Do India’s animal cruelty laws need a relook?

Pet groomers punch dog in Maharashtra: Do India

The saying goes as ‘dogs are man’s best friend’. But a recent case in Maharashtra’s Thane proves otherwise.

A video showing two staffers at a pet clinic mercilessly punching and kicking a dog has gone viral on various social media platforms, prompting even Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to take serious note of the incident.

Many people, including several Bollywood actors, such as Varun Dhawan, Bhumi Pednekar, Malaika Arora, have also expressed their outrage over the viral video, demanding justice for the canine. Additionally, it has also put the spotlight on laws on animal cruelty in the country, with many saying that in the existing form they are toothless and without any bite.

We take a closer look at what exactly happened in this horrific case and what do our current laws say on animal cruelty.

Punches rain down on Chow Chow

A few days ago, a video went viral in which two men are seen punching and kicking a dog at a pet clinic in Maharashtra’s Thane. The horrific abuse took place at the Vetic Pet Clinic located in R Mall in Thane. The clinic specialises in grooming and care of pet animals.

The video shows two of the clinic’s staffers repeatedly punching a Chow Chow, named Tofu, on its face and back. After that, the dog was seen getting down from the stretcher and walking out of the room even as the man kicked it.

Shortly after the video went viral, Nilesh Bhange, an office-bearer of animal rights organisation PAWS, and a few others approached the Kasarwadavli police station and a non-cognisable complaint was registered. Social media users also condemned the act, calling for action against the staffers as well as the clinic where the incident took place.

Later, Street Dogs of Bombay, an animal rights group, stated that the accused — Mayur Michael Aadhav, 19, and Prashant Sanjay Gaikwad, 20 — were arrested. The dog’s owner, the NGO said, has also taken legal action against the accused.

Call for action against the accused

Many big names, political and from Bollywood, have decried the incident. Maharashtra MLA MLA Pratap Sarnaik, from the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction, urged the police to take stringent measures. Sarnaik was quoted as telling MiD Day, “The video went viral across the country raising concern about cruelty to animals. Even the Chief Minister, Eknath Shinde, received a related complaint. I request the Thane Police Commissioner Ashutosh Dumbre to file an FIR, in the matter even if a non-cognisable case has been booked.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray also voiced his disgust at the incident. He wrote on Instagram, “Just came across this video. This man deserves nothing less than double of how he treats these voiceless creatures.”

Celebs also expressed their concern over the abuse to the four-legged animal. Malaika Arora wrote on Instagram, “I am in shock… this disgusting human needs to be punished and beat mercilessly. How the hell does violence like this get away.”

She further wrote, “I just hope that poor helpless doggie is ok. Am just so angry I believe they have got him. Now authorities time for action and severe punishment.”

Others like Bhumi Pednekar, Riteish Deshmukh, Amruta Arora, Sonu Sood, Varun Dhawan all raised their voice on the matter.

Rising instances of animal cruelty in India

In the last few years, there has been an alarming rise in the number of cases where puppies, dogs, and cats have been burned alive, thrown from tall buildings, or beaten mercilessly. In fact, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) in a 2023 report wrote that there have been 20,000 intentional and brutal crimes against animals in the last 10 years in India. This mean an average of five stray animals are killed per day in a violent act.

What is even more shocking is that the report states that the actual number could be at least 10 times higher, which means 50 animal deaths per day and an average of two animals being senselessly killed every hour in the country.

In recent years, cases of cruelty towards animals has risen in the country. A 2023 FIAPO report states that there have been 20,000 intentional and brutal crimes against animals in the last 10 years in India. File image/AFP

And if one looks back at the newspapers in the past two-three years, there have been some horrific cases that have been reported. For instance, a dog was hanged to death by two youths in Ghaziabad in November 2022. In September of the same year, a doctor in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur tied a dog to his car and dragged it across the city. And in March of 2016, a woman in Bengaluru flung eight puppies against a rock to kill them because she didn’t want them in her street.

There’s also the appalling incident from Lucknow in April last year. An entire dog family was subjected to unspoken brutalities within the Lucknow University campus. Several of the puppies were poisoned while the mother was burnt so badly that she hardly had any skin left.

And even just last week, a puppy was thrown from a high-rise building in Greater Noida onto the road, resulting in the death of the animal.

The ‘toothless’ laws dealing with animal cruelty

The Thane incident and other such episodes have got many asking what are India’s laws on animal cruelty and if they are effective.

In fact, people who are found to have committed such heinous crimes are charged under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960. This law came about thanks to the efforts of Rukmini Devi Arundale, the first woman in India to be appointed to Rajya Sabha, who introduced a private member’s Bill on the matter.

The Act defines cruelty to animals –– including acts of overburdening or overworking it, not providing the animal food, water and shelter, mutilating or killing an animal, etc. As per the legislation, first-time offenders can be fined not less than Rs 50 but not exceeding Rs 100. In the case of a second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence, the fine shall not be less than Rs 25 but could extend to Rs 100 or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with both.

As per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, a first-time offender is punishable with a Rs 50-100 fine, which activists argue is too lenient. File image/AFP

A call to change the law

Animal welfare activists along with the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), a body established under the 1960 Act, have, however, been calling for a change in the legislation, terming it to be without any bite.

In 2016, a group of animal welfare organisations and activists came together and started the #NoMore50 campaign, urging the government of India to amend the 1960 Act to update the penalties such that they serve as a deterrent. The number 50 is a reference to the ridiculously low fine that is imposed as punishment under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Several known names have joined this campaign, including actor Nagarjuna as well as former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi.

Even the Supreme Court in ‘Animal Welfare Board of India vs A Nagaraja & Others’ stated that the 1960 Act needs to be amended to provide an effective deterrent in the form of adequate penalties and punishment.

In Parliament too, there have been private member bills proposing an amendment to the 1960 Act. In September 2020, Kishanganj MP Mohammad Jawed introduced a Bill saying the punishment for cruelty towards animals should be a Rs 25,000 fine or imprisonment for a term which may extend up to one year or both, and in the case of a second or subsequent offence, the fine should be between Rs 50,000 and 1 lakh and imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to two years.”

Activists complain that the existing laws on animal cruelty are too lenient. A draft law was created in 2022, which had more stringent punishments. However, it is yet to be tabled in Parliament. File image/AFP

And in 2022, the Centre drew up the Draft Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2022 following discussions and deliberations with stakeholders. The amended legislation included ‘bestiality’ as a crime under the new category of ‘gruesome cruelty’ and defined gruesome cruelty as “an act that leads to extreme pain and suffering to the animals which may cause lifelong disability or death”.

The proposed law stated, “Gruesome cruelty shall be punishable with a minimum fine of Rs 50,000 which may be extended up to Rs 75,000 or the cost may be decided by judicial magistrate in consultation with the jurisdictional veterinarians whichever is more or with the imprisonment of one year which may extend up to three years or with both.” It further proposed a maximum five-year imprisonment, along with a fine, for killing an animal.

However, it is yet to be tabled in the Parliament, with activists increasing the pressure on the Centre to table it and pass it.

May be when the law is passed and stricter punishments are put in place, will we not see and report such heinous and horrific crimes against animals in society.

With inputs from agencies

Do India’s animal cruelty laws need a relook?

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