“Do you remember that Black Mirror episode? In which the British Prime Minister had to fuck a pig?” my friend asks out of nowhere. I stare at her and then look out of the car window. We are stuck in rush hour Mumbai traffic, inching forward, the rain proving to be an unwanted companion.
As I mull over her question, my mind drifts to a rather unpleasant topic which causes most people acid reflux – bestiality.
Bestiality is defined as a sexual relationship between a human being and an animal. It can be confused with ‘zoophilia’, which refers to a human being’s sexual fixation or attraction towards an animal. Zoophiles, unlike bestials, do not engage in any cross species sexual activity.
When I began writing this piece, I made the rookie mistake of googling the term ‘bestiality’. About a hundred porn sites popped up, each promising me the ‘newest hardcore bestiality porn’ I would ever see. Safe to say, within seconds I had exited the page and cleaned out my history. But it got me thinking – those videos have been created for a certain set of people. That there are people in this world who derive a certain voyeuristic pleasure from watching people have sex with animals.
Dr. Narayan Reddy, a reputed Chennai based sexologist, says, “We still do not know the cause of bestiality. There are a few theories though. One is that people who have lived with animals in extremely close proximity since their early childhood, develop an unhealthy attraction to them which eventually translates into physical sexual action.”
“The second and more plausible theory is that of ‘sexual grounding’, which primarily refers to how the brain interprets stimulants as sexual and non-sexual. Often at the onset of puberty, if one gets aroused during close contact with an animal or when two animals are mating, it is indicative of bestial tendencies. However, without any scientific study or clear-cut evidence-based data, these will continue to remain theories,” he adds.
I find myself wondering if such people would benefit from counselling. Dr. Reddy is quick to dispel this notion: “In the 40 years that I have been practicing, I may have seen only five or six such patients, across income groups and demographies. Often, they do not come in for treatment because they are ashamed, or because bestiality is illegal, and they are worried about being reported to the police. When a patient does end up seeking treatment, talk therapy proves to be most useful. However, it is only after a few years that any substantial change is seen. We help the patient visualise their partner during moments of arousal instead of their preferred animal companion. They are gently and tactfully made to engage with their partners and over time it becomes muscle memory. While it may never be completely comfortable or easy, it is a new reality that they can create for themselves.
“The problem is that many patients stop coming for treatment after a few sessions. Unless their partner is pushing them to, many do not go through with the entire course of treatment,” he says.
Even though having sex with an animal who can by no means communicate consent is depraved and bizarre, a report by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO) and All Creatures Great and Small (ACGS) stated that over 5,00,000 cases of animal cruelty including rape, were reported between 2010 and 2020. Of these, at least 82 cases were of that of sexual abuse.
“This is honestly not surprising. Those who are charged with bestiality, under Section 11 of the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act)’ and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (“against the order of nature), only have to post Rs. 50/- for bail and they go scot-free. Till now, I have not come across a single case where the perpetrator has actually served jail time. There is zero accountability,” says Nikhil Mahesh, Founder of Umeed for the Animal Foundation, a non-for-profit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals.
Over the years Nikhil has rescued multiple animals, all victims of varying forms and degrees of cruelty, however it was in 2018 when he first encountered a case of bestiality.
“I received a call from an acquaintance in Uttar Pradesh who told me that an indie was being sexually abused by her owner. While we ensured that the dog was rescued and a case filed against the perpetrator, it all stemmed from an allegation. Honestly, till now I am not sure if it was actually proven. While there are ways to prove that an animal has been sexually violated, proving that a human did it is difficult if not nearly impossible. This is also because of systemic issues – government veterinary doctors who are authorised to do forensic tests on animals are not well trained, or they are so corrupt, that they intentionally bungle up the results. The dog is doing well now, but when we rescued her, she had serious injuries in her lower vagina.”
In 2015, Nikhil approached the Gurgaon police commissioner, urging him to issue a circular which stated that all cases of animal cruelty must be taken seriously and looked into properly.
“I had to take the example of Delhi, where the police commissioner had issued a similar circular, explaining why it was important. Only then was it implemented. I kept wondering – why am I having to explain this? Are animals not considered living beings? Do they not have any rights? Are we not supposed to co-exist peacefully with other species? And why isn’t this concept – of protecting animals – not a part of police training manuals? The overall lack of empathy I often encounter, honestly it still astounds me. With respect to bestiality, I think the prevailing sentiment amongst all cops is that such a thing is just not possible. And to hear that when you are trying to file a case is extremely discouraging.”
Earlier this year, a pregnant goat died after being raped by three men in Kerala. This was eerily similar to a case in 2018, when a seven-year-old pregnant goat was gang raped by eight men from Haryana and then killed. In April this year, a Bengal monitor lizard in the Sahydari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra was raped by four hunters. In 2021, a young man was found sexually assaulting a stray dog in Mysore.
While all these instances have warranted media attention, been registered as cases, they have not yielded any stringent punishment. There has been no change in our laws, no inclusion of sexual assault in the wildlife protection law, no harsher penalty. Does this signal the devolvement of human beings? Or does this tie into a larger conversation around the absence of sexual education, a lack of sexual awareness and empathy, male privilege, and a completely skewed understanding of consent?
One can only wonder.
Natasha Srivastava is a communications professional who writes on issues pertaining to mental health.