If only Shaktiman was a cow, he might be safe today. For those who have not heard, Shaktiman is an Uttarakhand police horse, who was serving his nation dutifully until he was allegedly attacked by a group of people, including BJP legislator Ganesh Joshi, who beat him with a lathi and broke his leg.
The incident occurred on March 15, while the party was staging a protest against the Harish Rawat government. The doctors had to amputate the leg, but thankfully it was fitted with a temporary prosthetic limb. Veterinarians say the 14-year-old horse will be fitted with a permanent prosthetic leg in a few days and will be “able to lead a normal life”. Since Shaktiman is a police animal, justice has been swift and a case was filed against Joshi and 10-12 of his supporters under Sections 429 and 188 of the IPC.
This incident, however, points to a larger social malaise of people treating animals poorly. Some belonging to certain political parties are known for protecting India’s bovine population, often at the risk of human lives, but they seem to have different standards for other animals. The cruelty meted out to Shaktiman is just one shameful incident. There have been several cases of malnourishment and ill-treatment of carriage horses, which is why the practice of ghoda gadi has been banned in many areas. Let us not forget the beasts of burden, the mules and donkeys, which are often overloaded and are seen collapsing on a hot summer day along the roadside.
With due respect to non-vegetarians, one must critique the inhumane treatment meted out to animals and birds on their way to slaughter houses, be it goats or chickens. No doubt, the concern for livestock is lesser because they are going to die anyway. Many religions, however, which partake of meat-eating like Judaism and Islam are clear that even when the animal is to be consumed or sacrificed, it should be done in a human manner. In a country where people are stuffed into buses and trains beyond the vehicle’s capacity, it seems moot to argue for the rights of animals or that they should be treated humanely on their way to slaughter. Yet one must make this argument because animals cannot speak for themselves.
The culling of stray dogs is another form of cruelty often practiced even in tony colonies of the national capital. A viral video captured a man torturing a stray dog in the area and a recent report in a leading daily indicated that these particular colonies are known for over 150 cases of animal abuse, especially stray dogs. In many instances, dogs are poisoned, which results in a prolonged painful death. NGOs like Friendicoes, PETA and Red Paws Rescue, all Delhi-based organisations, have spent a significant amount on sterilisation campaigns while trying to find homes for stray puppies. The NGOs have reported that often police appear unconcerned to bring any animal abusers to justice.
Laws do exist to prevent this cruelty, however. Sections 11 and 12 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 (PCA Act 1960) ensure that people can press charges against someone who is caught abusing, torturing or mutilating an animal.
Our laws against cruelty to animals go way back to Emperor Ashoka who banned the killing and hunting of all animals in his kingdom, when he was enlightened by Lord Buddha. Yet, urban Indians, who have exposure to all kinds of global information on animal rights, do not want to share their planet. In fact, some citizens of Delhi have approached the Chief Minister with a petition to make Delhi dog- and pigeon-free. This kind of absence of an entire species will lead to an imbalance in nature; and then where will we stop? Animals in the wild, domestic animals and livestock are no longer treated with humanness and it’s time we started doing so. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee