17/03/2016 12:03 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Why Finding Out Who Hurt Shaktimaan Is Not The Only Concern We Should Have

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
DEHRADUN, INDIA - MARCH 14: MLA Ganesh Joshi beating a horse during a BJP rally at Vidhansabha, on March 14, 2016 in Dehradun, India. (Photo by Vinay Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Shaktimaan, the horse who was recently hurt at a political rally in Uttarakhand, has been a trending topic on Twitter for the past several days. The public is shocked and upset that his leg was broken and visibly covered with blood during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest, and people rightly want to know who should be held accountable for this violent outcome.

A first information report has been lodged against MLA Ganesh Joshi and his unidentified supporters under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and sections 429 and 188 of the Indian Penal Code - following the release of a video that shows Mr Joshi wielding a lathi and raining blows down near Shaktimaan, appearing to incite his supporters into a frenzy. In his own defence, he claimed he was hitting the ground, not the horse--a claim similar to the one recently made by a circus owner who whipped a tiger 19 times on the face and body--and Mr Joshi further asserted that his supporters were being lathi-charged by the police. In another video, Shaktimaan can be seen being attacked by people who appear to be Mr Joshi's supporters - and then falling to the ground.

[A]nimals and political rallies don't mix.

Mr. Joshi has continued to deny that he hit the horse, although Vinod Singh, the station officer of the Nehru Colony police station, reported that people saw Joshi and his supporters beating the horse with sticks. However, just as a person would back away from a person wielding a weapon, and people harassing him from various sides, so would a horse. The video footage shows that Shaktimaan was trying to move out of harm's way and that the policeman sitting atop him was yanked on when he fell, and the horse's bone shattered during the mêlée. The fear in Shaktimaan was caused by the lathi wielded in front of him and the subsequent physical assaults led to his now life-threatening condition. Whether any of the blows from the lathi actually hit him is less important than the effect of the mob's violence.

I say life-threatening because, for a horse, this type of injury can spell death - or, at the very least, a grim and permanently reduced quality of life and loss of mobility. There have been media reports that there is hope for a positive outcome, but equine veterinarians say this is unlikely. Treating an injury like this is extremely difficult and complicated because much of horses' weight rests on their hind legs. With the loss of one limb, a huge amount of pressure--hundreds of kilograms' worth--is placed on the remaining hind leg, leading to inflammation of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints as well as severe pain. And because horses often sleep standing up, this injury likely means Shaktimaan will not be able to rest comfortably again.

[W]ith jeeps and other technology available, there's no justification for police to be using horses.

The charged atmosphere at the rally would have added to Shaktimaan's natural nervousness as horses are high-strung, and this incident just proves once again that animals and political rallies don't mix. Animals cannot comprehend the noise and chaos, and they may be targeted by opposing party supporters. That's why injuries or even deaths occur and why, in 2012, after hearing from PETA, the Election Commission of India issued a circular to all political parties asking them to refrain from using animals in their rallies and campaigns.

So, who's to blame? I urge the police to expedite their investigation and to hold accountable every person who hit or harassed Shaktimaan or caused his fall, but I also urge them to acknowledge that it's 2016, and with jeeps and other technology available, there's no justification for police to be using horses. Furthermore, I implore the Election Commission of India to remind political parties not to use animals and to reprimand those who violate this order.

ALSO READ: Injured Police Horse Shaktiman's Leg Amputated, Bjp Worker Held

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