Amidst the various challenges the country is facing in battling COVID-19, the news of death of a 15-year-old pregnant elephant in Kerala’s Palakkad has not only generated several debates but also triggered a nationwide outrage.
Even as some reports suggest that the elephant might have consumed explosive-stuffed food that was meant to trap wild boars, the ongoing probe ordered by the State Government is expected to provide vital inputs. During autopsy, notably, no bullet or any other metallic or foreign object was found in any part of the deceased elephant. Reportedly, as the primary post-mortem indicates, the immediate cause of death was due to drowning followed by inhalation of water leading to lung failure. It is believed that wounds and injuries in its oral cavity might been caused on account of an explosive blast in the mouth. Pain and distress possibly prevented the injured elephant from taking food and water for about nearly two weeks. Consequently due to severe debility and weakness the hapless animal died standing in the Velliyar River on May 27.
Surely the incident cannot be considered as an isolated one. Man-animal conflicts exist across the globe and India is no exception. Nonetheless many such horrifying occurrences coming to light through the media are simply distressing. Not long ago, a leopard which came into a Haryana village was chased and beaten to death by a mob of more than 1500 persons. A tiger was killed in an identical incident in a village outside the Kaziranga National Park. Elsewhere someone took sadistic pleasure in dragging a stray dog (with its front legs tied) behind a motor vehicle till it died. When found abandoned on the road side, its eyes were popping out and blood oozing out from the body. What a pain the canine would have undergone before dying. It is simply unthinkable that a security guard deployed in a private would be so inhuman to thrash a dog mercilessly. Well, it sought shelter from down pour but paid with its life. Close to 50 stray dogs were poisoned to death on the instructions of a village Sarpanch and the dead bodies were dumped at a water project site.
In so far as allegations of cruelty meted out to captive elephants in Kerala, particularly in temples, the Supreme Court in 2015 had directed the Chief Wild Life Warden to undertake a headcount of all of them and act against those keeping them without requisite permission. More recently the Apex Court directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to send a team comprising veterinary doctors to examine and take all steps to restore the health of the elephants at Amer Fort and Haathi Goan in Rajasthan and submit a report regarding the medical conditions of those elephants.
While dealing with the Rights of Animals under the Indian Constitution, laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology, more specifically in the conduct of Jallikattu, Bullock-cart races etc. in the States of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, the Supreme Court in the Animal Welfare Board Of India vs A. Nagaraja & Others case observed in 2014 that every species has a right to life and security, subject to the law of the land, which includes depriving its life, out of human necessity. Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word life has been given an expanded definition and any disturbance from the basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animal life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution. So far as animals are concerned, in our view, life means something more than mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human-beings, but to lead a life with some intrinsic worth, honour and dignity. Animals have also a right against the human beings not to be tortured and against infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering. Rightfully the Court noted that “penalty for violation of those rights are insignificant, since laws are made by humans”.
What does the law of the land say?
Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, anyone who beats, kicks, over-rides, over-drives, over-loads, tortures or otherwise treats any animal so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or causes or, being the owner permits, any animal to be so treated; shall be punishable, in the case of a first offence, with fine which shall not be less than ten rupees but which may extend to fifty rupees and in the case of a second or subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence, with fine which shall not be less than twenty-five rupees but which may extend to one hundred rupees or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with both.
Section 428 of the Indian Penal Code - Mischief by killing or maiming animal of the value of ten rupees:-Whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless any animal or animals of the value of ten rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. Section 429 - Mischief by killing or maiming cattle, etc., of any value or any animal of the value of fifty rupees:- Whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.
In the US, the posting of a short video by a young man on the social media landed him in jail. The crime he committed was that he lured a stray cat by stretching out his hand. He then suddenly kicked the unsuspecting animal so violently that its body got propelled through the air, clearing a small fence and landed about 20 feet away. While the cat suffered untold pain, the youngster enjoyed every moment of it.
Animal cruelty puts the society at large to shame. Research has concluded that 43% of those who commit school massacres also committed acts of cruelty to animals – generally against cats and dogs. Animal abuse was found in over 88% of homes in which physical child abuse was being investigated. If a child is cruel to animals, it may be a sign that serious abuse or neglect has been inflicted on that child at home. Children who witness animal abuse are at greater risk of becoming abusers themselves. A study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that animal abusers are in fact five times as likely to also harm other humans.
It needs to be appreciated that animals have certain fundamental rights that humans must respect – the right to life, liberty and freedom from unnecessary suffering. Why can’t human beings be noble and desist from harming animals? After all they too feel pain. If the laws are made quite stringent, it can act as a deterrent.(Published on 8th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 24)