On Tuesday, animal welfare activists exhumed the body of a year-old monkey that had been tortured to death allegedly by four students of the Christian Medical College in Vellore, near Chennai. The partially burnt body of the female monkey had multiple fractures from being tied up and beaten, and a stick had been inserted in her rectum and forced out through the front of her body.

The incident – which brought back memories of another case in July, when two medical students in Chennai had thrown a dog off a terrace and filmed the act – has animal rights activists in Tamil Nadu up in arms, demanding stricter laws and harsher punishment for crimes against animals. In the Chennai case, the dog escaped with fractures while the perpetrators were let off on paying a fine of Rs 2 lakhs and allowed to continue their education.

“The law needs to impose harsher punishment, only then will such acts of cruelty be curbed,” said activist Shravan Krishnan, who had rescued the dog Bhadra.

According to S Thiyagarajan, secretary of the Madras Society for Prevention of Cruelty and Care of Animals, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is not a deterrent at all. Referring to the killing of the monkey in Vellore, he said, “If this case is taken up under this Act, there is only a fine of Rs 50 as per law while under the Wildlife Protection Act, the fine amount will increase to a few thousand rupees.”

He added, “This is not enough. The authorities need to come up with stricter laws.”

Animal welfare campaigner Radha Rajan, a petitioner in the case calling for a ban on the bull-racing sport of Jallikattu, warned, “If animal abuse can go unpunished, this will translate into violence and abuse against women and children.”

Treatment for killers?

Psychiatrists in the state were shocked that the perpetrators of the crime were students of medicine.

“I think this is really pathetic,” said Dr Lakshmi Vijaykumar, a senior psychiatrist with the World Health Organisation. “You’re supposed to regard every life as important and precious, especially as a doctor. This cannot be pardoned by any stretch of the imagination.”

She also pointed out that students of medicine were more likely to lack empathy towards animals due to the nature of their studies. “These students are probably anaesthetised to suffering,” she said. “Medical students, during the course of their studies, generally cut open frogs, rats and human cadavers, so there may be some anaesthetisation in that sense.”

Vijaykumar said this was also a kind of group behaviour. “If you asked those boys now, they would probably say their intention was not to hurt the animal,” she added. “This is a kind of group behaviour. One person starts it and it gives you a sense of power. In a group, the responsibility is diluted.”

Other experts said such students may need treatment themselves. “It is saddening that medical students have done such a thing,” said Dr Nappinai, a psychiatrist. “In a profession like medicine, one needs to have more tolerance. These students are taking out their depression and stress on animals in this fashion and it is a kind of illness. Unless such students are immediately treated, the possibility of them indulging in more violent acts will increase very quickly.”

Tortured to death

The animal rescue team that had the body of the monkey exhumed said the brutality was shocking.

“The monkey was abused by the worst means,” said Antony Robin, one of the activists involved in exhuming the body. “Her hand was tied in the rear side and a telephone wire was tied to her neck. We observed fractures in the knee, ankle, neck and other places. We also noticed a sharp object was inserted from behind and came in front. This is by far the worst case [of animal cruelty] we have seen.”

A police official, who was also part of the exercise, said the corpse was partially burnt. “We have sent the body for post-mortem,” he said. “The college authorities are cooperating with the investigation.”

The rescue team received an anonymous tip-off about the crime. “On November 21, we got a call from Meet Azar [an animal welfare activist] from Mumbai about an anonymous call mentioning a monkey being brutally killed in Christian Medical College, Vellore,” said Robin. “We – Dinesh Baba, Nishanth Nichu, Shravan Krishnan and myself – immediately started from Chennai and headed to Vellore to look into it.”

The next day, the team gathered the police, a forest department team, the tehsildar, a village administrative officer and a veterinarian from the Tamil Nadu animal husbandry department and had the body dug up.

On Wednesday, the college suspended the four medical students – who had allegedly tortured the monkey in front of 30-odd students, one of whom had then sent the tip-off. The police filed a first information report under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. The FIR identified the students as Jasfar Samuvel, Rohit Kumar Yenukutti, Arun Luvis and Aleks Selkaleyal.

“We have always had a lot of monkeys on our campus,” said A Durai, public relations officer for the college. “Such an incident has never happened even when the monkeys have been troublesome. We are shocked at what has happened. We have conducted our own enquiries and suspended the four students immediately.”