I used to think so-called ‘stray’ animals were unsafe mainly on the roads of our country. But in the last three years, three non-pedigreed cats have been knocked down by speeding vehicles on a stretch of road inside my colony. Their deaths were slow, painful and unimaginably cruel. They left behind offspring, friends and well-wishers. They belonged to all families residing here and they belonged to no one in particular. Confusing though it sounds, the fact is these colony cats were not kept confined to any one house and were free to come and go as they please at the homes they felt welcome in.
While there may be rules to protect animals who live on streets, those inside residential areas are also at risk from speeding vehicles, carelessly-driven vehicles, drunk drivers or those using their mobiles while driving, becoming dangerous for both animals and humans.
However, efforts to save animal lives, both inside and outside colonies do not get the same attention as when it is about humans suffering due to hit-and-run accidents. This amounts to speciesism and must be dealt with as such. Speciesism is the idea that being human is a good enough reason for human animals to have greater moral rights than non-human animals.
Speciesism is often condemned as the same sort of bigotry as racism or sexism. People who oppose speciesiesm say that giving human beings greater rights than non-human animals is as arbitrary (and as morally wrong) as giving white people greater rights than non-white people.
Apart from the obvious callousness that defines the attitude of rash drivers, animal haters and (largely) indifferent authorities, it is the knowledge that you can get away with killing a ‘stray’ animal by paying less (if the culprit is ever identified and booked, that is) than a bag of chips that makes them so smug and unaccountable.
According to Section 11 (i) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, harming or putting an animal’s life in danger is considered a punishable offence but the fine is, incredibly, only ₹50!
“It does not behove a civilized society that the only punishment for hacking a puppy to death is a paltry Rs 50 fine and no jail term. It flies in the face of our Constitutional duty under Article 51A (g), which enjoins us to have compassion for all living beings and not just humans,” advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing an NGO, had told a bench of Supreme Court Justices Dipak Misra and Siva Kirti Singh in May 2016.
The appalling nature of the response to animal cruelty is evident in the way pet animals are discriminated against as per their ‘deemed value’. While IPC Section 428 provides for a maximum of two-year jail term for killing or maiming an animal of the ‘value’ of Rs 10, the punishment is up to a five-year jail term if such an offence is committed against animals ‘worth’ Rs 50 or more.
A large part of blame for the present treatment of animals lies with the wholly misleading picture presented to the common people about the desirability and ethics of animal ownership. The rosy scenario includes depictions of cherub-like puppies and kittens and other ‘pets’ bouncing around or playing joyfully amid luxuriant green spaces or those shown as happy to welcome back their ‘owners’ after a long day of being confined to the four walls of a house.
The reality is diametrically-different and grim.
‘Pedigreed’ breeds of ‘pet’ animals are conceived and bred in captivity, with metal contraptions restraining the male and female of each such breed till intercourse is achieved and ejaculation is complete. There would hardly be any takers for puppies, kittens and other young ones of animals if their breeding conditions became public knowledge. However, the ‘pet’ needs industry — grooming, accessories, medical treatment — could be behind preventing the truth from coming out.
Albeit slowly, things appear headed in the right direction — that of giving all sentient beings control over their lives, including the basic right of not being brought into being for exploitation and profiteering in the first place. The reach of social media and the relative ease with which animal rights activists can now connect and prevent animal exploitation and bring to justice perpetrators of animal cruelty is heartening.
A sincere, effective approach is needed to change the attitudes of authorities dealing with cruelty towards animals, involving but not limited to hit-and-run accidents involving both ‘pets’ and ‘strays’. Only the fear of the law and that of concomitant punishment/penalty is likely to deter humans who are cruel towards animals, humans who condone such cruelty and humans who prefer to be indifferent towards animal cruelty because they feel it does not directly affect them.