This article has been authored by Shruti Avinash, a second year student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.
‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’
- MK Gandhi
The recent suo motu Writ Petition in the Kerala High Court for the ‘protection of animal rights in the State of Kerala’ was filed in the aftermath of the inhuman killing of a hapless dog at the hands of three youngsters. The dog died an unconscionable death and was thrown into the ocean after. The perpetrators have been arrested, one of whom was purportedly a minor. At present, there are apprehensions that the lax animal-protection framework in India would allow the accused to escape stringent punitive action for their cruelty. Such apprehensions are not completely unfounded. This article uses opposite theories of criminal justice to analyze India’s laws for animal cruelty.
Violence-Graduation and Animal Cruelty
The Violence-Graduation Hypothesis of animal cruelty believes that animal abusers progress from torturing and killing animals to more serious forms of violence against humans. It posits that both witnessing and inflicting cruelty on animals in forgiving settings causes persons to enact violence, sexual assault, and torture against humans in subsequent interactions. Essentially, it states that cruelty against animals is predictive of violence against humans in adulthood. This hypothesis serves as the bedrock upon which the argument for strict cognizance of animal cruelty is made.
Some nations awoke to this reality of animal abuse and unearthed a strong link between animal cruelty and other crimes. The FBI in 1966 recognized the role of animal cruelty in threat assessment, and Law enforcements began making an active effort in the prevention of animal cruelty to break the cycle of violence and abuse. As per a study conducted by the National Link Coalition, animal abuse is one of the top three indicators that a woman will be killed by her batterer, and one of the top four risk factors that someone will become a batterer. These statistics convey the need to feel alarmed on discovering an incident of animal cruelty, and the need to indict perpetrators immediately.
The Broken Windows Theory
The Broken Windows Theory is a theory of crime prevention that pays attention to minor signs of the disorder and misbehaviour in societies as precursors to more serious crime. The theory was proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling as being foundational to bigger incidences of crime, creating fear within the community. In remedy, the theory recommends a higher degree of proximate policing and community vigilance in ensuring that even the smallest signs of disorder are appropriately dealt with.
In situating the Broken Windows Theory against the Violence-Graduation Hypothesis in countering animal cruelty, it can be said that community-wide cognizance and condemnation of animal cruelty is in the interest of preventing progress of the crime, creating more than just a moral incentive for the prevention of animal cruelty.
Framework in India
In India, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 punishes animal cruelty with a fine of ₹10 which may extend to ₹50 on first conviction. On subsequent conviction within three years of a previous offence, it is punishable with a fine of ₹25 which may extend to ₹100, or imprisonment of three months or with both. The fine amounts may have been somewhat deterring in 1960, but are negligible today. Contextually, these punishments appear geared against retributive punishment and appear to take a soft view of animal cruelty.
Animal protection laws appear to be guided by Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution, which is non-justiciable and recommends ‘compassion for living creatures.’ This implies that the implementation of anti-cruelty laws in India presupposes morality and compassion within the social order. The absence or erosion of these qualities would ordinarily mean a failure of reporting cruelty, rendering the law impotent.
Provisions in Forward Jurisdictions
● United States of America
This Law references definitions of ‘serious bodily injury’, ‘suffering’ and ‘harm’ caused to animals in the same manner that it approaches crime against Human Beings in Chapter 109A of the US Code (on Sexual Abuse and Harm).
Switzerland was the first country to constitutionally recognize animals. Article 4(2) of the Animal Welfare Act (2005)prohibits infliction of pain, suffering, anxiety on an animal and even injury to the dignity of an animal. There is also a framework to prohibit the mistreatment of stray dogs, farm animals and domesticated animals. Hence, the Law criminalized activities which are physically painful and cruel, but also acts which endanger the dignity of animals.
Austria has one of the most stringent regimes for the prevention of and punishment for cruelty against Animals. Austria’s Federal Act on the Protection of Animals (2004) places the life of an animal on the same pedestal as the life of a human being. The minimum fine payable for acts of cruelty against animals is $2,420, (which is nearly 7000 times that in India). Incidentally, Austria also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
Apart from the stringent penalty and imprisonment for animal cruelty present in each of these jurisdictions, a commonality among them is the parity in dignity afforded to animals and human beings. Such an outlook is absent in India, with humans themselves being denied their dignity on occasion. India’s approach does not owe dignity to animals, rather it relies on the morality of persons to tether animal protection as an act of optional benevolence.
Hence, it cannot be expected that a drastic increase in fine and imprisonment for animal cruelty would have the same effect in India as in other jurisdictions. India may have to use a tailor-made approach in order to effectively deal with animal cruelty.
The Broken Window theory would require that animal abuse is not swept under the carpet, and instead, is dealt with an early response for the protection of other animals and vulnerable members in society. If a community notices its children deliberately bullying animals, tying them to automobiles, starving them or abusing them with firecrackers, usual practice is to dismiss such behaviour as ‘mischief’.
The Theory would prefer the elders of the community to question acts of animal abuse, and take it upon themselves to prevent animal cruelty and torture. Creation of stigma around taking the life of an animal plays an important role in social control, safety and order within that community. There may be a graduation in the size of the animal being tortured, hence even the smallest acts of cruelty must be treated seriously. This creates an argument for a more punitive and preventiveapproach to curbing animal cruelty as opposed to a expiatory outlook.
The Violence-Graduation theory must be used to involve people in the protection of animals as a symbiotic goal. The connection between animal abuse and progression of violent crime against humans must be told to the masses with the view of social and legal threat assessment. This creates a perception of joint cause, encouraging persons to report and condemn even slight incidents of animal cruelty.
The trifling view taken in India towards those animals that do not create profitability means that the life (death) of an animal carries little value to onlookers of animal cruelty. Most acts of cruelty are brushed off as drunken mischief or ‘experimentation.’ There is a lenient approach toward the reporting and prosecution of incidences of animal cruelty.
Its societal outlook fails the object of deterrence, which is sought to be achieved by the punishments. Therefore, India should do better to sensitize its population and youth by means of community awareness and discipline. The punishment for animal cruelty must be made more stringent as the present punishments are ludicrous. Further, the prevention of animal cruelty must be taken up seriously to pre-empt the progression of violence against human beings. Apart from being let off after serving their punishments, convicts may be mandated to undergo counselling for the purpose of both psychological alleviation as well as criminological assessment. They may also be asked to engage in community service at an animal shelter or NGO. The creation of a symbiotic goal or incentive in the protection of animals, as well as encouraging social control will go a long way in changing the realities of animal protection.