This article has been written by Bhavya Verma of JEMTEC, School of Law and curated by Rasveen Kaur Kapoor, Indore Institute of Law.
“The idea of Humanity is no longer confined to man; it is beginning to extend itself to the lower animals, as in the past it has been gradually extended to savages and slaves”
– Henry S. Salt.
Bestiality, or human-animal intercourse, has been a concern amongst legal and mental health community since many years. Ancient legal codes delineated punishments for those who engage in the behaviour, denoting a general and moral societal concern surrounding bestiality dating to ancient times. Given this continued concern in human beings for having a sexual intercourse with animals and the legal attempts to prosecute them, no work for its betterment is substantially being done. It is important for clinicians to know the legal status of behaviour in their jurisdictions, to understand possible medical and psychiatric complications and comorbidities, and to know how to diagnose and address individuals who are engaged in bestiality or diagnosed with zoophilic disorder related to it.
Zooerasty or zoorasty is almost the same as bestiality, with the additional fact that there is a possibly pathological component in the perpetrator, the zooerast, i.e. he may prefer an animal even though other natural sexual Intercourse options may be available to him generally. Depending on the human preferences as regards penetration or being penetrated, both male and female animals can be involved. The depictions of human-animal sexual interactions have a long tradition in mythology and art but typically reflect animal anthropomorphism rather than historical fact.
Bestiality, too, carries risks to human health. Leptospirosis, echinococcosis, rabies etc. can be transmitted by animal sexual intercourse. Animals can carry genital, intestinal or urinary tract infections of human sexually transmitted diseases, bacterial or parasite infections and cancer-causing viruses. The first animal anti cruelty provision dates back to the United States in 1641-“The Body of Liberties,” introduced by the Massachusetts Bay Puritans. It was followed by U.K. animal law in 1781, the first to examine cattle treatment on the Smithfield market. Soon in 1786 UK passed legislation requiring a slaughter license.
In India, the earliest national legislations were Wild Birds and Game Act, 1887; the Wild Birds and Wild Animals Protection Act, 1912; and the Indian Forest Act, 1927. India has made tremendous strides in the recognition of the various animal rights. Despite the existing measures, there are still instances of misdemeanours against them. The blurring of the human-subhuman boundaries is antithetical to human existence as a unique race.
India’s constitution calls on every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including lakes, forests, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 is a criminal statute covering various unnatural offences. It becomes difficult to know that an animal offense has been committed unless there is exclusive provision covering bestiality. In 2003, England introduced reform with respect to the bestiality offence-making specific legislation for it. Unfortunately, India does not have a body or agency that holds any data about animal sexual abuse. National Crime Records Bureau, Animal Welfare Board of India, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) etc. do not have any data related to animal cruelty incidents.
Human beings have a moral responsibility to consider their responsibilities towards the animals. Since humans have the ability to think rationally; a consciousness, and a sense of right and wrong, they owe responsibility to others. To deal with the deteriorating civilization a moral and legal introspection must be made. Effective penal provisions must be brought in to deter the offenders. Animal welfare needs to be looked at in a respectful, non-patronizing and unapologetic way. Awakening sensitivity among human beings to animal dignity and rights, in a world where even human rights are often violated, is a little difficult. Bestiality has to become a topic open to public discourse. The laws alone would have brought no improvement. Social workers, veterinarians and the society as a whole need to participate.