From Streets To Social Media, Valley’s Stray Dog Debate Goes Virtual

From Streets To Social Media, Valley’s Stray Dog Debate Goes Virtual

5 May 2012
Tehelka
Baba Umar

New Delhi: As online forums refuel the debate on the menace of stray dogs on the streets of Kashmir, officials of the health department have begun a canine sterilising drive. The campaign has gone online as those protesting against the administrations inability to tackle the stray dog menace say any real protests on the streets are checked by the police. The online campaigners, are outraged by the pictures showing children and women bitten by canines, published in local dailies say their street protests are seen as administration’s failure and thus “curbed by police”. The problem of strays, however, remains unchecked. “We wanted to organise sit-ins but government has already imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code that prohibits assembly of more than five people at one place. However, it can’t stop us from furthering this human rights’ cause. We’ll find other legal ways of press for our genuine demand of getting rid of the stray dog threat,” explained Farhana Latief, a law student of Kashmir University. Latief’s Facebook campaign ‘Online protest against dog menace and carelessness of concerned officials’ is drawing widespread support. Latief started the online campaign to appeal for support after reading about the attack on three-year-old Dua Meraj who was bitten on face and head by dogs on 31 March. “The kids who should be playing on the streets are locked indoors due to danger posed by stray dogs. I decided to organise sit-ins and launch online campaign against the dog menace,” she added. Latief and her friends soon set up an online petition on Change.org and a campaign on twitter, *StrayFreeKashmir, demanding that the Srinagar Municipal Commissioner GN Qasba, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Asgar Samoon and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, notice and take steps to solve the problem. Latief says the online campaign is steadily gaining support, “ as more people are sharing concerns and discussing the possible solutions”. Nadeem Qadri, a lawyer who has been at the forefront of campaign, says the story of canine menace in the Valley has just provided the media with “masala news”. “Nobody comes up with research or a clear solution. Sterilization is just a short-term solution” added Qadri whose Public Interest Litigation seeking action from administrative authorities’, is being heard in the Srinagar High Court for over a year now. Interestingly, while Qadri is pleading the case for humans, five lawyers are representing Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC). On 2 May, the High Court Bar Association (HCBA) petitioned before High Court of Srinagar praying for directions that the stray dogs be culled. This after a newsreport of stray dogs biting 51 people in Srinagar city on 30 April surfaced. According to SMC census there are 91,110 dogs in the city. This puts the dog-human ratio in Srinagar city to 1:13, while the nationwide figure, according to experts is 1:36. A survey by the state’s health department has found that 53,925 people were bitten by dogs between January 2008 and August 2011 in the Valley with, on average four people succumb to dog bite injuries each year. A fresh petition filed by the HCBA president Mian Abdul Qayoom invoked views of Mahatma Gandhi over the issue of killing of animals. The petition even highlighted the Municipal Corporation Act of 2000 that empowers the Commissioner to “destroy or cause to be destroyed any dog who is without a collar or without a mark and is found straying on the streets or beyond the enclosures of the houses of their owners.” Animal right activists and AWBI, have, so far maintained that the canine shouldn’t be killed but sterilised. “The AWBI has been helping with the training and SMC with the commitment to carry it through. Mass-neutering in Sikkim, Jaipur and Chennai has brought dog population to zero growth and with it bites and rabies cases have gone exponentially down. We can achieve this in every city,” AWBI member Jasjit Purewal recently wrote to TEHELKA. Sterilisation, according to, Lisa Warden-a former director of Animal Birth Control (ABC) India-a trust dedicated to rabies eradication and dog population management, of over 70 per cent of free-roaming dogs, and waste disposal reform “is the only scientifically proven approach to resolving the matter, and the only legal one.” Speaking to TEHELKA over the phone from Srinagar, SMC Commissioner GN Qasba said he was aware of the online campaign and both SMC and animal rights’ activists were on the same page when it came to remedial measures to tackle the street dog menace. 'I appreciate their efforts, I’ve already made it clear to them that efforts like making Srinagar cleaner and garbage-free are on the cards which should help check the growing dog population in the city.' Qasba, however, refused to comment on the other districts of Kashmir where no census of dog population has been carried out yet. He said, 'I am responsible for Srinagar city only. I can't comment about the other nine districts.' Over the pace of sterlisation, Qasba said, “on first day seven dogs were sterilised in the SMC's Shuhama in Ganderbal (East Kashmir) facility and we are looking forward to sterlise almost 100 dogs every day. In three years the problem posed by street dogs should be over.” However, other experts say the pace is too slow to compete with the pace with which the dogs are reproducing. “The government has a capacity to sterilise only 40 canines a day right now. By the time 40 dogs are sterilised 400 new are born in streets,” warned Dr Salim Khan, member of Association for Prevention and Control of Rabies (APCR) in India. Accoding to him sterilisation should complete in three months. “People don’t want mass culling of dogs. Some have to be spared for scavenging purposes. It’s those dogs who need sterilisation and their population shouldn’t be more than 5-10 per cent of the current population.” Interestingly, the online discussions on the canine-menace sometimes take religious angle too. Umar Farooq Bhat, a supporter of preserving lives of dogs invoked Prophet Mohammad’s saying as quoted in Islamic Book Sahîh Al-Bukhari that says, “A prostitute was forgiven by Allâh, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allâh forgave her because of that.' However, there was a quick rejoinder too. Mushtaq Beigh, another facebook user, quoted from the same book replied: 'Five kinds of animals are mischief-doers and can be killed even in the sanctuary: They are the rat, the scorpion, the kite, the crow and the rabid dog.' Farhana Latief’s Facebook campaign has nearly 626 members and the petition on Change.org has reached almost 300 signatures in past 16 days.