A significant development in the USA has completely turned the manner in which animal abuse is viewed. It has become a top-tier federal crime in the States. In India, where such cases are becoming bizar...

By: Pooja Ghosh | Update: 2016-09-16 11:53:30



A significant development in the USA has completely turned the manner in which animal abuse is viewed. It has become a top-tier federal crime in the States. In India, where such cases are becoming bizarre day by day, the law needs to toughen to match and prevent violence toward animals. Such cases need attention because of the fact that apathy to life forms also lead to apathy toward peers and people. There have been instances where a serial killer started his killings by torturing animals. It thus, becomes more important to treat such cases seriously and monitor tendencies in juveniles who hurt animals. The recent unfortunate case of dog-burning in Hyderabad is a glaring example that the laws in India are inadequate to prevent cruelty and the perspective on animals is nothing less than apathetic. Hence, India needs to change for the best of the living and the essence of life. This essay highlights the criminological aspect and the socio-legal aspect of the need to redress such crimes.

From the inception of self-awareness of man about his individualistic existence, he has always put himself on the pedestal over other beings. The pride he takes in his innovations, inventions and even protection of other beings led him to subjugate and “tame” the other living beings. Man dominated them and even used them for his own purpose. With this pride also came abuse, misuse and exploitation. This has led to an alarming increase in the rate of crimes against mammals, reptiles, birds and other species. The crimes vary from poaching, hunting, illegal trafficking which is largely sensationalized. But the other type of crime is hardly talked about and is ignored. This is the torture and abuse which happens at an individualistic level everyday by most of the people. This trait in the pleasure that people get by abusing either strays or their own pets or using them in fights needs urgent redressing by the laws of India. The urgency is triggered by certain aspects of human behavior which might lead to violent tendencies. These tendencies according to most of the research are being linked to animal abuse where the individual either participates or witnesses the same. Most of the developed nations are trying to research more on this and some even link criminal behavior to animal abuse directly. In India however, the approach and the animal laws are still at a nascent stage. With the growing incidents of animal torture, (only the ones which are reported. Most cases are unreported.) India needs a social and legal shift in its approach and view toward the woes of the “other”. A more humanistic view and the fact that all creatures are equal would benefit the country hugely. Also, the fact of considering animal abuse as a symptom of future involvement in violent behavior needs to researched more in India. Animal abuse at an individualistic level should thus, be treated as more serious crime than it is being treated today in India. But, with an apathetic and stoic attitude this shift would be really difficult.

APATHY=LACKADAISICAL ATTITUDE: Animal rights have never been discussed in India as a separate issue. They have always been seen as ‘chattels’, ‘property’ and even as ‘objects to own’. Due to this perspective the society in India has less empathy toward them. Pelting stones at strays, shooting down birds for fun and even trapping insects like ants have always been seen by us as ‘normal behavior’. This is never treated as an anomaly in India because it is just ‘natural’ to us. Hence, this lackadaisical attitude and antipathy towards the ‘insignificant other’! This has even crept in the laws of the country which are inadequate in protecting them. Even the laws in India suffer from this perspective which has crept into the language of the statues itself. In the introduction to The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960[1] the opening words are, “Animals are an integral part of the Indian economy.” This reflects the society’s perspective of people viewing animals as a source of livelihood or even for gains. This vicious perspective has led to problems of weak law enforcement for the protection of animals against cruelty. The lackadaisical attitude has thus plagued the laws as well which only provide for a paltry penalty for punishing the people who contravene the law. This attitude is harmful to both the animals and also to the society as well. 

THE LINK BETWEEN ANIMAL ABUSE AND VIOLENCE- RESEARCHER’S PERSPECTIVE: With better understanding of human behavior and research on what makes a criminal, the age-old theory that people are ‘born criminals’ has become obsolete to a major extent. There are certain people and researchers who still believe in the theory of atavistic criminals and born criminals but, majority agrees with the fact that a person may learn such tendencies. Hence, the surroundings and the conditioning of the person are of utmost importance. In criminology, there are certain theories which focus on the ‘learning of such tendencies’. Certain theories are discussed as under:

·         Gabriel de Tarde: He negated the Lombrosian[2] theory that people are ‘born criminals’ or that their physical aspects signify whether they may be criminals or not. According to him, a person learns criminal behaviour just like any other trade which he picks up in his childhood.[3]

