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In India, Animal Rights Activists Have Not Given Up

Disclaimer: this article discusses the serious topic of stray animal populations and animal cruelty in India. Some readers may find some of the content described below to be graphic.

It takes the impact of numeric data to fully grasp the extent of the stray animal population in India. The population of stray dogs alone is estimated to hover around the 30 million mark – a massive number even in a country of 1.3 million square miles.

There are many arguments that can be made about how stray animal populations negatively affect city life. In India especially, where 20,000 people die from rabies annually, the stray animal population has a complex influence which can arguably be a nuisance at the best of times, and a matter of public health at the worst.

Cruelty at the Hands of Humans

Rabies-related deaths in India account for a staggering 35% of all rabies-related deaths worldwide. Understandably, these stark statistics have shaped the way that the stray population in India is regarded by human cohabitants. Stray animals are blamed for many of the deaths caused by rabies. Stray animals, namely stray dogs, are also held responsible for many hygiene problems in the densely populated urban areas of the country. Unfortunately, public outrage against the stray animals of India is also not unheard of, and sometimes even results in the death of these animals. Only recently, in a case of dreadful cruelty, people in the Baner locality of Pune, Maharashtra, tied four stray dogs with a rope, dragged them, and burned them alive. Not only this, 16 others were poisoned. In a similar case in the city, 12 cats were poisoned in a housing society in Wakad.

Unfortunately most of the dogs we pick up, 6 days a week, are victims of abuse,” Sharda Radhakrishnan, one of the founders of Chhaya, an animal sanctuary near Kolkata, told World Atlas. At least 10 to 15 dogs per week, out of a total of about 100 to 120, are direct victims of cruelty. These are the kinds of cases we are handling on a daily basis.”

These senseless acts of cruelty against animals has been painting an unfavorable image on the global stage, but hope is not lost within the country. After all, for as loud as these actions speak, there are agents of change currently working hard. Aside from shelters, there are animal rights activists and groups in India who are strongly speaking out against the violence.

“Awareness regarding animal welfare has definitely increased significantly here over the past few years due to constant efforts of animal rights activists and lovers to create awareness on the issue,” Susmita Chattopadhyay, an animal rights activist based in Kolkata, told World Atlas.

Only five years back, the police would laugh at hearing our complaints on animal abuse. Only a rare few would think of going to the police to report a case of cruelty to animals. This scenario has dramatically changed in our city. Now, the police are more helpful and aware than ever before.”

Where Does the Law Stand?

In India, cruelty towards animals is a punishable offense under Section 429 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) and Section 11 of the PCA (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Act, 1960. Under this law, imprisonment of up to five years and/or fine can serve as punishment. The lack of effective implementation of the law, however, encourages the offenders to harm the animals. Animal rights activists feel there is a serious need for revision when it comes to the laws concerning animal welfare, many of which seem grossly lenient. For example, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 provides for a maximum punishment of a fine of just 50 rupees (about US 70 cents) for a first offence.

The killing of dogs has been outlawed in India since 2001. However, that has not prevented the municipal authorities of some Indian cities from organizing mass culling programs targeting stray dogs. In 2015, extreme measures were adopted in Kerala to control the growing stray dog population of the state.

Over the years, the animal rights activists of India have used various innovative methods to draw the attention of the public and the authorities towards the welfare needs of animals.

Animal Carnival - A Unique Way of Protest

Although massive participation of the public in such protests and campaigns are rare, the country’s valiant activists are in no mood to give up. Instead, they are finding new and unique ways to protest and spread awareness. On November 26, “For the Animals” is organizing an event called “Animal Carnival”, a first-of-its-kind in the country where they plan to attract the public’s attention towards the cause of animal welfare. The Animal Carnival will involve colorful rallies of people walking through the city streets shouting slogans related to animal welfare, vegan and vegetarian food stalls, a pet ramp show, adoptions stalls, and more.

When asked about the objective of hosting the Carnival, Ms. Chattopadhyay, who is also one of the main organizers of the event, said "[the] creation of awareness is our main motto of the Animal Carnival since the lack of it is the biggest trigger of cruelty against animals. Legal aid helps us solve individual cases of animal abuse but with awareness, we can influence masses to believe in the slogan of 'live and let live'."

She went on the explain why the Animal Carnival is going to be a unique event in India, adding “this time instead of portraying the sad picture of cruelty cases against animals, we are doing something new. We are showing how our furry friends living on the streets can be a source of happiness and positivity.”

Ms. Chattopadhyay also believes that the participation of local celebrities and animal lovers from various professional fields in the event will help to dissuade away from the belief that stray animals are “filthy”, a pervasive notion that undoubtedly helps to promote animal cruelty, or at the very least the apathetic attitude towards it.

The Fight Against Cruelty Is a Multifaceted One

While such events will definitely help to raise public awareness about the deplorable condition of India’s stray animals, what else can be done to ensure that the human-stray animal conflict is mitigated in the country?

Most animal activists and caregivers agree that the sterilization and vaccination of stray animals is an efficient and humane way of stray dog management. Jaipur, a city in western India, has set an example in this regard. A mass sterilization and vaccination drive in this city has rendered many localities rabies-free.

“Sterilization seems to be the humane way to reduce population. As the number of apartment buildings increase, the strays have been thrown out of gated complexes. This exposes them to more abuse. A dog in pain will bite in self defence, putting people at risk. So we have to reduce their population,” says Mrs. Radhakrishnan.

“In a locality, it is easy to ensure the welfare of four dogs but not forty,” adds Ms. Chattopadhyay. Thus, she too believes that sterilization is a must.

Lack of Funds For Animal Welfare In a Country of a Billion

However, the fight against animal cruelty in India faces one major hurdle: funding. In a country with a burgeoning human population and associated problems, it is the budget allocated for animal welfare is generally quite low. The year 2016-17 was the fourth consecutive year when the budget of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was slashed. It is the only source of funds from the central government for the animal welfare organizations in the country.

Speaking on the issue of funding, Mrs. Radhakrishnan had the following to say:

“Running this animal hospital for strays for the past 9 years, I have come across a number of people of all age groups and economic strata who are moved by their plight and do whatever they can to alleviate their misery. So awareness is not lacking. But funding is a major issue. Even with CSR (corporate social responsibility) being mandatory, large corporates are not willing to loosen their purse strings. Stray animals are not a priority. Individuals can only do so much. Without a regular fund flow it is very difficult to handle this enormous problem.”

In the end, we can say that well-planned awareness programs, mass sterilization and vaccination drives, as well the willingness to donate could be instrumental in ensuring that stray animal management in India is carried out in a way that is effective, influential, and most importantly, humane. One thing that is for sure is that this difficult fight would not be possible without the hard work of activists across the country.

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