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The valiant police horse Shaktiman died last week, throwing his bevy of caretakers, police officer colleagues and many people across the country into mourning. Shaktiman’s leg had been broken when he was injured in clashes between protestors and police. Allegations were especially leveled againstan MLA of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ganesh Joshi who allegedly attacked the horse during a protest against then Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat on March 14. The result was something like this: the MLA was arrested, some miscreants were fined Rs. 50 but no other serious action was taken nor have any changes in the law been introduced yet. Meanwhile, the horse who had served valiantly in the police force for more than a decade suffered in pain and agony, and his leg had to be amputated.

Different sides of humanity emerged in this incident. On the one hand were the vested interests trying to defend the MLA’s actions, saying that the horse had gotten violent and was a threat to the people around, which is why the MLA beat him to protect the others. The video footage of the incident, which went viral on the internet, shows no such provocation on Shaktiman’s part. On the other hand, were the people who came forward to help Shaktiman and speak on his behalf. For instance, Tim Mahoney, an ex-banker from the US saw a Facebook post by artificial limb expert Jamie Vaughan seeking help to deliver a prosthetic limb from Virginia to India for Shaktiman. Mahoney, who had never met Vaughan before, travelled to India at his own expense and delivered the limb for Shaktiman in Dehradun.

Shaktiman was having trouble adjusting to the prosthetic limb and died due to medical complications last week. As the nation bids adieu to Shaktiman with a heavy heart, it is time to think of ways to prevent such incidents from being repeated, and to instill fear in the minds of culprits to deter them from such inhumanity in future.

The legal framework to protect animals for cruelty needs a major revamp. As per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, the penalty for a first offence is fine of Rs.50 for cruelty caused to the animal. This goes up to Rs.100 or imprisonment for 3 months or both, if the offence is repeated. Such abuse is a non-cognizable bailable offence. Clearly, this is not sufficient to ensure justice for barbarism against animals.The Animal Welfare Bill, 2011, on the other hand, has more stringent provisions- fine of upto Rs.25,000 or imprisonment of upto 2 years or both, and in case of a repeat offence, fine of upto Rs.1 lakh or imprisonment of upto 3 years or both. This Bill has been opposed by researchers because of the strict standards therein for the care of laboratory animals.

Sadly, positive changes in the law for animals are yet to see the light, and politicians are clamoring asking for the issue not to be ‘politicized’, politicizing it all the same. Perhaps it is time to take responsibility for this as a nation and vow to change the law as well as our mindsets- we sometimes call heedless, beastly behavior as ‘animal’ behavior. Who behaved like an ‘animal’ in this case? And what does ‘human’ even mean anymore? It is time to ponder on this conundrum.

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