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Cruelty against animals is nothing new. However, an incident in March 2019 in capital’s Gopibagh area took on a different dimension, thanks to social media.

The incident was that after killing and dissecting a cat, photos and videos of its severed limbs were posted on Facebook. After much castigation and criticism on the social media, a case was finally filed against the incident.

The new animal welfare law hadn't been enacted when the Gopibagh incident occurred. The law was passed in July of 2019.

The new act

Revoking ‘The Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920’, the government passed the Animal Welfare Act in 2019. Except humans, all the mammals, birds, reptiles, aquatic animals apart from fishes and other animals declared in the government gazette and notices will be considered as animals under this act.

The law refers to the director general of livestock services department or a veterinary surgeon authorised by the director general as the ‘authority’. While, the city corporations, municipalities, zilla parisahds, upazila parishads, union parishads and cantonment boards in concerned areas have been denoted as ‘local authority’.

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Less than six months of simple imprisonment or a fine of less than Tk 10,000 or both penalties have been mentioned as punishment in the act. Meanwhile, the maximum penalty under the act is simple imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine of less than Tk 50,000 or both.

Offences that fall under this act are non-cognizable and bailable. Notably, non-cognizable offences refer to felonies that require court’s permission for investigation. And, no arrests can be made without warrants.

Meanwhile, the Animal Welfare Act states that offences committed under the jurisdiction of this act can be tried in the mobile court as well. However, this act is yet to be included in the schedule under the Mobile Court Act.

To get justice is ‘not easy’

Livestock officer of Chuadanga’s Alamdanga, veterinarian Md Abdullahil Kafi has experience of working on two cases. He said, allegations of killing ten dogs were brought against local resident Abbas Ali (45) at Shonatanpur village in Alamdanga at different times in between last 28 February and 2 March.

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It was alleged that Abbas Ali killed ten dogs that were either strays or owned by his neighbours by feeding them poisoned bread. The official added that when he started the investigation after receiving orders to start investigating the case, the accused came to him and confessed. The hearing of the case is scheduled on next 14 June. Notably, the plaintiff of this case is Dhaka’s Maruful Haque.

Plaintiff of the case Maruful Haque said to Prothom Alo, first he went to Jatrabari police station with the complaint. Instead of filing it as a police case, they recorded it as a General Diary (GD) then. Later, he was suggested from the police station to file for a court case.

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Maruful Haque further said that defendants of the case used to threaten him saying, they often killed cats, dogs or other such animals. And, they are not willing to answer to anyone about this. But, that case is under trial now.

Trial of animal killing

In recent times, two instances of punishing offenders under the act of 1920 have been found. One of them was in 2017, a case of dog-killing in Savar. The court had fined the accused Tk 300 in that case.

The other incident is from 2017 as well. Allegations of dog-killing brought against Siddique Mia, security guard of Bagichartek Kalyan Samity in capital's Rampura, were proven on 5 October that year.

Abdullahil Kafi further said the major obstacle of filing cases under the animal welfare act is the inability to try them in mobile court. It would have been easier for people to get justice if the trials were done in mobile courts. He also believes, it is necessary to make people aware as well.

Four men killed almost 20 dogs using rods, pliers and lethal injections to carry them away in sacks at capital’s Dhalpur area in January last year. Suspects of that case were identified through CCTV footage. Involvement of one of those four accused, was not found in the investigation. Two of them are on bail and the other has been summoned.

Dhaka metropolitan magistrate Ahsan Habib sentenced him to six months' imprisonment and a fine of Tk 200. In case of default, he was given seven more days of imprisonment.

The verdict said, “First, the convict beat two mother dogs to death with rods. Later, he buried 14 puppies alive by putting them inside a sack, which is extremely tragic."

Rakibul Haque, founding chairman of People for Animal Welfare (PAW Foundation) had filed that case.

Animal lovers vocal

The number of registered animal welfare organisations in the country is five. But, there are different groups and pages on social media, Facebook. These are the most active ones in incidents like killing of dog and cat or cruelty against them.

However concerned people say, in running cases of animal cruelty, along with many other obstacles people’s scoffing has to be faced too.

Some of the plaintiffs say, many people laugh at them for filing cases against animal cruelty. Many even ridicule them saying, when there's no justice for even homicide, what is the need to go through such trouble for animals.

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The level of hassle goes way up if the defendant is an influential person. The plaintiffs believe, it would have been easier to work on animal rights if the assistance were provided on behalf of the government.

Rakibul Haque, chairman of PAW Foundation informed Prothom Alo, it is tough for members of one organisation to ‘do something', going to another area in the current system of the case procedure. Whenever someone go to the police station for filing a case, the first thing is said to them is to go to the court.

Rakibul added that in case of any animal killing it is quite troublesome to even get an autopsy report. He said it takes about Tk 15 to 20 thousand to run a case until verdict.

Rakibul emphasised on promoting the new act. He said, “We want people to know, there is a law against animal cruelty and it’s a punishable offence.”

A voluntary organisation named ‘Care for Paws’ filed case in the incident of killing a cat at Gopibagh in 2019. Chairman of the organisation Sourav Shamim said to Prothom Alo, “The mother of the girl that had committed the gruesome act, is a lawyer herself.”

“During that time she had criticised us for not doing anything when people leave human babies on the street while we took police to her house for just a kitten,” He added.

Highlighting his bitter experience with such cases Sourav Shamim further added, “A case of beating a dog to death with rods in capital’s Mirpur 11 area only ran for a while. In another case filed with Kafrul police station, the accused got away with just an apology.”

Minu Ran Ray was the lawyer on the plaintiff side in the case of killing dogs at Bagichartek in capital’s Rampura. She said to Prothom Alo, “All the cases, filed against killing or torturing animals till now, have been filed by members of different organisations. However, the number of filed cases does not match the number of occurrences of animal cruelty.

Another organisation named Pink City Animal Rights and Services founded by Sadia Swatee works to preserve animal rights. In 2019, Sadia Swatee had filed complaints against several people with Khilkhet police station under allegations of threatening to kill dogs and later dogs going missing.

At the time, three dogs died unnaturally at the Pink City housing project. Swatee was the joint secretary of Pink City home owners’ co-operative society. So, when she tried to protect animal rights, she herself fell in trouble instead.

Sadia Swatee informed Prothom Alo, “Twice a person had threatened to kill dogs on the phone. I had mentioned that as well in the general diary. But, after the investigation concluded, attempts were made to establish that the treats were aimed at me, not the dogs. I had given all the evidence, yet nothing could be proved, they said.”

Expressing her frustration Sadia Swatee said, “The law enforcement authorities themselves ask us why we care if a stray dog dies.”

Living in harmony

Horses are rented out to tourists. During the corona pandemic period, the horse owners lost their income and horses were in a bad shape.

PAW Foundation filed a writ petition through Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) to improve the living standards as well as meal management of neglected horses, which awaits hearing now.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of BELA told Prothom Alo, many people kick stray dogs without any reason while out on the road walking. This is the reflection of a cruel society.

The management model of this state mechanism is such that nobody is even worried about human lives, let alone animals, she added

She said, due to economic reasons many think people should be fed first and only then is it okay to feed dogs and cats. However, this is not an issue of priority, all of us must live in harmony together.

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