Justice for Sexually Assaulted Animals– Has India Failed?

Horror stories of humans raping animals are cropping up at an unprecedented rate in India. In July this year, accounts of eight men gang raping a pregnant goat in Haryana sent the media into a frenzy as the society struggled to wrap its mind around the depravity behind the act. Another man was caught having sex with a stray dog whose mouth he had tied with a rope. In August of 2018, a security guard was booked by the police for raping a stray dog named Bindu. This month, a similar event was recorded in Andra Pradesh where unidentified persons raped a pregnant cow. While these acts undoubtedly make us question human morals, another problem arises with regard to how our legal system deals with the issue.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act) is the major legislation in India dealing with cruelty against animals. With respect to the safeguards against assault on animals, the act is severally lacking in addressing the rising problem. Chapter three of the Act lists various acts by persons which is considered a cruelty. In cases of sexual assault of animals, the accused is generally charged under Section 11(1) (a):

Section 11. Treating animals cruelly: (1) If any person,
(a) beats, kicks, over-rides, 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

The Section does not at any point mention the words “sexual abuse” or “sexual assault” against animals. Another legislation of importance is the infamous Section 377 under the Indian Penal Code. It penalises carnal intercourse with any animal with punishment of imprisonment for life or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and also a fine. In spite of these legislations, the question remains if justice finds its home. The PCA Act is toothless with petty penalties and wanting sections. The conviction rates are extremely low; the security guard mentioned above was released on a bail of Rs 3,000.

Another major problem faced in addressing this issue is identifying the criminals. These acts are secretive in nature and there is rarely enough proof to convict a man charged with bestiality. However, this does not make the offense any less serious; the law can and should be amended to make it stricter for those accused who are found guilty.

A horrifying revelation in psychology and criminology research is that people who commit cruelty against animals often move to hurting humans and possibly sexually assaulting them. In a research by Lenore Walker in 1984 conducted on women battered by their partners, 41% of them stated that bestiality was one of the sex acts desired by their partners. In India, one Ameerul Islam sentenced in a murder case in 2016 had a history of raping and killing dogs and goats. Protecting our animals is an extension of protecting our humans.

In Animal Welfare Board Of India vs A. Nagaraja & Ors, the Supreme Court observed that penalty for acts under Section 11 of PCA Act is not commensurate with the gravity of the offences under it. The Court directed the government to amend the Act so as to do justice to the object and purpose of the legislation. Of significance is its direction to the Parliament requiring it to elevate the rights of animals to that of constitutional rights, something done by many countries, in order to protect the dignity and honour of animals.

There is a serious need to revamp the PCA Act so as to specifically include bestiality as a cognizable offence and with appropriate punishment for the same. It is common perception of many that animal rights do not take the same importance as human rights. While we stood in solidarity for Nirbhaya and the many other women who were victims of rape, very few feel the need to raise their voices for these voiceless animals. It is not a secret that our politicians do not consider animal rights a priority as it necessarily does not increase the vote bank. However, as Gandhi once said, the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals. it’s about time we review our animal protection laws and policies and about time we made our government pick up the slack.

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