Be it in grim alleys or in broad day-light at a public fair, hundreds of spectators still gather every week to witness what’s locally called a dangal, in Punjab’s orthodox villages. A form of blood sport where animals ranging from canines and cocks to bears, vultures and wild boars are tied, tortured and forced to fight each other to death. Bets are placed, the crowd cheers, but there is never any mercy spared.
Although the practice of animal fighting remains outlawed in much of Pakistan, and can earn organisers up to six months in prison plus fines, the crime has been hard to root out Punjab’s villages, where it’s often stitched as part of local culture.
The provincial wildlife department, noticing a surge in the blood sport, had imposed a strict ban on dog fighting, maintaining that the sport is against animal rights and is in gross violation of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) and subsequently, the Punjab Wildlife Act.
Per sources privy to public affairs, consultations were held by the concerned government department during the past several weeks in this regard. Where most people agreed on a curb on such barbaric games, some government figures were of the opinion that such a strict ban could prove damaging to Punjab’s rural culture and should hence not be imposed.
The legislation still managed to pass. Punjab Wildlife Secretary Shahid Zaman recently issued a notification outlawing organised hunting of wild animals across the province. Per law, no electronic device is to be used for hunting anymore, including mojos and pre-charged air guns. The violators could be looking at heavy fines and rigorous life imprisonment, while the only permitted form of hunting now requires a license and use of trained (pointer) dogs to catch prey.
Despite legislation however, the lack of action and investigation from the relevant federal and provincial departments have let the unhinged act of animal cruelty to sprawl with little to no accountability, in the last several years.
It is important to note here that a lot of these laws have existed in the books for tens of years, with slight variations and amendments made over time to cement the legal loopholes. For instance, in rural Punjab, defenseless animals are routinely tortured for public entertainment, while the culture of blood sport still exists as a common recreational activity, regardless of the long-existing ban on all kinds of animal fighting. Which is to say that the missing link needed to resolve this crisis is not legislation but rather application and enforcement of existing laws.
The severity of this is evident from government officials counting the game as an intrinsic part of Punjabi culture, during legislative talks. According to Punjab wildlife sources speaking on condition of anonymity, strict enforcement of all new restrictions would require the formation of secret teams to keep watch on various areas and ensure that the local wildlife officer implements the law as and when needed. “The wildlife officers and officials who portray negligence in enforcing the ban may face disciplinary action,” the source told The Express Tribune