It’s a cruel world even for the most innocent creatures. Caesar, a precious little pup with a shiny white coat, docked tail and the most beautiful eyes, was one of the many unfortunate victims of our violence to other animals.

At just two months old, Caesar’s world was turned upside down when his parents abandoned him due to a condition of albinism and a growing lump in his leg. Alone and defenseless in the streets, he faced constant danger from stray animals and heartless humans who inflicted suffering on him. One day then, a glimmer of hope appeared in Caesar’s bleak life. A compassionate family was moved by his agony and called the local municipal veterinary for help. The rescue team arrived and whisked Caesar away in a cage, along with other dogs in need.

Days passed, and the authorities reported back to the family, assuring them their beloved pup was on the road to recovery. Excited and relieved, the family eagerly awaited Caesar’s return, hoping to give him the loving home and family we deserve.

When he arrived, however, it was clear Caesar’s ordeal was far from over. The little pup was still traumatized by his experiences, with open wounds yet to heal. Worse, during his stay at the municipal veterinary, Caesar had contracted the deadly canine parvovirus, or CPV. The virus is known to spread rapidly through contact with infected dogs or contaminated objects, making it all the more important for veterinary facilities to take the necessary precautions to prevent its spread.

Despite the high risk posed by this disease, the authorities responsible for Caesar’s care did not take adequate precautions to prevent its spread, resulting in the young pup’s exposure. In spite of the family’s best efforts to care for Caesar, the deadly virus eventually claimed his young life, turning what should have been a noble act of rescue into a tragic outcome. Surrounded by the love and warmth of his new family, cradling his favorite toy, Caesar died.

Sadly, his story is not an isolated one. Every day countless animals like Caesar fall victim to human cruelty and neglect. Their stories may go untold but their pain and suffering are no less real.

India is known to flaunt its cultural heritage of respect for all forms of life, and it has enacted laws like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 to protect non-humans from suffering. Yet the lawful penalties remain absurdly low, merely 50 Rs, and fail to deter potential offenders. Even after being convicted these offenders are let off by paying this minimal penalty, which hasn’t been revised in the past six decades.

While reported violence against animals in India reaches an alarming level, these crimes aren’t even tabulated by the National Crime Records Bureau in its annual report. The NCRB publishes state and district wise data of various crimes, including violent crimes, assault, theft, sexual abuse, and murders, but does not mention animal victims. Crimes of “cruelty” under the PCA Act are clubbed together in the miscellaneous category of Special and Local Laws with no separate data, making it difficult to address these social harms.

This inattention shows the urgent need for better legal protections, awareness and education about animal rights in India.

Reports published by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) for the decade 2010-19 help fill the data void. A 2021 report titled In Their Own Right: Calling for Parity in Law for Animal Victims of Crimes compiles over 2,400 recorded cases of crimes against animals. It shows a trend of growing cruelty against non-human animals in India. I analysed the report and here in four charts is what I found.

From a mere 12 cases in 2010 reported cases of cruelty against animals increased alarmingly to 700 in 2019, a 58-fold increase in just 10 years. These include “deaths in slaughterhouses, zoos, laboratories and the deaths of animals by accidents or human negligence”, and according to the report “the actual figure could be at least ten times higher”.

The increase may also owe to the growing use of social media and awareness of animal wellness in India. The majority of reported cases were filed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, while some were filed under the Indian Penal Code or a combination of the two. One case also involved the Animal Birth Control Rules revised this year.

The increase may also be due to the use of CCTV and phone cameras, and the efforts of animal rights activists who are more alert to such crimes. If so it shows a growing concern for animal welfare, which must be translated into concrete action to protect animals from harm.

The report uses a severity scale ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being unknown/uninformed and 5 involving violence and torture. Most cases fell in the higher range of the scale. There were 181 cases of neglect, showing that many animals are not being cared for adequately. Neglect can be as severe as other forms of cruelty as it may lead to illness, injury, and even death.

The number of cases for the next level of severity, hurt, is even higher, with 394 cases reported. These are cases where animals are intentionally harmed physically or mentally, which can cause severe and lasting damage to health and well-being.

The highest number of cases (1,282) fell in the severe category of grievous hurt. These were cases where people subjected animals to severe injuries or harm, causing long-term health issues and trauma. Such cases can also have severe consequences for animal populations, leading to a decline in species numbers and harm to biodiversity.

The extent of animal cruelty increased further up the scale, with as many as 538 cases of violence and torture. In these people subjected animals to extreme pain and suffering, causing long-term physical and psychological damage. They were deliberate acts of cruelty, often by individuals or groups with malicious intent.

The FIAPO report highlights a distressing reality: animals kept as companions, or pets, are the most vulnerable to assault in India. There were 793 recorded cases of assault against companion animals, the highest among the various kinds of assault.

This is particularly alarming as companion animals are supposed to be in a safe environment, in the comfort of their own homes. However, the data show this is not always the case, and these animals are at risk of abuse and violence.

There was also a prevalence of animal sexual abuse, with 84 recorded cases, and entertainment-related assault, with 324 cases. People also subjected work animals to assault, with 117 recorded cases, and to violent birth control measures with 82 cases. Superstition, politics, and other assaults made for the largest category of miscellaneous assaults, with 572 recorded cases.

These figures only represent the reported cases of cruelty to animals: the actual number of cases is likely much higher. A large number of cases of animal brutality in India go unreported. According to FIAPO, the police registered 315 cases in response to complaints of animal brutality, with a further 960 cases where no complaint was filed, and 863 cases where no information was available. Underreporting and a lack of sensitivity to animal happiness continue to be challenges in combating animal abuse in India.

Evidently, there is an urgent need for greater attention and action, with stronger legal protections and enforcement mechanisms to ensure justice for animal victims and survivors. In response to these disturbing trends, a powerful new hashtag, #NoMore50 (referring to the 50 rupee fine for cruelty to animals under the PCA Act) is reigniting crucial conversations about the need for significant change in laws and attitudes in the country. Time we acknowledge and address the issue, so people like Caesar don’t have to suffer and can live in a more humane and compassionate India.