·         E.H. Sutherland: He gave the much popularised theory of ‘Differential Association’[4]. This theory advocated that criminal behaviour is learnt from people around that particular individual. What is to be taken into consideration is the ‘frequency of such interactions’. How frequently does the individual associate with such people showing off such tendencies? How much impact does it have on the behaviour and the perspective of that person? Also, he gave a lot of emphasis not on the tendencies but, the ‘rationalisation of the use of such criminal techniques’.[5]

·         Juvenile Delinquents: Certain theorists focused their studies on juvenile delinquents particularly the delinquents who operate in ‘a gang’. With growing crime rate perpetuated by juveniles these theories delve into what leads to juvenile delinquency. According to Albert K Cohen[6], the juvenile delinquents who commit crimes in a group or a gang try to imitate their elders. This is because crime becomes a ‘sub-culture’ in such families. It thus, becomes a way of life and ultimately a tradition. A grim picture is painted by Frederick M Thrasher[7] who advocated that juvenile delinquents start gaining the ‘pleasure’ through such otherwise non-utilitarian, malicious and negativistic acts.

All these theories thus, focus on the impact of social institutions on individuals. Crime has thus been linked to society in various theories and by various criminologists. Thus, social exposure ‘makes a criminal’ according to these theories.

The relevance of these theories is significant in studying animal abuse cases. Various researchers have pointed out that animal abusers do not stop at animals only. They subsequently move to humans as well. Various criminologists point out that often animal abusers or offenders learn such behavior from their childhood. The inverse link between animal abuse and violence is an interesting and a valuable insight into how human behavior works and functions. Psychologists point to animal abuse as proof of lack of empathy and propensity towards violence. Various cases provide examples which prove that a homicide starts with not a human but an animal. Certain famous examples have been cited as below:  

Jeffrey Dahmer: One of the most notorious serial killer of the 21st century, Jeffery Dahmer’s childhood was disturbed. These disturbances led him to start hurting living creatures which ultimately shifted to guys whom he befriended and killed. He even admitted that he had once impaled a dog’s head on a stick and displayed it.

Ted Bundy: He had witnessed the abuse of animals at the hands of his father in his childhood. This left a deep imprint on his mind. Eventually, he went on to kill 40 women. His profile depicts that most of the children who witness violence at a tender age seem to think that it is a normal behavior and tend to follow the same pattern in their teens and adulthood. But, this influence can vary depending upon the individual traits of the person.

Edmund Kemper: He killed his own cat and cut it into small pieces. He also displayed bodies of several cats on the poles. Eventually he killed his own mother and gruesomely raped and murdered 4 teenage girls.

Most of these serial killers started to satiate their impulse for violence through animal torture, trappings, killings and even maiming. Subsequently, it developed into a pattern and then developed into homicidal impulses. With such glaring examples, it is important that the Indian criminal justice system and law enforcement give more attention towards such cases and fathom into the link between animal abuse and other crimes. 

WHY ANIMALS? What leads to animal abuse in the first place? Why is it that at some point of time and through some manner humans indulge in animal torture or killings? Why is there no importance given to such abuse? Are animals not entitled to certain rights and privileges? Are animal abuse cases so menial that the only importance of monitoring such cases is when it has to be linked to homicides or development of criminal tendencies? These are certain questions which need answering by both the legal intelligentsia and the law enforcement. Certain reasons which can be leading causes of growing animal abuse may be:

·         Anthropocentric perspective: Human beings tend to suffer from illusory superiority when the rights of an animal are concerned. We see them as inferior beings with no self-awareness. Hence, their lives automatically lose all the value. This is even imparted to children for example, most of the times the only of producing fear in a stray dog either to pelt stones or kick them. This is what most of the children indulge as they try to imitate the behaviour of their elders.

·         ‘Speciesist’ approach: The approach is a result of anthropocentric tendencies in us. The language to which we have got used to is in some sense very discriminatory. For example, by referring to animals as ‘it’, we rob them off their gender totally. This reference though harmless and imparted to us in English classes since time immemorial, speaks a lot about our psyche regarding animals. Also, ‘ownership of farm animals’, over the other creature. Referring to criminals or sociopaths as animals, conferring certain attributes through use of similes like ‘as sly as a fox’ are other harmless examples which subconsciously impact our reactions toward animals. Piers Bierne in his paper has discussed the connection of speciesist language with the attitude of people toward animals. He thus demands a complete revision of speciesist language.

