Powerless Horses

30 May 2012 | Animal Welfare | By Team Halabol

Superstar, the Sholay horse, continued to earn for its master till it was too old (95-yrs-old in human age terms) and developed diarrhoea. It was disposed of to die in heat and humidity then. Somewhere in the same state, horses at Alibaug beach are made to carry passengers to Kolaba fort, in nape-deep water, risking lives of everyone on the carriages. They, too, earn for their masters, in spite of the fact that saline water causes wounds in their hooves.

0Comments Read MoreAlibaug Horses, Animal Abuse, Animal Cruelty, Animal Exploitation, Horses

Founded in seventeenth century, by Sarkhel Kanhoji Aangre, the naval chief of King Shivaji's Kingdom, the coastal town of Alibaug in Raigad district of Maharashtra has always been famous – historically, for its population of Bene Israeli Jews, and contemporarily, for being a favourite choice for residence of various movie stars.

Money and the Maharaj

People have devised various ways to benefit from the idyllic atmosphere of once pristine beaches of Alibaug. Enjoying rides on horse carriages at beaches, at the expense of poor horses, is one of those unintelligent ideas. In fact, local guides insist that you visit Kolaba fort (different from Colaba in Mumbai), which is now situated within the sea – about a kilometer from the shores – and was built, as they say it, by Shivaji Maharaj. Though an important figure historically, it’s incredible to see the kind of influence the celebrated Maratha king wields on Maharashtra’s populace even today. Though it’s possible to walk to the fort during low tides, people don’t mind shelling an extra buck to be pulled by horses to the fort (even during low tides). When they do so, little do they think that it can endanger the lives of everyone part of the carriage-system, and that includes horses, passengers and carriage-owners.

It’s got dangerous written all over it

The business starts around 2 PM – the time of low tide – and continues till dark. Although horses are natural swimmers, they cannot possibly walk in the waters that sometimes come dangerously close to their nape; this can even set a panic wave in these animals, since they rely a lot on their sense of path judgment and when they cannot see the path in the seawater (in addition to getting constantly whipped), their natural gifts of walking, running and swimming are all rendered useless.

Zoologists opine that saline water is harmful for hooves of these ungulates – and that often results in skin deterioration and infections, leading to the misery of these animals. We all know how salt feels on wounds! But horse owners find it an innocuous way to earn their living; they usually make 10 trips a day (15 minutes one way), carry five people per trip at the rate of Rs 150 per person. That translates into a lot of money, but only if some of it could be spent on the diet of horses; most of them are undernourished.

Also, it’s dangerous how they often violate the self-imposed rule of not carrying more than five people. One can easily imagine what a slight misjudgment of water’s depth on horses’ part can lead to, given that they are not biologically wired to walk through waters. Panicked horses risk hitting the passengers they carry; children are usually in for a double whammy due to their height.

Somewhere in the same state

Not only the horses at Alibaug, but at other places, too, have these creatures had to suffer for greed of their masters. It’s a common knowledge how horses (rather mares) are treated during North Indian weddings.

Even celebrity horses don’t have it easy; Superman, the horse that started earning for its master as early as 1975, when Sholay released, continued to work till last year, when this 35-year-old horse (comparable to a 95-year-old human) worked in the serial Jhansi Ki Rani for the young Lakshmibai. It was only retired when it contracted diarrhoea, for which it was never treated. Having lived through much of its economic value, the stallion was left to count its last breaths in unhygienic, warm and humid stables, until some people took notice.

Halaboling works

Although, ideally, Superman should have retired at the age of 22, comparable to 60 yrs for humans, but the lure of lucre is too tempting to be resisted. Adds Manilal Valliyate, the director of veterinary affairs of PETA India:

Since Sholay was released, I have grown from a baby into an adult, become a husband and a father and graduated from vet school, while this poor horse has been spending his life at shoots. He would have been whipped and forced to drag heavy loads beyond his physical capacity.

Ambika Hiranandani, an animal rights activist and lawyer, feels that the story of Superman is typical of countless other horses that are forced to work long hours and live in filthy stables. Thanks to the voices of these activists, the Bombay High Court took notice, and now Superman may lead a dignified old age. The court also ordered that a special panel be formed to survey and study the health of all workhorses and condition of stables.

In case of Alibaug horses, too, citizens like you and us proved useful. Anjali Sharma, the legal advisor to the animal welfare board of India (AWBI), did her bit. She asserted that cruelty to animals does not only include denying nourishment or causing physical abuse but also mental trauma:

The tenet of the law is that every animal should be allowed to express itself and do what comes naturally to it. This is not natural. Why do something so peculiar when other options like boats are available? In trying to offer a novel experience, horse owners are exploiting the animals.

A legal notice has been sent to the local District Collector terming this practice a public nuisance. In fact, Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows for that interpretation since it puts human life at risk and amounts to cruelty against the animals under Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Alibaug horses await their liberation of this beastly practice; in fact let us call this practice human only, since beasts don’t do as reprehensible acts as we humans do. Why abuse them?

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