Every year, millions of animals are killed in India either to feed the non-vegetarian population or in laboratories for medical experiments. Cruelty against animals is a cognizable offence under Section 428 and Section 429 of the Indian penal code. There is an urgent need to implement effectively the laws made for the protection of animals. The first step towards which is educating children to have respect for animals and treat with them kindly. Food and shelter should be provided to street dogs by government shelters, and registered firms and NGOs to assure their safety. There is also a need to have stricter laws for protection of animals.
Compassion and kindness are true-blue Indian values. Even the Constitution of India reflects these values in its Fundamental Duties [51 A (g)]. Show your kindness and stand up for the animals.
In the early twentieth century, when the colonial state’s emphasis shifted from the ‘preservation of game’ to the ‘protection of wildlife’ in keeping with the emergence of a global conservationist discourse, the “natives” were now deemed incapable of appreciating the aesthetic value of ‘Nature’ because of their inherently “utilitarian” philosophy of life. Contemporary critiques of the “cruelty” of those people who live in intimate proximity with wild animals, ‘cruelty’ that is believed to be rooted in an inability to appreciate Nature at best and in natural depravity at worst, echo these racialised colonial discourses in disturbing ways. Indeed, the demand that “problem” animals be “humanely” killed with a clean shot instead of explosives (as if shooting does not often lead to debilitating injury for wild animals) is eerily, even if unintentionally, reminiscent of colonial distinctions between “good” and “bad” hunting.
On May 30 2020, Mohan Krishnan, a Forest Officer in Kerala, posted images of an elephant standing chest-deep in a pool of clear green water to his Facebook page. The text accompanying the image described how the elephant, who was pregnant, had eaten some fruit that concealed an explosive. She stayed in the water, presumably to find relief for her injuries, until she eventually passed away. This isn’t the first instance of cruelty that burst into headlines. In 2016, a police horse Shaktiman, died following the merciless thrashing it reportedly received from a BJP MLA during a party rally in Uttarakhand and the ensuing political battle over who deserves blame raises the more important moral battle around our treatment of animals in India. Such incidents have become all too common (just a few days after this tragic incident, a young man was charged with stabbing stray dogs on the streets of Delhi). This pattern of animal abuse across India reveals enduring weaknesses in our country’s laws against cruelty to animals.
While the elephant’s death was an unhappy event, the categories of “cruelty” and “innocence” that were deployed to narrate it are not simply descriptive. Instead, they are the legacy of complex histories and politics. For instance, the supposedly intrinsic “cruelty” of the “natives”, a racist caricature, was a favorite theme in the shikar memoirs of many colonial officials. Colonial hunters condemned most “native” shikaris, who belonged largely to Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi communities, for the lack of “sportsmanship” they exhibited in the method they chose when killing animals, whether it was poisoning carcasses or setting snares and traps for animals.
These practices were criminalised as “poaching” under game-protection laws passed by the colonial state in the late nineteenth century. Ironically, these laws were passed to arrest a steep decline in wildlife numbers that was caused not by “native” hunters, but by what could be described as an orgy of hunting by colonial officials bent on eradicating “vermin” animals (which included tigers, lions, leopards, bears, and wolves among others).
Glimmer of Hope
The onus is only partially on lawmakers – and yes, we have made some progress in the last few years. In 2014, the Ministry for Health and Family Welfare published a draft notification to amend The Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, to ban the import of cosmetics tested on animals, as I had proposed. Humane Society International estimates that approximately 100,000 to 200,000 mice, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, dogs, and monkeys suffer and die for the sake of cosmetics — an alarming number, which may be an undercount since many countries do not have reliable statistics or data.
Narratives that emphasise the intrinsic innocence of animals are also problematic in the ways that they construct the object of activism. As the anthropologist Miriam Ticktin notes, figures of innocence – whether the child or the animal – play a key role in driving modern humanitarian projects because they promise a space of purity in an impure world. Much animal-welfare activism, for example, relies heavily on the claim that it is morally good to protect innocent animals, who cannot protect themselves, from human depravity. However, as Ticktin argues, innocence always implies its opposite: non-innocence. Establishing the innocence of the pregnant elephant thus relied on highlighting the ‘conscious, criminal cruelty’ of those who killed her. The danger of these categories, then, is that they create a purity that makes it difficult to understand the complex history of human-animal relationships in everyday contexts where humans are as much at risk from wild animals as the other way around.
As its righlty said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. So, we need to stop animal cruelty at home by not attacking stray dogs. So maybe we should all take a minute to step back and think, before freaking out the moment we see a stray dog on the street? After all, what harm can it really do to us? It has no reason at all to attack us, and there is, therefore, no reason to fear an attack from it. Further, if stray dogs can dauntlessly strut around humans, in light of the torture we inflict upon them, we should also have the courage to not be afraid of them.
It is surprising how such incidents occur in a land that has worshipped animals for centuries. The very core values of Hinduism live in consonance with nature, as vividly demonstrated in the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Gods have presented themselves as animals in their various avatars, formed partnerships with them and used them as sacred vehicles (vahanas) and companions – from the little mouse that Ganesha rides, to Anantha or Sheshanaga, Vishnu’s snake bed and protector, or Hanuman, Rama’s vassal who plays an integral role in helping him defeat the ten-headed King Ravana. Animals have been celebrated in our lives and culture sice time immemorial. Hence, it is time we stop our inhumane behaviour and let animals live without pain.
“Unseen they suffer,
Unheard they cry,
In agony, they linger,
In loneliness, they die.”