The stray dog population and the menace it poses are apparently looming so large everywhere in the country that it will not be an exaggeration to safely use the idiom ‘the country has gone to the dogs.’ There are dogs and bitches in every nook and cranny, snarling, barking, mating, biting and, in some recent instances, even killing. There is obviously no city street or village lane, no beach resort or mountain retreat free from the unseemly sight of packs of dogs menacingly out on their foraging missions, often scaring the wits out of hapless humans they encounter.
But whatever they do they have the law on their side. They can bite, maul, or kill, but they can’t be killed. Anyone who dares to harm them, not to mention kill them, is sure to be hauled up before courts. In the tussle between human rights and animal rights, the latter invariably prevail, notwithstanding the all but forgotten fact that unlike the canines, the humans are acknowledged as Citizens of the country who are guaranteed certain fundamental rights, the right to life including, by the nation’s Constitution on which everyone swears.
It is truly an uneven fight between the hapless men in the street and the belligerent stray dogs. The former have no one to speak for them, especially when it comes to cases in the highest court of the land where the cost of litigation is prohibitively high. While for most people who take localized action to contain the menace, and thereby get hauled up in police cases, cannot afford such costly litigation, for the dogs there are umpteen animal rights organizations here and everywhere that come forward to take the litigation forward doggedly to its logical, or rather illogical, conclusion, with all their might and perhaps with all the money in the world.
It is indeed a heavenly time for the dogs in our country now just as the mother of all dogs, Sarama, had her swell time in her heavenly abode. Sarama was the divine bitch, the watchdog or, to be exact, the watchbitch, of the gods and perhaps the first canine ever to do some policing work. The Rig Veda mentions the remarkable role played by Sarama to help Lord Indra recover a herd of cows stolen by some Asuras. The Asuras hid the cows in a cave but the first sniffer dog in history smelt her way around up to the cave. The Asuras made a vain bid to win her over through sweet talk and bribe. But Sarama declined the blandishments and restored the cows to Indra.
The scriptures do not mention any divine instruction to Sarama to increase and multiply. But as we have it, there indeed was a tera or mega multiplication of sorts, filling the good earth with Sarameyas, or offspring of Sarama, most of which do not at all share the fine qualities that kept Sarama apart. The street dogs, mostly nasty, smelly, vicious and savage, account for the largest of her progeny.
The problems posed by these canines to humans are not peculiar to our country. Most countries have it but a majority of them take adequate measures to effectively tackle the menace. Some take drastic measures like killing the strays systematically while some others are satisfied with culling them or isolating them in pens. Either way they ensure that dogs and bitches without an ownership neck band do not loiter around in the streets to bark or bite.
In September 2013 in Romania a four year old boy was mauled to death by a pack of dogs. This caused a great outrage in the nation prompting the president and the parliament to take decisive action to deal with the strays. President Traian Basescu made a memorable declaration that “humans are above dogs,” and pushed through a controversial law in parliament that saw Bucharest’s strays captured and, if they weren’t adopted or homed within two weeks, euthanized. Following this enactment some 16,000 strays were thought to have been destroyed by the Bucharest Authority for Surveillance and Protection of Animals.
Needless to say the mass killing of strays led to a huge outcry, with animal rights organizations in Europe taking up the cudgels against the government. But whatever be the ethical issues involved, the incident only showed the prime of place the nation’s authorities accorded to human life, that humans are above animals.
The same sentiment was evident in the response of the zoo staff at Cincinnati Zoo in the USA in May 2016 when a three year old boy fell into the enclosure of a silverback Gorilla, an endangered species. The 400-ton Gorilla stood over the boy for some time before dragging him away. Describing it as a ‘life-threatening situation,’ the emergency response team of the zoo shot and killed the 17-year old Gorilla and rescued the boy.
I wonder if there will ever be the same kind of response from the authorities concerned in our land where conflict between humans and animals is much more common, almost always to the detriment of the humans. Would any zoo staff here have the daring and the guts to kill a zoo animal if a similar ‘life threatening situation’ developed? And if he did so would anyone in the government stand by him? Never. Our elephants are majestic and in their caparisoned glory during temple festivals they are indeed the star attraction. But what happens when they, in heat, go rogue and run amok? Instances are many of hapless mahouts swirled around in their trunks and stamped and gored to death by the immense beasts. Our response invariably is to watch the prolonged fatal drama, film it, shout or drum beat to scare the animal away and wait for the tranquilizer gunman from a distant place to arrive. By that time one more precious human life, some times more, would have been lost.
The same is the case with the villages bordering on the forests. At times wild beasts, mostly leopards, descend on the villages attacking humans. Even if the forest authorities are informed promptly, their tardy response will usually be to capture the wild beast alive with net and cage. It will be good or bad for the villagers depending on the success or otherwise of the rescue mission of the forest men.
No one can argue that stray dogs or wild beasts should all be killed to make it safe for humans to live. But when life threatening situations develop, the response of the authorities concerned, from top to bottom, should be to give utmost importance to human life.
It is indeed good that there are many non-governmental organizations engaged in the service of strays and other animals. But their pre-occupation with them should be in consonance with the safety and protection of humans and not in opposition to them. In other words animal rights activism, environmental activism etc. are intrinsically good, but they should never yield place to animal rights extremism or environmental extremism. Animals do deserve humane treatment. But humans deserve it more.
Is it too much to hope that a day will come when the administrators, law makers and dispensers of justice will have a paradigm shift in their attitude towards animals and humans so that safety, security and wellbeing of the humans, the citizenry of the country, will enjoy paramount consideration as envisaged by the founding fathers of our Constitution?