Around October of last year, netizens of Dhaka discovered a deed of utmost inhumanity: two dogs and their puppies were first beaten and was then killed by being buried alive. The perpetrator was Md. Siddique, 45, a security guard of Bagichartek Welfare Association, Rampura. Mr. Rakibul Haq Emil, Chairman of People for Animal Welfare Foundation, filed a case against alleged perpetrator with the Rampura Thana, under section 7 of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920. The subsequent verdict was rendered on 10th May, after the court took into account deliberations from both prosecution and defense and also the evidence given by 6 witnesses. Siddique, currently absconding, was given a sentence of 6 months imprisonment and also a fine of BDT 200, failure of which will lengthen imprisonment by 7 more days.
The decision, though one of the first of its kind, has been pointed out by animal rights activists as inadequate to have a deterring effect. Mr. Raqibul Haq Emil has expressed his discontent over the verdict in a wall post on the official Facebook group of People for Animal Welfare (PAW) foundation stating that the existent punishment is too lenient on the guilty. He opined, among other things, that such acts are considered a tendency towards greater crimes such as rape and murder in the developed world and that we can curb instances of animal cruelty by introducing heavy fines against such offenders.
With that, let's take a look at the aforementioned section of the Act. Section 7 of the Act states “ If any person kills any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner he shall be punished with fine which may extend to two hundred Taka, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with both.”
However the Act exempts religious rites, bona fide scientific or medicinal purpose.
A comparative analysis of neighbouring jurisdictions shows much more stringent rules to be in place. For example, under the newly amended Indian Animal Welfare Law cruelty to animals is an offence punishable with a fine which shall not be less than ten thousand Rupees, this may extend to twenty five thousand Rupees or with imprisonment up to two years or both in the case of a first offence. In the case of repeated offence, the fine which shall not be less than INR 50 thousand, but may extend to INR 1 lakh and with imprisonment of a term which shall not be less than 1 year but may extend to 3 years. This amendment is currently awaiting ratification from the Government of India.
Thailand has recently introduced its first animal welfare law, the Cruelty Prevention and Welfare of Animal Act 2014.
The law renders protection to animals 'raised as pets, as animals for work, as beasts of burden, as friends, as livestock, as performing show animals, or for any other purposes no matter with or without owners”. The law makes it a responsibility upon owners to raise animals with good health, sanitation, sufficient food and clean water. The term owner extends to all family members, domestic help, any friends taking care of the pet etc. The Act also makes the consumption of dog and cat meat illegal. Feeding live baits to crocodiles, snakes etc is also now prohibited by law. Pet owners who dump unwanted dogs and cats at temples can now be charged with abandoning and endangering animal life. Neglect and torture has been properly defined and now carry sanctions of two year imprisonment and a fine of 40, 000 baht, or both.
Although, the verdict is a welcoming decision, we must bear in mind that the law is guided by an archaic Act predating the Independence of Bangladesh. We must update our laws to extend the protection offered and we should also raise awareness in the society we live in, to treat animals with more dignity, compassion and love. After all, animals too are habitants of planet earth.
The writer works with Law Desk, The Daily Star.