Is There a Link Between Violence Against Animals and Toxic Masculinity?

On April 21, the Supreme Court advised the Centre to address the concerns raised about the protection of wild animals, street animals and pets during the pandemic. Despite this, cases of violence against animals have only been rising in several parts of the country.

On June 3, the news of a pregnant elephant killed by a group of men in Kerala sparked great fury and rage across India. But beyond this one story that made headlines, there have been many more such instances of animal abuse during the lockdown.

Assam is reported to have witnessed the unnatural death of five leopards in total from April till now. On June 8, in Guwahati, a leopard was killed by a group of six men and the carcass was exhibited as a trophy. This monstrous act was recorded on video by the culprits. In the video, the abusers can be seen cheering, hooting and clapping with no shame or guilt.

On June 11, a female monkey‘s tail was cut in Guwahati. After that, the perpetrators tossed her in a jungle near Kamakhya gate.

Similarly, in Kolkata, a video went viral in May where two men were seen torturing an infant dolphin to death. Notwithstanding the order issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in May 2013, denying the capture and use of dolphins for personal/public entertainment, the culprits could be seen openly flouting the law.

Apart from the negligence and inefficiency of legal bodies, there is another crucial aspect that is instrumental in such cases of animal cruelty. In these cases of violence against animals, the perpetrators are mostly men.

A pattern can be seen in the way the accused in most of these cases records videos and circulates them without any fear. Certainly, quite similar to those recorded by men while abusing and raping women. Unlike earlier times, when culprits maintained anonymity, what we see today is a proud show of what they think to be their legitimate right.

Also read: COVID-19 Cases Are on the Rise. So Are Domestic Abuse Cases

Analysing these acts of violence from a feminist perspective can give us some logical answers. These brutal incidents of violence by men against mute, defenceless animals find their roots in the ideology of toxic masculinity, which, as an institution, takes pride in aggression, violence and dominance. It tries to glorify and justify a ‘manly performance’ every now and then.

Not only this, but it also drives men to think it to be their sole responsibility to maintain hierarchical order in the society. According to such men, everything has a designated place in society. Therefore, they try to curtail the freedom of women and other subjugated sections of the society to preserve the social order.

During the lockdown, animals reclaimed their space in the public zone. While men were shut inside their houses, animals took to the roads, shops, gardens, ATMs etc.

Would it not be conclusive to say that men seek legitimacy in punishing those who threaten the normative values of masculinity? Patriarchy endorses the belief that sensitivity comes only after compromising on one’s masculinity. In short, a man who is sensitive isn’t masculine enough. The perceived vulnerability of animals, like that of women, satiate the egoistic, superior self of such men.

A video uploaded on May 16 by a young TikToker of Tirunelveli city showing a cat tied to rope from the ceiling is one such example of male narcissism with the concept of power over the powerless. In the said video, the young man can be seen swinging the body of the hanging cat with an audio-track running in the background. This evidently speaks for the objectification of animal and female bodies as one prime reason behind the culture of violence against them.

The notion of objectification implies that a thing or a person’s life and body exist only for the purpose of extracting pleasure by others. Routinely, we see women being harassed, abused and molested openly in public places because men perceive them as objects of pleasure. Peta India clearly establishes the link between animal abuse and female/human abuse. It states: “People who commit acts of cruelty to animals often move on to hurting humans. In a study of domestic violence victims, 60% of women said that their abusive partners had harmed or killed their dogs or other animals”.

This kind of objectification of animals reduce them to the status of lifeless objects  incapable of experiencing human emotions. Likewise, in cases of rape, acid-attack, immolation and destruction of victim’s body; the culprits certainly perceive their targets as non-human objects. In another video posted on social media on May 19, two teenaged boys in Ujjain were seen drowning a tied-up dog in a dirty pond. When enquired by police, they said that they drowned and shot the video of the dog only for “fun purpose”.

Toxic masculinity attempts to oppress the peripheral and the powerless. Therefore, it is important to see the correlation between the video recordings made and circulated by the perpetrators of animal abuse and those of female abuse.

Ankita Dubey is a research scholar at Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Featured image credit: Sasha Sashina/Unsplash