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Animal Cruelty Prevention in India: An outdated law and the reason we are falling short

We as a country are undoubtedly excelling in fields such Job growth, economic growth of the poor, International relations, Climate change and many more, but there is one gaping hole in our country’s legislation- Animal cruelty prevention laws.

We as a country are undoubtedly excelling in fields such Job growth, economic growth of the poor, International relations, Climate change and many more, but there is one gaping hole in our country’s legislation- Animal cruelty prevention laws. The single greatest testament to this claim is the fact that our country’s most prominent Animal Cruelty prevention law was legislated in 1960, yes, 1960.

And since then, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) has never even been amended. Meaning, the monetary fines imposed for crimes against animals in 1960, still stands to date. In this article, we’ll talk in length about the law itself, it’s shortcomings, analyse our conversation with PETA India, and hence evaluate where exactly India stands as far as Animal cruelty prevention is concerned.

Between 2012 and 2016, there were over 24,000 cases of animal cruelty reported under the PCA. Since then we’ve seen horrific cases of crimes against animals, such as the death of Shaktiman the police horse in March 2016, beating and killing of a dog in Chennai in 2019, poisoning of 50 stray dogs also in 2019, and most recently, the cold-blooded murder of a pregnant Elephant in Kerela a few weeks ago.

In our conversation with PETA, here’s what they had to say about the cases of animal cruelty they regularly encounter: “A multitude of cruelty to animals cases are reported to PETA India regularly ranging from people abusing community dogs and cats, cruelty towards stray cattle that are typically discards of the dairy industry, cruelty towards companion animals, illegal slaughter/killing of animals, cruelty towards animals kept in captivity or used for entertainment.”

Why is it that people are getting away with murder so easily and justice is not being served to the voiceless? To answer this let us take a look at the specifics of the PCA and what amendments could be made, as cited by NUJS Law Review.

Section 11 of the PCA is the main section which punishes instances of cruelty by listing specific offences. It renders beating, kicking, over-riding, over-driving, over-loading, torturing, which causes unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal, and many other offences punishable. Even though these crimes are deemed “punishable”, let us take a look at that punishment imposed. Page 8 of the NUJS Law review states the penalty for the above mentioned crimes:

Subjection of an animal to any of the acts, specified under 11(1) (a) to (o) of the Act, makes the offender (in the case of a first offence) liable to pay a fine that may extend to only fifty rupees. In the case of a second offence or a subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence, the offender shall be made to pay a fine of not less than twenty-five rupees, the quantum of which may also extend to one hundred rupees or the offender may be imprisoned for a term which may extend to three months or both.

PETA says that, “If any society chooses to treat cruelty to animals lightly, they are encouraging violence towards humans too. That’s because research in psychology and criminology shows that people who commit acts of cruelty to animals often don’t stop there – many move on to hurting other animals or humans. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that a history of animal abuse is one of the traits that regularly appears in the records of serial rapists and murderers.

It adds, “This is the case in India, too: Veerappan was a poacher as well as a serial killer, and the infamous Noida serial murders of children took place at the home of Moninder Singh Pandher, who was fond of hunting.(…) Acts of cruelty to animals are indicative of a deep mental disturbance and often, animal abusers move on to harming humans. For example, in a study of domestic violence victims, 60 per cent of women said that their abusive partners had harmed or killed their dogs or other animals. Animal abusers are a danger to everyone – they take their issues out on whoever is available to them, human or non-human, and must be stopped before they act again.

There’s a study by Caleb E. Trentham that shows, through Data Analysis, the link between recurrent childhood animal cruelty and recurrent adult interpersonal violence. The current study continues to explore this potential link by examining 257 violent and non-violent inmates from a Southern state. Demographic characteristics, (race, educational level, and childhood residence) and recurrent acts of childhood animal cruelty are used to predict later violence against humans among this sample.

Of the 257 respondents, 126 inmates had engaged in childhood animal cruelty. Inmates who reported hurting or killing animals during their childhood did so on average 5.68 times. Of the 175 inmates who had engaged in interpersonal violence as adults, they had done so an average of 3.57 times. The findings suggest that respondents who committed childhood animal cruelty may have become desensitized to other acts of violence and therefore, participated in criminal behavior in their adulthood. In fact, all of the respondents in the current study who had engaged in childhood animal cruelty had done so prior to committing any acts of reported interpersonal violence.

Another study by ASPCA written by Allie Phillips shows a link that consists of the coexistence of two or more of these intra-familial crimes: child abuse (including physical and sexual abuse) or neglect, domestic violence (including stalking and rape), elder abuse or neglect (including financial exploitation), and animal abuse or neglect (including sexual assault, animal fighting and hoarding). The Link also includes the co-occurrence of animal abuse with other types of crime, such as homicide, weapons offenses, drug offenses, sexual assault, arson, assault or other violent crimes.  

In such circumstances, laws that impose a fine of rupees 50 won’t even teach the offender a lesson, let alone prevent others from acting the same way. Such light laws are not only harmful to our society and our animals, it has certain legal implications as well. Pg. 18 NUJS law review states the lack of Proportionality between the penalty and the offences-

The proportionality doctrine is not codified explicitly, but rather features in all legislations as a component of administrative law. Proportionality specifically in cases of imposition of punishment needs to satisfy a two-fold purpose, viz. fairness towards the offender and fairness towards the society. The first equivalency of penalty is measured against the accused, wherein the punishment should not be harsher than the crime committed. (…) Presently, the maximum punishment of fifty rupees is not even close to being considered of a harsh nature. Therefore, from the perspective of the offender, it cannot be said that the liability imposed is unfair, and thus not proportional.

At this point it is clear that amendments to the PCA are the need of the hour. Over the years, amendment bills to the PCA have been introduced. In 2011, a draft bill titled the Animal Welfare Act 2011 (‘Draft Act, 2011’) was introduced by the AWBI in the Parliament to replace the present PCA. The Draft Act sought to bring a shift from a defensive position to a positive, welfare-driven and well-being oriented approach, by strengthening animal welfare organisations and enlarging the definition of animal abuse, in keeping with the times and in consonance with judicial pronouncements.

The draft bill, besides, adding a few more categories of cruelty to animals and making the bill more comprehensive, also prescribed greater and more apt penalties for cruelty towards animals by multiplying the old fines, under the PCA, by a factor of a thousand. Following this, the Animal Welfare bill was introduced in 2014, and another Private Member Bill was introduced in 2016, both calling for higher penalties and broadening the scope of offences. Unfortunately, none of these three bills have been passed in parliament and to this date, we are stuck with an Act that is half a century old.

With laws this stringent, we as citizens must take up the responsibility of spreading awareness against animal cruelty, educating people of the heinous crimes that are committed on a daily basis, and raising our voices, demanding stricter laws to save those who don’t have one.

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