industry proves gruelling for the animals, where they are forced to display stunts uncharacteristic of them, after hours of intimidating practice. PETA India reports state, “Birds used in circuses often have their wings clipped, which prevents them from flying. Elephants are routinely beaten to keep them docile.”
Zoo, oft considered a safe haven for animals, in reality, deprives animals of their natural surroundings. In Mumbai, the Byculla Zoo paints a sorry picture regarding the well being of animals. Hina Thadani, a visitor at the zoo was appalled to see the condition of the animals there. “I was shocked to see people pelting stones at the hapless hyena which was trying to escape its cage restlessly. Even the crocodiles were listless.”
Now the question that arises is why humans commit such heartless atrocities against other living beings. “In my opinion, the perpetrators of animal cruelty are downright psychopaths” says Selvi Raja, Animal Welfare Officer at the NGO, In Defence of Animals (IDA). This fact is backed up by a number of psychologists who believe that most of the criminals start off as animal offenders.
Negligence on part of the pet owners is a cause of concern since many are not aware of the appropriate ways of handling of them. Ask Karan Harimohan, a resident of Borivli, who recently lost his two week old pet hare. “I was not aware that hares are sensitive to touch, especially in their lower belly area. By cuddling him, what I thought was a show of fondness, ultimately became the cause of his death.” Advani comments, “Fearing animals, a large number of housing societies come up with bizarre rules, barring pet owners from providing a home for them.”
In India, religion plays an important role in shaping the mindsets of the people. Hence, for people from certain communities, killing of cows and elephants is not warranted, since they are thought to be sacred. However, they do not shy away from killing dogs and horses which are perceived to be from ‘lower’ religious strata. On the contrary, some communities do not take into consideration any ‘caste or culture based hierarchy’ induced on animals.
Cruelty to animals is not only the fault of the offenders, but also of the guardians of the law, that is, the police force. Mr. Shenoy, the manager of IDA, says, “Quite often, the police refuse to lodge an official complaint mainly due to their lack of knowledge regarding the animal welfare laws.”
The above mentioned predicaments boil down to one major all inclusive cause of animal cruelty – apathy and lack of awareness at governmental, societal, cultural and most importantly, individual levels.
Despite such glaring problems, there is still a ray of hope for us. The Government has started taking positive measures for the modification of pre existing laws. The Animal Welfare Act 2011 has increased the penalty charged to the offenders from the original sum of fifty rupees to a whopping ten thousand rupees with a possible jail term of two years. This is the first step on the part of the Government towards accepting animal cruelty as a serious crime.
For the laws to be implemented effectively, it is vital for the law enforcement agencies to be in sync with the changes in the system. The Government can conduct workshops equipping policemen with the awareness of the laws and promoting sensitivity towards the sufferings of the animals. This will ensure that they take proactive and correct measures to deal with the cases of cruelty.
Corporate social responsibility is expected out of the companies which deal with animal products and by products. With new technologies, alternatives to animal products are easily available in the market. In extreme circumstances of lack of substitutes, the companies should take up the moral responsibility of causing minimal pain to the animals.
For more than a decade, various NGOs have come into existence to prevent the cruelty meted out on animals, though there is still a long way to go for them. Zoos and institutions like IDA and many others local NGOs still lack funds and access to necessary resources due to the inability to promote their cause. The Government needs to start supporting such organizations through funding. Also, like Advani rightly points out, “Social networking sites are a smart way of spreading information to a wide range of audience, and NGOs should grab this opportunity.”
Off late, media has also been playing a responsible role towards protection of animals. Campaigns like Save Our Tigers and commemorating days like Poison Biscuit Day have guaranteed that this cause does not fade away from the public memory. In order to keep the momentum going, the media should follow up on cases which need to be highlighted.
Animal rights activists like Maneka Gandhi have taken the responsibility of bringing to task those who commit crimes against animals, like in the recent Amar Circus fiasco in Nagpur, where she filed a report against the Circus owners for forcing a blind hippopotamus to work and for making the elephant Padma work, though they had not obtained proper permits for the same.
Man has long trivialized the sufferings of animals, at the cost of his humanity. Mahatma Gandhi always said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” It is time we live up to it.