Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, a fervent campaigner for animal rights has added heft to the demand of animal rights activists in Tamil Nadu for justice for Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the name given by activists to a year-old female monkey who was found partially burnt and buried in the campus of the Christian Medical College in Vellore, near Chennai on 21 November. Prima facie, the body showed signs of horrific torture and abuse – the monkey’s limbs were tied, a telephone cord around her neck, multiple fractures on her body and a stick shoved up her rectum and forced out front.
In an exclusive interaction via email with Firstpost, Gandhi said – "Putting a rod into the rectum and pushing it so that it goes through every organ is not rape but murder. The monkey was tortured terribly in full view of bystanders for hours and then killed by a group of louts that are studying to be doctors. What kind of medicine will they practice on humans? Nowadays, anyone with money can get into a medical college and I fear for the lives of their patients. These kinds of butchers should be immediately removed from the college and put into jail."
Gandhi’s anger is echoed by animal rights campaigners in Tamil Nadu. In an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shiranee Pereira, co-founder of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), wrote: "While the four criminals are still at large, let our cries echo Lakshmi's last cries. Cries that went unheard in the searing pain she endured before her death. Let us now demand justice for her with an email to the Prime Minister’s Office. I request each of you to go to http://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/. Click on "Write to the Prime Minister" and choose the category "Environment issues/animal welfare/forest conservation" and write your request to the Hon’ble Prime Minister to investigate the brutal killing of Lakshmi, the baby monkey, at the hands of young students from the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, India, and demand that the culprits be punished as per the law. We must ensure that no other Lakshmi will ever have to endure this agony and pain that she bore, ever again."
The hashtag #justiceforlakshmi was trending on Twitter on Friday, as animal welfare activists poured outrage on social media. Four medical students of CMC Vellore have been questioned by the Bagayam Police in connection with the crime which has been registered under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The monkey’s body has been sent for post-mortem and results are awaited. Police sources told Firstpost that the four were likely to be arrested over the weekend.
Activists are also asking why the perpetrators were not arrested by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department since the monkey belonged to a 'critically endangered species'. "According to Wildlife Act 1972, killing a wild animal is a crime," said Dawn Williams, general manager of Blue Cross. "The forest department can immediately arrest and produce them before the court. But in this case, it still has not taken any action. This shows how lethargic they are in this case," he said.
Minister Maneka Gandhi also made a strong pitch for laws on animal cruelty to be amended and made more stringent. "The PCA (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act) should be amended to make cruelty to animals a heinous crime," Gandhi told Firstpost. "America has done this early this year because they have seen that cruelty to animals is a specific indicator to cruelty to humans."
The four medical students accused of committing the crime (while a group of about 30 others watched) have been suspended by the college management.
This horrific incident comes a few months after the Bhadra incident where a young stray dog was thrown off the terrace by two medical students. They had filmed the act and uploaded the video which went viral on social media. The dog Bhadra survived, having sustained fractures. Despite the outrage from animal rights activists and civil society, both students were let off by the court with a fine of Rs 2 lakh and allowed to continue their education.