A century-old Act is all that stands between animal abusers and their voiceless victims in Bangladesh.
“Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920” was enacted during the colonial period. Although India updated the law after independence in 1947, the Act remained unchanged in Pakistan and later in independent Bangladesh.
The existing law has a provision of three-month imprisonment or Tk200 fine for destitution of animals. The accused can actually walk scot free after paying a small fine of Tk200 by admitting guilt. Imprisonment under the law will only be applicable if the accused does not admit his or her guilt and actually found guilty following completion of the trial.
The Act states: “If a person overdrives, unnecessarily beats, or otherwise ill-treats any animal or binds, keeps or carries any animal in such a manner or position as to subject the animal to unnecessary pain or suffering or offers, exposes or has in his possession for sale any live animal which is suffering pain by reason of mutilation, starvation, thirst, overcrowding or other ill-treatment, has any dead animal which he has reason to believe to have been killed in an unnecessarily cruel manner – he shall be punished.
Brief interviews with a random sampling of respondents conducted by this reporter revealed that most people, including law enforcement officials and lawyers, are unaware of the Act. Thus, animal cruelty continues. Stray dogs in particular are the main victims of abuse.
The first ever case under the Act was filed in June 2015. A total of three cases were filed in connection of animal cruelty till January 2018.
Earlier, in July 2015, Bangladesh made the first arrest in an animal cruelty case. Police had arrested three people for beating a dog in the streets of Rampura. An animal welfare group, Obhoyaronno, filed a case with Rampura police station. That case is also under trial.
Proceedings into a case which was lodged with Savar police station in 2017, ended when the lone offender paid Tk300 admitting his guilt and walked away.
However, the government has recently finalized a new Animal Welfare Act with a provision of maximum two-year imprisonment and Tk50,000 fine for killing an animal. A six-month imprisonment and Tk10,000 fine will be applicable if someone unnecessarily expresses brutal intent towards an animal or uses them for excessive toil, says the draft law.
Rubaiya Ahmed, founder and chairman of Obhoyaronno, a Bangladeshi animal welfare foundation, told the Dhaka Tribune that the Cruelty to Animals Act needs to be amended as the situation has evolved and the concept of animal welfare has been modernized.
Animal cruelty cannot be stopped by punishment. It requires rehabilitation. Those who are cruel to animals can see that they are also victims themselves, she added.
“We should work for prevention and rehabilitation, not for punishment,” Rubaiya said.
Inaction is just as bad as acts of cruelty
Meanwhile, Dhaka’s Katabon area is home to one of the biggest animal markets of the country where people from all walks of life visit for buying or selling animals, mostly as pets, and the rest for business purposes. Inappropriate maintenance of animals is clearly noticeable there.
Defending the market, Md Abdul Hamid Bokul, president of Aviculture Society of Bangladesh, said: “The government should promote awareness programs in the market area. Many people do not even know about the Act.”
“Besides, this market employs at least 1,000 people. Approximately 5,000 people are dependent on the market for their everyday lives. This industry is growing as almost all families keep pets nowadays,” he added.
“Katabon market does not keep wild animals. All of the animals are either farmed or imported. A total of 90% of the animals in the market are locally farmed and the remaining 10% are imported. We mostly rely on Thailand for import in this industry,” he said.
According to the Aviculture Society president, animal rights are being violated in the zoos as well. Most of the relevant government officials fail to implement their foreign trainings here in the country. In addition, children should be taught at home how to treat animals properly.
Along with the capital, the situation in the rural areas is also horrific as bird trapping and hunting is rampant in the villages and forestlands. Deer meat is available in Sundarbans area.
Animal welfare workers said that thousands of incidents of cruelty against animals remain unreported throughout the country.
Miles to go
Building awareness should be the main concern in the current situation.
Rakibul Haq Emil, founder and chairman of PAW said that the percentage of people know about the law is higher than before, especially in the cities. Police are gradually becoming aware of it.
“People who live outside Dhaka do not know about the Act much. Lawyers, who are supposed to know the law better, seem to have no idea about it at all. Police in smaller cities and villages are also in the dark,” he said.
Rakibul also pointed a finger at the Katabon Animal Market in the capital saying they should have been more caring about the animals as it has been their livelihood.
They will have to come under a principle and promise that they will not buy stolen animals in any circumstances. We often encounter purchase and sale of stolen animals. This is not ethical, he said.
“Already a law has been passed by the cabinet in 2016, but the gazette has not been published yet. This should be done as soon as possible,” he added.