A large number of people had gathered in a circle, in the middle of a road, close to the Walled City. It turned out that their object of ‘amusement’ was a donkey that was lying on the road, apparently because of exhaustion, while a cart laden with iron rods was pushing it further aground.
The weight on the cart was far more than what a healthy donkey could bear. But because the merciless master of this poor beast of burden wanted to get the maximum benefits (in terms of remuneration), by delivering at the destination as many goods as possible, the situation had come to this. Instead of relieving the donkey of some weight, the owner had beaten it with sticks, expecting it to jump up and pull the cart again.
Some of the spectators stepped forward, and tried to help the animal to get up. The animal eventually rose from the ground but could move with a limp. There were injuries on its right leg, but no one present there seemed interested in questioning its master about this show of cruelty. On the contrary, they looked amused and kept taking pictures with their mobile phones.
In the past, we had the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) that worked under the government and would fine people who subjected any animals to brutality. Whenever the department came across donkeys, horses, and bulls pulling overloaded carts, it would punish their masters, fine them, and confiscate the animals. Today, unfortunately, the SPCA representatives are nowhere to be seen patrolling the streets. The result is no relief for the poor animals; their masters are free to get as cruel to them as they want to.
While the general complaint is that the society has become ineffective, the officials claim otherwise. They say that the SPCA is very much there but its functions have changed. Besides, they claim, it now works under a different name.
Syed Naeem Abbas, Advocacy Manager, Brooke Pakistan, a UK based organisation working for the rights of animals, especially equines, urges the need to protect animals from cruelty. Talking exclusively to TNS, he says that the SPCA was established by the British to save the rights of animals, in 1890, which shows how important the issue was even at that time. “The law was implemented in the sub-continent and remained in force for ages but unfortunately now it is not being implemented in Pakistan.”
He requests the government to enforce the law with necessary amendments. He also claims to have “taken up the matter with members of the assembly who’ve shown great interest [in it].”
Abbas quotes from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1890: “If any person overrides, beats, or otherwise treats an animal so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or binds, carries, or keeps it in starvation, thirst, overcrowding, the violator will be punished.”
Furthermore, under the same act, if a person offers for sale any dead animal or part of a dead animal which he believes has been killed in an unnecessarily cruel manner, the person responsible shall be punished with fine which may extend to Rs50, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month. In the case of a subsequent offence committed within three years of the previous offence, the violation is punishable with fine which may extend to Rs100, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with both.
Abbas believes that the law in the existing form cannot meet the requirements of the changing times. “Nowadays, a large number of donkeys are being stolen for their hides and killed, and their meat is sold in the market, as reported by the media. The punishment for this must be far more than three months and fine should also be multiplied.
“Brooke Pakistan finds that although the number of donkeys seen on the roads has reduced, they are employed at brick kilns in highly deplorable conditions. Tens of thousands of donkeys at brick kilns are miserable, also because of malnutrition. Brooke Pakistan has done capacity building of veterinary doctors, veterinary assistants as well as owners of the donkeys on how to take care of them. Additionally, they handle cases of emergency only and take seriously injured animals to the hospital set up by them.”
Ghulam Fatima, Chairperson of the Bonded Labour Front (BLLF) Pakistan, sounds a similar view: “Donkeys bring raw bricks from long distances to the furnaces at bhattas (brick kilns). They are compelled to carry heavy weights, which is a violation of animal rights.
“Additionally, the labourers who accompany these donkeys are not paid the wages fixed by the government. They are given Rs100 per 1,000 bricks, as opposite to the set Rs320 per 1,000 bricks. Resultantly, they are unable to feed the animals properly. If they can’t feed themselves and their families, how will they feed their animals?”
According to Fatima, if a donkey dies, the whole family of a brick kiln worker suffers. Donkeys are their main source of earning. The labourers get peshgi (advance) money from brick kiln owners to purchase donkeys. If a donkey dies, the family cannot pay back advance and therefore the whole family is in debt; they cannot leave the place until the amount is paid back.
“The situation is almost the same at around 10,000 bricks kilns in the Punjab province,” Fatima says, lamentingly. “Besides, there are no sheds and shelters at the brick kilns, and the donkeys have to bear the vagaries of harsh weathers. The concerned government departments are nowhere to be seen.”
Naseem Sadiq, Secretary, Livestock, Punjab, disagrees with Fatima and says that only one per cent of donkeys can be found at the bricks kilns in the province: “The donkeys are given free medication if found injured or weak,” he says. “After their treatment, the department uploads the data on a daily basis.”
Sadiq explains that the SPCA has been working under the livestock department since 2016 but it has changed its style of working, “Now it does not impose fine in case of a violation of animal rights.
“The condition of the donkey’s owners is more miserable,” he adds. “If he had enough money, would he be pulling a donkey cart?”
He says that the destitute owner shall not be fined. In the event of an injury, the department provides all the required medication free of cost.
Sadiq also says that only ten per cent donkeys are working in the urban areas while the rest are used in rural areas. As per a census conducted by the department, around 50,000 donkeys are employed at different sites in the province. “We provide medical facilities at doorstep if the animal is found sick.”
Donkeys are also used in coal mining areas and mountainous terrains. The department, Sadiq says, plans to treat them according to the respective ecology.
But Fatima believes she hasn’t found any veterinary doctor visiting the brick kilns in the province. However, she says, “The plan looks good on paper, and I wish it is implemented in its true spirit.”