‘Clearly radical revision of speciesist language nomenclature is long overdue. In some cases new descriptions altogether are needed- for example ‘misothery’ for hatred of or contempt of animals, ‘animal sexual assault’ for bestiality and I suggest ‘theriocide’ for the killing of non-humans by humans.’[8]

The only problem is that we have got used to this language and words and also some are used in the name of creativity in language. We are still plagued by sexist references; correcting speciesist language is a distant dream for us.

·         Easy access: With the failure on the part of the government to maintain and balance the population of strays, dogs and cats become easy prey to exploitation and abuse. No one reports as ‘they are strays and they asked for it’!

·         Lax attitude to report: With such problems in perspective and approach, there is no reporting of animal abuse. This is owing to the certain factors like the animal was stray, lack of awareness and a lax attitude of the police toward such cases.

·         The punishment provided by the laws of India is very less and anachronistic with the modern times. This point will be discussed further in detail.

·         Animal Protection Units are not very visible. NGO’s and the members of Civil Society should be more vocal and try and educate people regarding the rights of an animal and the steps to be taken when an animal is hurt.

·         The blanket powers to cull animals without marking the limitations can also lead to abuse and exploitation. 

These are certain factors and reasons why animals are tortured, trapped, hunted down upon. All these point to the fact that the attitude and lack of empathy that we have toward animals has led to increase in such cases. Crimes against animals thus, should not be treated as a joke but more seriously.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY? The laws regarding animal cruelty have been criticized on the grounds of their inadequacies and lack of implementation. Another factor which harms and jeopardizes the laws is its awareness. There are certain statutes which address animal cruelty but, the most important is The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Its object is to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals and for that purpose to animals.[9] Chapter III of the Act provides for penalties if a person is convicted under the Act. Section 11[10]states all the instances for which a person can be held guilty. The punishments as provided in the Act have been stated as under:  

·         First offence- Rs. 10- Rs. 50

·         Second offence- Rs. 25-Rs. 100 (If committed within 3 years of the previous conviction)

·         The imprisonment: In case of the second offence then with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 months. 

Chapter IV[11] provides for penalty in case of experiments on animals. There is an in-built mechanism for the supervision of experiments on animals. A report[12] is to be submitted to a Committee regarding the rules made and its contravention, the Committee can prohibit for a specified time or for indefinite period. And if there is a subsequent breach or contravention then a fine of Rs. 200 can be imposed and in case of breach of condition has taken place in any institution, the person in charge of the institution shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and shall be punished accordingly.[13]

Chapter V provides penalties in cases where animals are used for entertainment. The penalty has been provided under Section 26 which states that it shall be punishable on conviction with fine which may extend to Rs. 500, or with imprisonment which may extend to 3 months or with both.

This statute has been criticized on various grounds but the most vehemently criticized point is the quantum of punishment. Time has come to make this law more synchronous and effective with the recent times. 

THE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE USA: The primary federal law which deals with care and protection of animals is the Animal Welfare Act, 1966. It is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, and transport and by dealers. This act was criticized on various grounds as it excluded certain animals like birds, rats etc. Apart from this, a recent development has been made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and that is the decision to treat animal abuse as a Group A felony. Hence, even an animal abuse case will be tried as a serious felony like homicide, rape etc. This tough decision would help the FBI in two ways: a) Monitoring and preventing such tendencies at a young age in abusers and b) As it operates on the research that animal abusers are most likely to resort to other violent acts which may be dangerous to the society, the research can be tested very well pragmatically. The FBI would be collecting data on animal cruelty and maintaining it on NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System)[14] FBI has also defined the offence as:

‘Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment. Included are instances of duty to provide care e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured, transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., uses objects to beat or injure an animal. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport, use of animals for food, lawful, hunting, fishing or trapping.’

All 50 States have felony animal cruelty provisions. March 14, 2014, South Dakota became the final state to enact a felony provision for animal cruelty. There is a national consensus that animal abuse should indeed be treated as a serious crime. The new classification will make it easier to get harsher sentences, and to identify young offenders. Because cases of animal cruelty, including animal neglect, will now be included in the FBI Uniform Crime Report law enforcement agencies have more incentive to pay attention to any incidents, and statistics on these types of crime will be more accurate and detailed. 

Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Torture Act would make it a federal crime to commit malicious cruelty to an animal in any area where the federal government has jurisdiction. Federal law already prohibits animal fighting, as well as the trade in obscene video depictions of animals being subjected to cruelty.  

