Animal Welfare in India vs Abroad

What changes need to be made to the system here?

By Ayush Choudhary


The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

~ Mahatma Gandhi.


With every new dawn starts the battle of making a mark - to make our essence felt in this world. While we are raising our voices against the atrocities inflicted upon us, numerous animals endure abuse, confinement, and butchering; woefully, they cannot express it within the boundaries of words understood by humans. As harm committed against animals has exponentially increased in recent years, this calls for a systematic legal response with an immediate effect.


Animal welfare indicates the quality of life among animals and how well they are adapting to their social and environmental conditions. Animal welfare incorporates all parts of animal prosperity, including consideration of their security, happiness, and access to food and care. It also alludes more broadly to the quality of relationships maintained between people and nature. Hence, it is a moral obligation for humans to think about animal welfare.


Examining our existing animal welfare legislation and comparing it with legal measures elsewhere illustrates the urgent need for reform. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA) declares that  the fine for killing, beating, riding, or causing any form of suffering to an animal is rupees 50, with a maximum of rupees 100 if another offense is committed within 3 years of the first one. This stands in stark contrast to the US, wherein animal abuse is a federal crime. 


Moreover, the European Union devised an exhaustive and sophisticated set of legislation in relation to animal welfare. These welfare laws are quite extensive and support the  interests of farm and laboratory animals. This body of EU legislation contributes to the sustainability of most of the animals in the European region. The Commission has incorporated a range of instruments to guarantee enforcement, specifically through audits, training, scientific expertise, and exhortation.  


All is not grim, however. India has historically passed some really effective laws. For instance, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act condemns the infliction of superfluous agony or suffering on animals. This stipulation is utilized to appeal to the government against animal abuse. India also boasts of having one of the strictest wildlife protection laws in the world. 

Indeed, there have been some significant victories for animal welfare advocacy in India over the past few years. In 2013, the Ministry of Environment and Forests abolished dolphinariums (aquariums for dolphins). Dolphinariums are typically used for facilitating commercial dolphin shows, as dolphins are a major tourist attraction at amusement parks. The Ministry had dismissed all the propositions for dolphinariums either by private institutions or by government agencies. This decision prohibited such actors from importing or capturing dolphins and from using dolphins for mercantile restoration or private/public display. In addition, the Government of India outlawed animal experimentation for beauty care products in 2014. Bans on the ivory trade and the export of shark fins - followed by a prohibition on the import of cosmetics tested on animals - would appear to place India among scientifically progressive countries. 

Recently proposed legislation may also support the animal welfare cause in India. In February 2021, the government drafted an amendment to The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. This legislation would entail a substantial increase to the fine amount for animal cruelty offenses - ranging between Rs 750 and Rs 75,000 - as well as a potential five-year maximum jail sentence for abusers in extreme cases. The amendment also classifies animal cruelty offenses into three categories according to severity: “minor injury, major injury leading to permanent disability, and death due to cruel practice.” While this amendment still awaits ratification from Parliament, we are hopeful that it will be passed later this year. If so, it could significantly reduce the prevalence of animal cruelty and establish a stronger legal precedent in support of animal rights.


While these developments signify a positive turn of events, regulators and public authorities constitute just one piece of the pie. Something that must be urgently implemented is the ubiquitous acknowledgment of animal protection as a crucial social issue. 

Animal lives should not be at the mercy of humans; the future of our relationship on earth necessitates that we coexist in peace. Hence, we must elevate the status of animals in every country, so that their rights are widely recognised and defended. Demeaning their existence on the basis of their “inferiority” is not acceptable. It remains a difficult task, however, to convince government officials to accept that focusing on animal rights is the need of the hour.


The state of animal welfare is really grave in some countries around the world. Several European laws contain exceptions that allow the infringement of the bodily integrity of animals. This is the case in France, as its Penal Code legislation on acts of cruelty does not apply to bullfighting and cockfighting - even though these are a part of a longstanding local tradition. Social conventions are additionally used to legitimise the act of bullfighting in Portugal and Spain.

There are still numerous human behaviours towards animals that remain legally acceptable across the world, regardless of the suffering which they cause. Thus, it is somehow legitimate to hit a canine or pony in “training” it; to use an electric collar; to watch greyhound racing as entertainment; or, in animal husbandry, to commit intrusive acts such as castration, tubal ligation, beak-trimming, or dehorning. In certain countries, sexual abuse towards animals is not punished under law. 

Some limitations arise from the absence of dissuasive sanctions. In numerous countries, the fines are generally low, and jail sentences are either non-existent or brief. For countries that threaten relatively stricter jail sentences, there remains a wide gap between the sanctions that are passed and those that are applicable. So while the penalties in France seem severe in principle, judges there rarely hand out prison sentences for violating animal welfare. The protection against bodily harm is a necessary but nonetheless inadequate condition for guaranteeing the welfare of an animal. Thus, to actually bring about some substantive successes in reducing - and eventually eliminating - harm towards animals, we must take into consideration the social and psychological dimensions of animal welfare.

Focusing on animal welfare is also critical to promote peace and uphold social ecology across all countries. There are several world leaders who have set an example for the rest by already outlawing the production of foie gras, fur farms, and the sale of animals in pet shops. Despite existing rules and regulations, for animal welfare to be feasible for each animal, legislation must include an obligation for each animal handler - i.e. human companion - to ensure that welfare. As animal legislation around the globe was amended decades ago and is relatively obsolete given the present socio-economic scenario, it requires prompt re-ratification and reform to support efforts to effect real change. 


In the absence of compelling legal measures, the rate of animal cruelty has increased very rapidly over the years. Using animals for the purposes of religious sacrifice, penance, or entertainment - or whichever other exercises that constitute brutality towards animals - should be prohibited under the law. Today, people are not obliged to treat animal beings well; they are merely restricted from abusing them. However, it is everyone's moral obligation to respect our companions on earth by ensuring their well-being.


If we hope to limit - and eventually eradicate - harm towards animals in our society, we can involve ourselves with this cause in various ways. While the vast majority of us are not legislators, we can still influence popular opinion on animal rights and advocate effective policy reforms. This can include speaking with others about why animals need protection, the relative impunity of animal abusers, and what an alternative relationship between people, animals, and the planet could look like.  Joining an animal welfare organisation, feeding community animals near your home or work, and writing about what changes must occur - whether legal or social - are all strategies that support animal rights and bring us closer to a future rooted in justice and compassion.