Gentle old Karpu, the Devaraj Park mascot, was run over deliberately by a retired ADA employee in December. A week before, Velli, his companion of 10 years, was stabbed almost to death. Sheroo, another old dog, was run over by a father-son in Hulimavu and died in excruciating pain a month later. The car driver was a retired police inspector and his son. They had done this once before. No one has been arrested or fined so far. It's surprising, isn't it – perhaps if there was proof, an FIR, a case, evidence, people to follow up – they would be punished? But hold on, in both cases, there was! Gruesome CCTV evidence was painstakingly gathered where the moment, the driver's deliberation and the agonizing death of the dogs were captured. A detailed FIR after a proper autopsy was done by a group of determined feeders who wanted justice. Achala Pani carried Karpu's body for over 6 hours- to the station awaiting an FIR request and then to the vet hospital for an autopsy. There was a determined involvement of BBMP, SPCA and it was well covered by the media. PCA and the related IPC laws allow the imprisonment of up to 5 years, but the retired inspector was released immediately on station bail. The feeders who cared for these dogs weep to think of the justice they have gotten for these old gentle beings. The Whatsapp group buzzes still, and the fear is of the infamous B Report that police most often file will close the case in the system. It is only a Rs 50 fine, said a policeman, implying the impact of the crime and how its viewed by the system. The two retired criminals must be sniggering behind closed doors. In Rajajinagar, opposite the ADA employee home, Karpus's feeders came every single day with flowers, chalk poems on the tar road, and famous folk singer Vasu Dixit sang a spontaneous ode of sorrow and loss at the spot. It was poignant but led to no significant justice, just helplessness. We all fought, with honour, with sincerity and grave sadness, and will continue to do so -but all it did was leave us guilty—just a dog.
The PCA (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act) amendment draft bill, where it is proposed to increase both the quantum of fine (up to Rs 75000) and the years of punishment, has been a long time in the making. Horrible cases rise daily. There have been attempts before this via a private bill etc., but this is the first time that the government has taken a concerted strong view and collective action on updating the cruelty fine as well as the quantum of punishment. I sincerely hope it is passed. It is hopelessly overdue.
However, let's look at this from a few perspectives.
First, most fair people and definitely those who are animal lovers will welcome this draft bill as being the just and equitable thing to do, something that is being done however past its due action date.
Secondly, by throwing it open to public consultation, I am sure that some of the minor issues can be discussed, ironed out and incorporated it into the final law. Laws on domestic abuse, dowry, child abuse have also gone through a few discussions to get them right.
Thirdly, given the current situation where there is also legal slaughter of animals, the exact breadth of animal cruelty, i.e. what constitutes it, what is the evidence that is needed etc would be critical. These laws will only work if all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.
The mechanism for cruelty implementation is critical, as is the leadership, guidance and strong umbrella of the AWBI (Animal Welfare Board of India) as well as citizen partnership. Luckily the AWBI had made setting up of the SAWB (State Animal Welfare Board) mandatory on all the chief secretaries via their circular dated 2013 and once again remind them of the need for SPCA at the district level in another circular dated December 2018. Many states still have not, but Karnataka recently has, thanks to the constant push by animal advocacy organizations like CJ Memorial Trust and CUPA. We are lucky that due to online petitions and public interest petitions be organizations like ours on setting up a Karnataka Animal Welfare Board (KAWB), which was finally formed in November 2019, after a four-year hiatus. After stringent follow up & petition, the District SPCA for Bangalore Urban finally came up in 2020. I mention this for a very specific reason because, without the structure of the national, state and district level animal welfare boards (i.e. the AWBI, SAWB and SPCA), the implementation of the PCA law becomes very sketchy indeed.
Fourth, what about the police, the single largest partner as far as animal cruelty is concerned? There will be an increased need for training, sensitization and managing of workload. Again, in August 2018, the AWBI Secretary sent a circular to the DGPs in all states of India to specifically ensure both knowledge and sensitization of the laws as well as support to animal lovers on issues around animal cruelty, filing of FiR etc., knowing full well that this stakeholder was the most critical in ensuring a case of cruelty reached its final destination of fine and/or jail time. The sad thing, of course, is that this is more in the letter than in the spirit, and most overworked police stations in India are often dismissive, indifferent and ignorant about animal cruelty laws, forget supporting those who filed. CJ Memorial Trust has petitioned & written to Karnataka DGP and Police Commissioner requesting considered action on this.
Fifth, considering the increased complexity for both alleged perpetrators as well as victims, it becomes important to communicate, educate and define cruelty across the population, so people are aware and take the right corrective action. Examples would include transporters of cattle who may not know it is illegal to transport in a particular fashion, home breeders who may not understand that they must be registered by the state animal welfare board as a breeder in order to mate their own dogs, many pet shops or small breed fanciers (which are actually puppy Mills) would be guilty of cruelty under the act. Of course, it is said that lack of knowledge of the law does not absolve one of the crime, but it's still incumbent when there has been sweeping change in the punishment to ensure that enough information and advance notice. Similarly, for people in the animal welfare space or lay people who may or may not know what constitutes cruelty or not, having a set of clear faq's, escalation matrix or helpline, and HAWOs would be of enormous help. Most critically, implementers in the system, i.e. police, SPCA, Veterinarians, Indian Veterinary Association Kennel, Club of India and so on, must be informed on the nitty-gritty and implementation via clear circular, and they must ensure its adherence by members.
Of Respect For Animal Rights
As a go forward, it becomes increasingly incumbent on us to thrash out every detail across various combinations, types of animals, discuss the recognition of cruelty, the action complement the partnership from citizens and animal lovers, as well as a strong legal system that allows this to go through. A basic SOP and a set of FAQ's is needed for the animal lover, police and the layperson. It is interesting to note that the Madras High Court has just passed a strong order on the issue of dogs in the IIT campus, stressing collaboration of species, of living together, of respect for animal rights as well as ensuring the animal laws of the country are clearly and unequivocally delineated.
Duty Of Police To Solve, Punish & Prevent The Crime
We are brainwashed to fuzzily think these are only animals, and therefore the crimes should be perhaps forgiven or treated as minor ones. The public should also know that those guilty of animal cruelty are often those who commit other gruesome crimes against humans – the connection to a serial murderer, rapists and paedophiles is a well-documented correlation in the USA. While studies are not available in India, the extrapolation is obvious. Last year at a panel discussion at the Police Commissioners office, my fellow panellists, a DCP, agreed with me that the duty of the police is not just to solve and punish crime but to prevent it. This was a case where there were clear flags on future crimes, she said.
Yes, it is possible that in the first year, there may be issues of implementation, breadth, misuse, as there are with all large impact rules. That is why the above points, buy-in and a more holistic understanding must be driven, whether as government or concerned citizens. We must do this and do this right. Or else, the helpless screams of the peacefully sleeping Karpu as the front and then the back car wheels crunched over his head and spine are for nothing.