This move on the part of Law Enforcement agency in the USA supports the fact that laws should be tougher when it comes to animal abuse and should be seen as a cause and effect of further violent crimes in future. 

WHAT CAN INDIA DO? In India, although the legislature has been silent on any improvements in the written laws but, the judiciary has taken certain decisions which deal with animal cruelty and help in sending a message that even animals have right to life with dignity. The first important decision was that the custody of the animal (the victim of abuse) should not be given to the accused while the case was under litigation. It should be given to the nearest cow shelter organized by the State Government.[15]

The other case involved organized animal fighting which is also supposed to be a custom. Referring to Section 3 and Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty Act, 1960, the Hon’ble Court declared that all animal fights incited by humans are illegal, even those which are carried out under the guise of tradition and culture. The Court also recommended the overhaul of penalties and punishments for effective deterrence of such matters in the future.[16]

Even though the judicial system of India declared certain sports as illegal, organized bull-fighting in the south and bird fighting in Assam are rampant and followed. Hence, should India also emulate what the FBI decided upon and link animal abuse to homicidal violence as well? Certain steps which are necessary to be taken are as follows:

·         More research should be undertaken keeping in mind the Indian scenario and special circumstances to establish what and to what extent the link lies between animal abuse and other violent crimes in India.

Our approach toward other creatures should be tested and research should be conducted on the level of awareness people have related to animal laws. This would enlighten citizens about the justice mechanism is such cases.

·         The police and other law enforcement agencies should treat such cases more seriously rather than judging the case at the first place just because it involves an animal. It would also be helpful that Animal Protection Units be constituted to rescue victims of abuse, organized fighting and abandoned pet dogs.

·         Two most important aspects dealing with abandonment of animals are: a) Breeders in India should follow certain restrictions when it comes to breeding of animals. For example, how many times should a dog/cat/animal conceive, population regulation etc. and b) Even buyers should be limited on their purchase of animals. It has often been seen in Indian households that the risk of abandonment increases with the age of the household animal. Hence, the limit should be according to the financial capacity and the level of compassion the buyer has for animals. Adoption of abandoned animals should also be encouraged more.

·         The punishment under the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals, 1960 should be increased. The fines should be more than a mere Rs. 50-100. It should be more than Rs. 10,000. A separate penalty altogether should be made in case of organized animal fighting where the penalty should range between Rs.50,000-1 lakh.

The imprisonment should be more than 3 months. The maximum punishment in case of first offence should be 7 years and in case of a second conviction it should be up to 10 years. A register of such crimes reported and conviction rate should be maintained at the State and Central level. This would give a glimpse about the extent of animal abuse cases, its frequency in India and the States where such cases are registered the most.

   ‘The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ This great quote by Mahatma Gandhi surmises the condition of the natural environment and its flora and fauna speaks of not only the will to preserve them but, also the level of empathy the country has toward any life form whether mobile or immobile, invertebrate or vertebrate, plant or animal. By not having stricter laws and a serious approach toward such case consequently lead to case like the burning of 3 pups by 3 teenagers in Hyderabad or the beating of an innocent Horse which ultimately led to his death in Uttarakhand. It represents a grim picture contrary to the teaching of great men like Mahatma Gandhi who fought for the lives of the downtrodden. Today the downtrodden has no voice, but us with the ability to speak can raise our voices to protect and care. It is only then would we appreciate life of both man and animal. The decision taken by the FBI in the USA can be taken as an example as this step not only protects the people of disturbances and dangers but also animals. It is thus, important that these causes and symptoms be studied more by both criminologists and legal enforcement agencies in India. The only question remains: Are we willing?


[2] Siddique, Ahmad, Criminology & Penology, 6th Edition, Eastern Book Company (2014), p.110-112

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6]Supra 2

[7] Supra 2

[8]  Bierne, Piers, Animal rights, animal abuse and green criminology- Issues in green criminology, Willan Publishing (2007), p.4

[9] Supra 1

[10] Section 11, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1960- Treating animals cruelly

[11] Chapter IV, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1960- Experimentation on animals

[12] Section 18 & 19, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1960

[13] Section 20, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1960

[14]>news>stories?-tracking-animal-cruelty <as accessed on 8-10-2016>

[15] State of U.P. v. Mustakeem & Ors. 1999, Allahabad High Court

[16] Animal Welfare Board of India v. A.Nagaraja & Ors., 7th May, 2014, Supreme Court of India, 

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