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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Urban India’s most rabid dogfight

Urban India’s most rabid dogfight

How India's cities are warring with the dogs that inhabit them, both strays and pets

Throw away the sticks, arm yourself with biscuits if not dog food. Photo: Rishikesh Choudhary/Hindustan TimesPremium
Throw away the sticks, arm yourself with biscuits if not dog food. Photo: Rishikesh Choudhary/Hindustan Times

He hit the dreaded reply all button instead of reply. But it was an error that offered dramatic insight into one of the biggest fights in urban India today, evoking a much more feral response than debates about nationalism, dissent or sedition.

“Dad has a ‘licensed’ 12 bore with enough ammo. If you can get a (sic) legal opinion on this, can gladly do the needful in case adequate action is not taken. Can’t have my children living with this fear... You’re quite right about the wankers," he replied to all.

He was responding to a neighbour who said they should tell the management committee, one that consisted entirely of err…the sophomoric term used above, that they would hunt down strays who lived in a colony of row houses and kill them if they didn’t act on a complaint in the next 48 hours.

No prizes for guessing the above sequence was set in Gurgaon, the dystopia of urban India’s canine hatred.

Even pet dogs are the subject of vicious battles in neighbourhoods. Photo: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times
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Even pet dogs are the subject of vicious battles in neighbourhoods. Photo: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times

Indian strays are even lower in the social hierarchy than Indian women (I’m comparing us with domestic animals because the cow ranks above us). Homeless strays are an easy target, but pet dogs too are the subject of vicious battles fought in building lifts and common spaces. Resident lawyers are co-opted by all camps in this war. I’ve left out names and specifics to avoid further yapping; thank you to all who shared the stories.

Like almost everything else, it’s worse in north India. Here, puppies are poisoned matter-of-factly. When I lived in Delhi’s genteel neighbourhood of Nizamuddin East some years ago, someone poisoned the food of 18 strays in one night. Dog owners are threatened until they are forced to leave a community; dogs “vanish" suddenly and guards in fancy gated complexes are bribed to help get rid of the evidence; residents stash stones in their second-floor balconies to target unsuspecting four-legged foes below; neighbours smash feeding bowls put out by dog lovers with hockey sticks. One group created a poster educating dog lovers: Kutton se achhe hote hai insaan ji (Humans are better than dogs).

In Chandigarh when a stray wandered into a community, children started feeding it and collecting money to vaccinate it. But a group of residents had other plans. The men strung the dog by its hind legs from a tree and beat it with sticks until it was almost lifeless. Then they stuffed the animal in a sack and threw it away. The video, filmed by horrified children who tried to stop the brutality earlier this year, went viral and the police were forced to make some arrests after a complaint was filed.

Like always, Kerala—where the Thiruvananthapuram corporation has been killing stray dogs with a vengeance and where businessman Kochouseph Chittilappilly recently went on a hunger strike asking each citizen to kill at least one stray dog—is the exception to the north-south rule.

Chittilappilly, who knows where he will find lots of like-minded people to sign up for his Stray Dog Free Movement, was scheduled to observe a “satyagraha" for a “rabies-free India" at Jantar Mantar in Delhi earlier this week. If only it were that simple to tackle rabid India.

“The average dog doesn’t intend to hurt you or bite you. It wants to coexist; thousands of years of imprinting has gone into this relationship," says Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of the Delhi-based dog shelter Friendicoes. She’s been trying to convince people for 36 years now to throw away their sticks and arm themselves with Glucose biscuits instead.

Clearly we aren’t born intolerant. But most Indian families warn children that they should avoid dogs or they might get bitten. So many of us who have never had pets grow up with a Beware of Dogs sign tattooed on our subconscious. It’s only natural that canine conflicts keep pace with the rising demand for pets in our cities.

The pet population grew from seven million in 2006 to 10 million in 2014, according to the India International Pet Trade Fair. The trend of delayed parenthood contributed to this growth, the organization added. The flip side is many families don’t realize that having a pet is like having a child, and hordes of pedigreed dogs are now abandoned by their once proud owners across our cities.

If you think about it, every modern-day Indian crisis is reflected in the way we treat this amazing animal.

In cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, the barking between the pro- and anti-dog groups plays out in a more passive-aggressive manner. “Dogs not allowed" is a common rule for many Bengaluru landlords, and pets are barred in all municipal parks in this city (children can’t run on the grass either).

Tempers flare when dogs brush past or peek into the apartments of people who dislike them. Battle lines are drawn over puddles in the lift. Hapless security guards are co-opted to ensure that dogs don’t ride elevators. The list of common complaints is endless. Your puppy bounded up and scratched my child—and I’ve got the crime on CCTV. I’m sharing an iPhone 6s video of your dog pooping in the foyer. Your dog barks. Seniors and children are scared of your dogs. Gardeners are regularly finding poop around the hedges and plants.

In Mumbai, where household staff and delivery people are shepherded businesslike to special service lifts, why are dog owners surprised when their neighbours believe canines shouldn’t travel in lifts with exalted humans? One Mumbai dog owner marched his cocker spaniel to an open-air screening of the film Queen—in an area of his building where dogs are not allowed—and pre-empted any argument by paying the 1,000 fine.

The Animal Welfare Board of India rules—legally enforceable—are clear: You can’t prevent pets from lifts or fine them for not using the stairs; you can’t harass/intimidate dog owners or ban/limit pets in buildings. You can’t insist pet owners use muzzles. You certainly can’t be cruel to street dogs or prevent dog lovers from feeding them.

As for us, we live in harmony with the strays and pet dogs in our neighbourhood. We are currently figuring out why we should even respond to a cranky old lady who doesn’t like Babyjaan and friends cycling on the public road that runs outside her house (and ours). “Please don’t come here and make our environment as playground," she said in a note sent out to us. Maybe dog lovers should unite with parents of young children to conquer the intolerance.

Priya Ramani will share what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable every fortnight. She tweets at @priyaramani and posts on Instagram as babyjaanramani.

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Published: 11 Mar 2016, 07:58 PM IST
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