India’s canine wars continue. ‘Dog lovers’ are on the warpath again. This time, they have taken to the streets for the ‘treatment meted out’ to their friendly neighbourhood pyes in the run-up and aftermath of the recently concluded G20 Summit in Delhi.
The dogged (pun intended) saga started in the first week of August, when the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) released an order to pick up and sterilise ‘community dogs’ (more on this later) from several Delhi streets ahead of the G20 summit. The agency updated the order the following day and withdrew it entirely two days later.
Animal rights activists have complained that the dogs were still removed in the last moment. They contended that the drive wasn’t well coordinated and that stray dogs were picked up from places even outside the New Delhi district limits, which had no connection with G20. The lovable pooches were handled roughly during the pickup, they complained.
Even more inexplicably, now that the dust has settled on the plains of Delhi after the summit, the dogs are being arbitrarily released from the shelters they were kept in during the summit.
Who let the dogs out? Municipal workers not trained to interact with animals brought the dogs from the shelters in the wee hours of the morning, according to news reports. Worse, the dogs are being released in areas to which they did not belong (they are community dogs, you see).
Dogs, like the lupine creatures they descend from, are extremely territorial. A dog released in an area it was not a part of will be challenged by local canine toughs, leading to more street fights and unwanted aggression towards humans. Oh dear!
The MCD has refuted all these allegations. They have said that the Delhi High Court has disposed of a petition challenging the corporation’s drive to remove street dogs temporarily and it ordered MCD to follow Animal Birth Control Rules, “which it is doing already”, a news report quoted the municipal body as saying.
The fracas over Delhi’s dogs comes even as the matter has caught the attention of the lordships of the Supreme Court, including the highest judge of the land, the Chief Justice of India (CJI), himself.
Apparently, a lawyer sporting a bandage caught the eye of the CJI, who inquired the reason, only to be told that the lawyer had been bitten by a dog. The CJI expressed concern about the situation and was, in turn, told to take suo motu cognizance into the matter of street dogs in the country.
Our judges surely don’t think the bark of our street dogs is worse than their bite!
The above incidents highlight how bitterly polarised the debate regarding street dogs in India’s cities is. The belligerents are not willing to give any quarter to the other.
But who are these belligerents? On one side are animal rights activists, who claim street dogs are integral to Indian cities, towns and villages. They keep pests like rodents under control and add to the urban and rural Indian’s daily life. Moreover, it is us humans who encroached upon the wild and took over the natural habitats of many animals!
They believe that the dogs have a right to be on Indian streets. Any move to ‘take care’ of them by judicial or extra-judicial means will be sacrilege.
On the other side, arraigned against these ‘cynophiles’ are those they term as ‘cynophobes’. This cohort believes that the population of street dogs must be controlled by the government agencies by sterilising them. Only thing, they say, is that this is not being done sincerely, resulting in tragedy.
They cite the umpteen instances of children, adults and wildlife being killed by ravenous packs. They also cite the out-of-control rabies epidemic in India and blame it on the 65 million free-ranging dogs on India’s streets.
They point to hybridisation of dogs with their lupine cousins, the Himalayan and the Peninsular wolf. They also cite the accidental deaths of scavengers such as vultures, which die after consuming carcasses poisoned for killing feral dogs.
Adopt street dogs, they tell the other side, if you really care about them.
Both camps stand eyeball-to-eyeball. They say ‘No Surrender’ at any attempt to reconcile.
There is no doubt that the dog is the most important animal ever to have been domesticated by humanity. The first dogs, as is well-known, evolved when wolves scavenged for scraps near hunting camps of ancient humans.
In time, humans developed mastery at breeding specialised breeds having specific characteristics. From ‘terriers’ (‘terra’ meaning ‘earth’ in Latin) to breeds like ‘daschund’ or badger dog, to the huge Irish Wolfhound, dogs have been part of the human story since a very long time.
The debate on street dogs in India is a multifaceted one. It is about animal welfare. It is about governance. It is about civic sense.
But most of all, it is about justice. Both, animal and human. These animals should be treated humanely, there is no doubt about that. But at the same time, human rights should not be excluded from the debate.
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The sad part is that in the din of the dust and war cries raised by both camps, neither of the parties they are fighting for is getting justice.
Street dogs continue to be inflicted with incredible cruelty by sadists. At the same time, it is the poor of India who suffer most due to dog bites and fatal dog attacks.
If only there could be a consensus on this issue. But then, it is not an ideal world as they say. And so, the war is on!
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