Just Be Friendly: How this social entrepreneur is championing love for voiceless animals
Social entrepreneur Dr Sashanka Sekhar Dutta

Every day on our streets, in the alley, at the river banks and even by dumpsites, we see them; homeless dogs, cats, and even abandoned cattle seeking shelter from the cold and food in the rubbles. When we see the suffering of fellow humans, it is easy to react and show empathy with or without a corresponding gesture. However, when a homeless animal walks by, everyone seldom notices because they are voiceless, often ignored creatures. But, should that be the case?

In the heart of Northeast India; from Guwahati and across the other cities and suburban towns of the region, one man is changing the narrative. He’s not just showing why it is important to treat street animals with love and compassion but has gone a step further by launching several ventures to put his words to action. Dr Sashanka Sekhar Dutta is a social entrepreneur, animal lover and changemaker. He is the founder and managing trustee of Just Be Friendly (JBF India) Trust, a not-for-profit organisation committed to the welfare of animals and their peaceful coexistence with humans.

Dr Sashanka Sekhar Dutta

As he tells us, the motivation to begin such a cause is seen in our everyday life. “One evening in April 2003 while walking through the streets of Kotla in Delhi, what I came across is still a nightmare to me. In the corner of the street where vegetable stalls stood, I saw vendors kicking and throwing stones at one cattle, which apparently ate some vegetables in the shop. The incident touched my heart and fuelled the cause I had gone there for even more. I started talking to the local people there, slowly creating a small team with the motto, ‘if you cannot do or give anything to those animals, then just be friendly to them’.”

After those interactions with local people and first-hand observation, Dr Dutta set up JBF (India) Trust and continued to push for an ecosystem where humans can simply be friendly towards animals which they’ve rendered homeless through depleting exploitation activities in forests and other natural habitats. All of it began with the Delhi Mobile Cattle Clinic. “The idea grew out of the seed of animal welfare and social welfare, in general, that had been planted in me since my school days. As I grew up, I wanted to initiate something like what I am doing right now, and the Delhi Mobile Cattle Clinic was an opportunity to make these dreams a reality, and hence became this journey’s initiation,” he begins as he eases into his chair.

It was a calm train journey to New Delhi that Monsoon-approaching month of April as he sought to finalise a collaboration he had entered into with JBF Scotland towards the treatment of abandoned street cattle in Delhi. His meeting with JBF founder, Johnny Krause would prove to become something bigger than he had imagined. “What began as an animal lover’s desire to help the voiceless in distress and a passionate veterinarian’s fire to work for the good of animals, ended up becoming more than just a time-limited project,” he explains.

It is never enough for one man to dream, especially if it has to do with a subject such as this previously neglected. Teaming up with his wife Dr Smriti Rekha Dutta – a veterinarian in her own right and the first female surgeon from College of Veterinary Science, Khanapara, Guwahati – proved to be a great advantage. Together, they put together a committed team and are driving a campaign that seeks to change the way humans live with animals.

Free anti-rabies vaccination drive by JBF

A few years into running the mobile cattle clinic in the streets of Kotla Mubarakpur, the team shifted its attention to the Northeast India region, and set its focus on rabies control through animal birth control surgeries. That was when JBF (India) Trust was set up as an individual entity. “Building that brainchild of mine, JBF has been my priority every day. The destination for us is to establish something like JIRAW (JBF Integrated Care & Resource Centre for Animal Welfare) in Northeast India,”

Continuing, he says, “The construction work has already started on a plot of land near Guwahati, Assam – the gateway to Northeast India. The land has been bought by JBF by means of the generous donation from Anne Little, UK, as part of her legacy. The JIRAW facility will immortalize late Ms Little who died of cancer. The meaning of the word ‘Anne’ which stands for ‘Favoured’ or ‘Graced’ will also spur us all to thrive towards making the centre a favoured and graced place for people who believe in the peaceful co-existence of humans and animals in our environment,” he adds.

The forthcoming centre has a comprehensive mandate to serve as an integrated facility for animal welfare, and one that can conduct quality research, support service delivery and provide training for skilled workers within the eight states of Northeast India. “This will be the first of its kind in the area and will help to stir a revolution in the field of animal welfare. We’re already the pioneer in street animal welfare in this part of India. 20 years ago you’ll not even hear about such things, but today it is a phenomenon and we’re driving it to a whole new level, all for the wellbeing of animals and society,” Dr Dutta enthused.

Asides from providing first aid treatment to certain cows which were only domesticated at birth during milking and left to stray afterwards in the streets of Delhi for food, hoof and horn injuries were another area of initial focus for the group. Today, animal birth control surgeries and rabies vaccination are the main activities for the street animals of Northeast India. As the JBF India group continues to forge ahead, obstacles and life-threatening situations have sought to dampen their resolve, but to no avail.

While funds continue to pose another major challenge, especially with the Mobile Cattle Clinic, Dr Dutta says they are trying to overcome the huge pitfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As an inspiration to millions of other people who’re beginning to understand the essence of animal welfare, the simple message from Dr Dutta is “brain and heart”. “That is the one phrase people should keep in mind. Only emotional attachment or loving an animal or a pet by heart is not enough. If you want to really help animals, there are lots of ways to do so. 

“As an individual, you can raise funds for animals and help your local animal welfare organisations (AWO). You can contribute one day’s salary to any of these AWOs for animals, or you can help to feed and vaccinate the dogs in your locality. You can also contribute in kind. There are so many different ways to do this, you just need to start somewhere,” he adds.

JBF is also open to such support as that is the only source of revenue for the organisation. They have to depend on grants, donations, government funds, and other forms of public goodwill. But Dr Sashanka Dutta is a man that wears many caps; his other ventures Hiyaa’s Vet Clinic, Deliver Drugs and Ekkatrit all generate revenues from sales and services rendered.

Distribution drive by JBF

“It’s been quite a rewarding journey for me personally because I have 20 individuals on my team. If providing a source of livelihood for 20 families is all I’ve done, I’m fulfilled. But we’re also glad we’ve been able to do a lot of positive work. The diverse range of causes I participate in, solely due to my passion, is one of the most impressionable impacts I create in myself and, hopefully, in society. What inspires me is the cause. Doing something for society is something that comes from within my heart, and hence is reflected in my actions. It’s not about competing, following a trend, or even be a trendsetter for me, it’s about doing what I want to do,” he points out.

One very notable success was the eradication of wounds from a majority of street cattle they have treated over the years. Another major milestone worthy of note is the fact that they are the only organization carrying out ABC surgeries and ARV drives – as a priority – in the entire Northeastern region consistently since 2007, besides other activities. This was a novel concept for Northeast India excluding Sikkim. For Dr Dutta, Ekkattrit (a collection of every venture he’s undertaken) is the future. It is one brand he intends to establish in the future to truly be seen as a social entrepreneur. 

“Also, it’s my vision to build up the dream project JIRAW and to make it a self-sustainable ecosystem,” he notes.

Also read | Assam: This social entrepreneur duo is building communities with tea and art

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