Indian students will soon sit for an exam that will test their knowledge on desi cows and also ‘boost awareness’ about indigineous bovines. But can we also have an exam on how to protect dolphins — our national aquatic animal — in light of the disturbing video that has surfaced recently? Or how to not put explosives in fruits that elephants eat, or not to throw a puppy off a rooftop?
In India, it seems, some animals are more important and worth protecting than others.
The shocking video that went viral on social media Friday showed a Gangetic dolphin, an endangered species, being brutally axed to death by a group of men in Uttar Pradesh. Police have so far arrested three men, only after the video went viral. No surprise there! It always takes a viral video or a pregnancy of an animal (read elephant) to jolt authorities into action.
These acts of bestiality are not systemic meat industry crimes that are invisibilised, which too are also concerning, but they’re acts seemingly committed with no real motive, or sometimes just for fun — which makes it even more scary.
Such incidents of animal cruelty happen everywhere in India, and very frequently, but how many of them trigger outrage or ensure action? Very few.
India is truly a land of dichotomy — where we mark our respect to animals (read lions, cows, rats, owls, swans, monkeys, snakes, and many more) in temples as ‘vahanas’ (vehicles) of deities, but we don’t care two hoots about them in real life.
Repeated cases of animal cruelty
A similar case of cruelty against Gangetic dolphins had come to light last year in March in West Bengal, where a video was uploaded on social media showing a group of men holding the species by its tail and torturing it.
Not just dolphins, stray dogs and leopards have also been a constant object of human savagery. Remember the incident in Assam in June, where a leopard was not just trapped and killed, but his carcass chopped off too?
In July last year, a dog was beaten with sticks and bricks, and dragged for a few kilometres from a motorcycle, hours after she gave birth to four puppies in Patiala. Then in October, a stray dog in Ludhiana was beaten to death, leading to the police filing an FIR against security guards of an upscale neighbourhood. In Hyderabad last month, a dog was beaten to death in an Army welfare housing colony. Surely, socio-economic status or education give no guarantee of ‘civilised’ behaviour.
These cases of animal abuse also reflect a deeply disturbing disrespect humans have for nature — a trait that shows no signs of going away.
The frequent cases of animal abuse in India also point towards weaknesses in our laws, which carry negligible fines.
The penalty for most serious forms of animal abuse range between Rs 10 and Rs 50, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The axe and sticks with which the Gangetic dolphin was killed in UP probably cost more than the penalty.
Such paltry penalties don’t just allow people to easily get away with animal abuse, but also show how we disregard the seriousness of their ill-treatment. Despite increasing incidents of violence, torture, and abuse against animals over the years, the penalty hasn’t yet been revised.
The law has other weaknesses too, as most of the offences under it are non-cognisable, which means the police cannot arrest the accused without a magistrate’s permission. This not only leads to police inaction, but also ends up ensuring that the perpetrators go unpunished.
Demand for stringent laws, harsher penalties, and their effective implementation is not just a must to guarantee welfare of animals and tackle cruelty towards them, but to also ensure that India doesn’t become a country where only cows are safe from human depravity.
Attack against muted and defenceless beings is probably the worst kind of violence, and laws alone cannot stop it. Unless our society’s attitude of contempt and indifference towards animals changes, such incidents aren’t going to stop.
Views are personal.