Going to the dogs

RNW archive

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Wasim Khalid from Srinagar

Muhammad Yasin was heading to work when he was attacked by a pack of stray dogs. By the time passers by had got to him, he was unconscious and covered with bites and scratches. 

Yasin needs a series of anti rabies shots and treatment for the severe injuries on his face and arms, a burden his family cannot afford.  Yasin is a day labourer, and his family survives on less than 300 rupees a day, less than five euros.

“The doctors informed us that the treatment would cost more than forty thousand rupees,” said friend Abdul Hamid.

Srinagar, capital of Indian administered Kashmir is a city where decades of conflict have already filled the hospitals and morgues.  Now dogs are adding to the problem.

Dogs run wild
Yasin was one of five people attacked by wild dogs in Srinagar on the same day.  In the last three years, the health department has registered more than 50,000 cases of dog bites, with Srinagar alone accounting for a fifth of that number.

A recent census conducted by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation estimated the presence of nearly 100,000 stray dogs in the capital, though the number for the Kashmir Valley would be far higher.  Over the last four or five years, at least two people have died annually from bites from rabid dogs.

India has always had a troubled relationship with its unclaimed animals. In a country where Hindu sensibilities forbid the killing of the thousands of mangy cows, the beasts are to be found in almost every corner of cities and towns, along with the pigs that root around the public defecating grounds of slums. 

Indian cities and towns are also home to former pack animals such as camels and elephants who were released when their owners could no longer afford to feed them.  And chained to the walls of wretched slums in Delhi are monkeys and bears who were used in small roadside performance shows banned after a campaign led by animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi.

Ms Gandhi was also behind the legislation that prevented the culling of dogs and since its implementation in 2008, the dog population of Srinagar shot up exponentially.  The canine growth is helped along by the protein rich diet to be found in the 360 metric tons of garbage left on the streets by the primarily meat eating Kashmiris.

Sterilized not culled
The Srinagar Municipal Corporation is aware of the problem, but can do little to solve it.  “The dogs are taking a toll on human population. We want to eradicate the menace but the animal rights activists are creating impediments,” said a senior municipal officer who asked to remain unnamed because he was not authorized to speak officially.

Animal rights groups want stray dogs to be sterilized instead of culled, but the costs would be astronomical – more than Rs 862 crores or 130 million euros, a sum that is clearly beyond any municipal budget.

However, it’s clear that something needs to be done quickly. Panic spread fast after experts predicted that within five years, dogs would outnumber the city’s 140,000 strong human population.

“The average bitch can give birth to 9 puppies every 6 months,” says Assistant professor of Community Medicine, and member of the Association for Prevention and Control of Rabies in India, Dr Muhammad Salim Khan. “How many puppies will she bear in a 15 year life span?” 

The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has gone so far as to call the dog menace a human rights violation.

Muhammed Yasin will recover from his injuries, but not without permanent scars.  But he’s luckier than little Sehrab Wagay.  The four year old was playing outside his house when he was attacked by a pack of dogs.  The child died of his injuries.