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How Many ‘Shaktimans’ Will Be Beaten Mercilessly Before We Rethink Animal Cruelty Laws?

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By Gauri Maulekhi:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress is judged by the way its animals are treated” – M K Gandhi

The virtue of kindness to all beings is enshrined in our constitution and our culture. It is thus apposite that we ought to ensure that our laws stand as a deterrent to anyone who abuses animals. The recent case of the horse named Shaktiman brought the issue of animal welfare laws to the fore. Shaktiman, who was a majestic animal in the Dehradun police, was reduced to a whimpering creature fighting for life in pain after being attacked by a mob of people. While it is important that we bring the guilty to book, it is also important that we take a re-look at the animal protection laws in our country.

The Equine Retirement Center in Uttarakhand run by People for Animals has offered to take in Shaktimaan and care for him along with the other disabled and injured equines rejected from mining and Char Dham Yatras. (Photo credit: Gauri Maulekhi)
The Equine Retirement Center in Uttarakhand run by People for Animals has offered to take in Shaktimaan and care for him along with the other disabled and injured equines rejected from mining and Char Dham Yatras. (Photo credit: Gauri Maulekhi)

Yes, India does have some fantastic animal rights laws but the laws need an urgent and immediate overhaul. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA act) has been framed in the year 1960 and the penalties in the act have not been revisited ever since. I am certain you would agree that a mere fine of Rs 50 is in no way a deterrent for an act so ghastly that it leaves a being maimed for life.

There have been attempts in the recent past to amend the PCA act. Our ask from the Shaktiman Act are simple. With the increase in inflation, the amount of Rs 50 as a penalty for animal abuse is not helpful in acting as a deterrent, we want this amount to be increased to a substantial value equitable to the inflation. We would also want the Shaktiman Act to make the punishment cognisable which will give the police the right to make an arrest without an arrest warrant. So, our three asks through the introduction of the Shaktiman bill will be — make the offence cognisible, compundable and increase the fine.

There were previous attempts made to revisit the PCA act in the United Progressive Alliance regime. In 2011, the Animal Welfare Board of India had relooked into the PCA Act and formulated a comprehensive revamp of the animal welfare laws. It was submitted to Ms Jayanthi Natarajan. Natrajan, the then-environment minister, had promised to bring in an ordinance for the amendment of the PCA Act with increased penalties. That clearly has not moved further. Post her exit from the ministry, Jairam Ramesh had promised to look into it, which clearly has not happened either.

In the year 2014, through a landmark judgement inthe A Nagarajan v/s Union of India case, the Honourable Supreme Court of India directed the government to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The Supreme Court stated “….Parliament, it is expected, would elevate rights of animals to that of constitutional rights, as done by many of the countries in the world, so as to protect their dignity and honour.” Despite this directive by the apex court, the law still remains in its original form.

It is for the courts and the police to determine who abused Shaktiman to the point that he had to lose one of his limbs. After serving the Indian police force and participating in the Republic Day parade as a honourable animal citizen of our great nation, Shaktiman today has retired to a life of pain and agony. The greatest respect we can pay to this honourable being is by ensuring that we work towards amending the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals Act 1960 and name the revamped law “SHAKTIMAN ACT”. This horse who served the nation and its people, needs to be our means to express our symbolic gratitude towards the presence of all beings amongst our midst whose mere existence makes the world a beautiful place to live in.

10290601_860796794031974_2092845163663384976_nThe world has moved further. In the United Kingdom, for instance, animal abuse will cost you dearly. Their first Protection of Animals Act was introduced in 1911. Offenders under this act were fined 25 Pounds. Times changed, the law was revisited and in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the fine amount was raised to up to 20,000 pounds. More recently, in Malaysia, the Animal Welfare Bill 2015 was introduced. This bill brings in new laws, rules and regulations against animal cruelty; physical and non-physical, and imposes a fine up to RM 100,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum three years if violated. India, in comparison, has good laws. What needs to change is the punishment and financial penalties so that it acts as a deterrent.

This is for Shaktiman, the horse but this is also for the million Shaktimans in our country who continue to be beaten, tortured, maimed and killed. We need to rise up for each one of them. And for that to happen, we would need stronger laws that would protect them and punish offenders enough so that they do not repeat the offence ever again.

We are hopeful that the Shaktiman Act will bring dignity to the lives of all animal citizens of our nation—the birthplace of Ahimsa. The organisation Humane Society International India is petitioning the Prime Minister of India to amend the PCA act and call it the Shaktiman Act.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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