I have five questions in the wake of the national outrage following the death of Shaktiman the police horse:
1. Would we have given a damn had politicians not been involved?
Forget for a second that last month’s protest near the Dehradun Assembly was led by BJP legislator Ganesh Joshi. What if it had been just an average guy nobody knew? Would there have been this level of national outrage?
Instead this is how the script played out. Opposition politicians have expressed their anguish and mourned the ‘sacrifice’ of the Kathiawari mare. The Congress compared the death of the horse with the ‘death of democracy’ where President’s rule in Uttarakhand has been questioned by a High Court order. And the hugely reviled Joshi has had to fall back on the pathetic defence of a ‘political conspiracy’. He has also thoughtfully offered his own leg as recompense should he be found guilty.
On social media, liberals point to the cruelty of the right-wing that insists on a ban on cow slaughter but will flog a horse to death (metaphorically at least).The right-wing says the liberals are hypocrites who support such cruel acts as beef-eating.
“A horse was murdered in India because a politician was an animal,” tweeted Vir Das, the comedian/actor. Correct. But horses are abandoned and maimed and beaten every day. Few tears, if any, are shed for them.
2. Should we be using horses in our police force?
The BJP’s minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi, known better for her advocacy of animal rights, wants the arrest of those responsible for the death of Shaktiman, who she describes as a ‘police officer’ on duty.
The more serious question: why do we need police horses?
In the 1800s in England, where the idea apparently originated, mounted police found it easy to nab livestock thieves. Now in an age of drones and tear gas, police horses seem like an idea past its use by date, especially given their current run of bad luck from a basketball championship in Pennsylvania to a Donald Trump rally in Kansas city where they have come under increasing assaults by people on the ground.
3. What about animals used, abused and sacrificed in the name of religion?
This year’s Pooram festival in Kerala saw 74 elephants, some with gaping wounds, standing and parading for 36 hours without respite or nourishment. In Tamil Nadu, Jallikatu (the taming of bulls) is defended as an inherent part of the Pongal tradition. Bakri-Id demands the ritual sacrifice of an animal. Animals are also sacrificed in some Hindu temples and, to its credit, the Himachal Pradesh High Court banned the slaughter of goats in temples in 2014 saying such rituals ‘must change in the modern era’.
Yet, when it comes to the big question, even the Supreme Court balked last year when it refused to entertain a public interest litigation seeking a ban on the killing of animals in the name of religion saying it “cannot close its eyes to centuries-old tradition”.
The flipside is the ban on cattle slaughter in several states that is driving farmers in drought-hit Marathwada to penury, reports the website Scroll. In cities, the sight of the revered cow foraging for scraps in garbage dumps is so commonplace that it’s no longer a cliché. (see this 34-minute video, The Plastic Cow, by Karuna Society at http://bit.ly/1Sy3C7n)
4. What about animal rights in general?
In Bangalore a housewife flings puppies against a wall. In Delhi, police nab a dog serial killer who kills strays for fun – or because he’s just sick. These are aberrations, but not so extreme. In Kerala, the Thiruvanathapuram Corporation has been co-opted into killing stray dogs. All over urban India, the feeding of stray dogs by good samaritans is turning into a battlefield. Animal rights activists are now seizing upon the death of Shaktiman to demand that the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is updated beyond the current maximum fine of Rs 50.
5. Should Shaktiman have been euthanized the day of her accident?
Dear reader, tell me, wouldn’t that have been the more humane option?
The views expressed are personal