The newly introduced Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita, 2023 overlooks the plight of animals and has no clear mechanism for redress of sexual violence against animals, says Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.
THE Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) has criticised the newly introduced legislation, Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 (BNS Bill) for falling “far short of measures to protect animals from rape and other sexually violent acts”.
The BNS Bill seeks to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which has been India’s main penal law for more than 150 years.
Section 377of the IPC lays down the punishment for “unnatural offences”, which are defined as having sex with any man, woman or animal “against the order of nature”.
In its landmark judgment of September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court inNavtej Singh Johar versus Union of Indiaread down the Section 377, decriminalising sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex.
Non-consensual sexual acts against adults, all acts of carnal intercourse against minors and acts of bestiality continued to be penalised.
However, in a bid to reflect the progressive new reality, the BNS Bill throws the baby out with the bathwater by havingnoequivalent Section for protection of animals against sexual violence.
After being hastily introduced alongside two other major Bills, the BNS was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, which issued areport on November 10, 2023.
The committee has recommended that parts of Section 377 of the IPC pertaining to crimes against animals be retained in the new lawwithout any modifications.
The Bill is to be discussed during the ongoing winter session of the Parliament.
In its press statement, the FIAPO says that in October, it had submitted a detailed representation to the Union government on the BNS, urging the government to introduce an alternative provision that addresses sexual crimes against animals.
While the standing committee’s report recognises the concerns voiced by the FIAPO and other animal rights organisations, its resolution lacks adequate provisions for legal recourse for animal victims, the press statement reads.
The standing committee report says, “The committee feels that to align with the objectives stated in the BNS’s statement of objects and reasons, which inter alia highlights the move towards gender-neutral offences, it is mandatory to reintroduce and retain Section 377 of the IPC. The committee, therefore, recommends the government to include Section 377 of the IPC in the proposed law.”
What ails Section 377?
Animal rights activists have longargued that Section 377 does not provide justice for animal victims of sexual violence.
Animals areroutine victims of sexual abuse in India. Most of these cases go unreported, even when there are provisions to bring justice to the animals.
Section 377 makes it difficult for animal activists to seek justice for animals who are sexually assaulted because it uses the problematic term “bestiality”, FIAPO says in its press statement.
Removing this term from the initial version of the BNS is a positive step for animals. The term “bestiality” comes from an anthropocentric Judeo-Christian viewpoint that portrays non-human animals as wild and savage, the FIAPO statement asserts.
The statement further states that in Section 377, bestiality offered a limited way to address the injustice faced by animal victims of rape. However, it did so by labelling humans as perverse for engaging in sexual acts with animals, rather than focusing on delivering justice to the animal victim.
If the Parliament accepts the recommendations of the standing committee, the clauses of Section 377 will continue to use the term ‘bestiality’ and the framework of ‘sexual acts against the unnatural order’ which do not acknowledge or provide justice to animal victims of crime but focus on the perverse action by the accused instead, the FIAPO argues.
The FIAPO recommends a clear interpretation ofSection 323 of the Bill, that consists of the terms “maiming” and “rendering any animal useless” to avoid any misinterpretation and ensure uniform application of the law.
The FIAPO strongly advocates for the implementation of progressive animal protection laws or the integration of species-neutral provisions into the BNS, acknowledging and respecting the emotions and dignity of animals.
In particular, the FIAPO urges the government to consider the following principles in developing a new framework for addressing sexual crimes against animals:
1) Focus on animal protection: The law should prioritise the welfare and protection of animals, recognising animals as sentient beings and as victims in cases of sexual assault.
2) Comprehensive prohibition: The law should distinctly and unequivocally prohibit sexual abuse of animals making it illegal in all forms and under all circumstances.
3) Definitions of sexual assault: The law should provide precise definitions of different types of sexual abuse to avoid ambiguity and ensure consistent enforcement.
4) Appropriate penalties: The penalty imposed should be proportional to the seriousness of the offence, considering factors such as the harm caused to the animal and the perpetrator’s intent. This might include fines, imprisonment, mandatory counseling or other punitive measures.
5) Strong enforcement: Adequate resources and mechanisms for enforcement should be in place to ensure the effective application of the law and prosecution of violations.
6) Protection for whistle-blowers: The law should include provisions to protect individuals who report animal cruelty cases, encouraging them to come forward without fear of retaliation.
7) Regular review and update: Laws should be regularly reviewed and updated to adapt to changing societal norms and emerging concerns related to animal welfare.
The press statement highlights that in 2021, the FIAPO released areport revealing that in the last decade, nearly 500,000 animals, including cows and dogs, have been victims of crimes and many had been subjected to sexual violence.
The standing committee must take this into consideration and include laws that criminalise sexual acts against animals and provide redressal mechanisms that consider animals as sentient beings, the FIAPO urges.
It claims that introducing species-neutral laws against sexual acts is the first step towards the protection of animals in the country.