The nation was left shell shocked when a gut-wrenching video and images of dead dogs hanging from a pole that was paraded by some political party members in Kerala appeared on social networking sites, promptly picked up by national and international media.
It was a horrific act of cruelty where 10 dogs including a pregnant one were brutally beaten to death and paraded in Piravom, Kerala to protest against the Child and Women Welfare Minister, Ms. Maneka Gandhi. The perpetrators proudly declared they did so because 'Mrs Gandhi is more worried about dogs than women and children of Kerala'.
Municipality Councillor, Jills Periyapram and five others Ranjan, Joby, Pradeep, Sathyan and Purushan were arrested on Thursday night after Mrs Gandhi demanded strict action against the 15 accused, but were released on bail soon after.
Disturbingly, this is not a stand-alone incident. Jose Mavely, Chairman of the Dog Eradication Committee (which has been declared an illegal body at the behest of AWBI for inciting crime) is believed to be the driving force behind these killings, as Ranjan, one of the accused out on bail is his employed dog catcher.
Mavely denied his direct involvement with the incident saying "I did not kill the dogs but it is my duty to encourage such activities to improve the living conditions of people. Periyapram had written to seek my support, which I offered."
There are 5 FIRs against Jose Mavely himself for killing dogs, the last one filed on 6th September 2016 in which he along with some panchayat members had killed 10 dogs and carried the carcasses to the police station to challenge the police to arrest him. The police remained a mute spectator to the entire show for hours and the accused walked back ceremoniously celebrating his audacity.
This level of barbarism is unfathomable for people outside Kerala, but with in Kerala it is seen as a win in their war against the dogs. As unacceptable as it is, let us analyse the complex problem, where it originated and the reasons for Kerala's hatred against an animal considered by many as man's best friend.
Kerala has been carrying out mass culling of dogs for generations, especially just before their tourist season, perhaps with a belief that Kerala streets sans dogs will attract more tourists. With time, the people just got used to the routine exercise, with the Panchayats even officially awarding contracts to dog killers to inject them with cyanide, a dangerous and banned substance.
This comfortable picture changed in the last decade or so as the tourists, media and internet spread the word about these killings outside the state. Around the same time, animal welfare was gaining momentum, changing views and mindsets towards animals. The world over people were getting conscious about animal cruelty. Kerala’s Government too was faced increasingly with stiff resistance from within and outside Kerala for their canine genocide.
The dogs, in the meantime, who were witnessing their kith and kin being killed year after year were observed to be beginning to display a significant behavioral pattern change, becoming increasingly wary of humans and staying away from them. They also started showing aggression towards anyone they did not trust already like people who fed them or treated them kindly.
While the animal lovers within Kerala and across the world got more vocal in their demands to stop this massacre, the Government became more adamant justifying the killings in response to the increasing number of dog-bites.
The irresponsible reporting by local media played into the hands of the powerful and only worsened the situation as highly exaggerated numbers and incidents were reported playing up the fear psychosis among the masses. Many of the reported incidents were found to be bogus when enquired into by various NGOs and activists. As the public frenzy grew, dog-culling emerged as the quickest ladder to fame and publicity making it a prime political issue.
The fact that the matter is impending in the Supreme Court and that it has issued a clear direction prohibiting dog culling in its interim orders and reiterated in several following orders in the same case, made no difference on the killings.
Launching of a massive worldwide boycott of Kerala tourism by animal lovers and strong opposition by AWBI (Animal Welfare Board of India) could only change the open and legitimised dog culling into 'an illegal retaliatory act by individuals not supported by the Govt.'.
Also, as per the directions of the Apex Court ABC (Animal Birth Control) programs were announced but never implemented on the ground. Contradicting the stand the State Govt recently took and making a mockery of the highest Court of the country - cash rewards for people who kill dogs are still frequently announced in news papers. Jose Mavely was felicitated and awarded Rs. 5 lakh ceremoniously and Dog Eradication Committees continue being launched with full pomp and show.
The police is in the tightest spot as they have to abide by the SC directives and have to ensure that the existing law prevails but feel constrained, even leading to a stand off between the DGP and some ministers of State last year through media statements issued by both.
Normally ABC (Animal Birth Control) is the solution to most street dogs related problems as ABC controls progeny and hence reduces their population effectively. But the problem in Kerala is not of population right now. The entire state of Kerala has lesser dogs than are in Delhi alone.
The problem right now is of aggression in the dogs, which is coming from the fear of getting killed – it is of human hostility. The Govt has to realise that the man-dog conflict it is faced with today is due to its own wrong policies and mishandling of the situation. By killing and encouraging killings they are only feeding the fire. With more feed, the fire is only going to get bigger, and the problem, graver. It's like trying to douse a fire with petrol, which has been going on for decades.
To protect the children and others from dog attacks, the Govt inside and out of Courts need to handle the aggression of the dogs.
The solution :
The killings have to STOP completely. The people need to be made aware through various channels that it is human hostility that is causing aggression in dogs
In normal cases, only removing the hostility controls any existing aggression in dogs. But here, because dogs have been witnessing dog-killings generation after generation, we need to go a step further and build the lost trust. It can easily be done by keeping water bowls and giving food to locality dogs and 'ensuring' that no one harms them. Dog behaviorists vouch that though dogs are going to be wary, a change will start manifesting itself quite soon in dogs.
It is high time that the Center intervenes in the matter considering that the most vulnurable sections- the children, the women and the elderly - are at the risk of facing the dangers of this man-animal conflict. The dog killings in Kerala are not just bringing a bad name to the 'Gods own Country' but also shaming India and humanity. If 60 years of dog-killing has not achieved desired results, rather the problems and the number of bites have only increased, then it's time for Kerala Government to review their approach.
Straightforward equation of the problem and solution:-
Cruelty + Hostility = Aggression in dogs= Dog Bites
MORE KILLINGS = MORE BITES
No ABC (Animal Birth Control)= More no. of dogs
Aggression Solution = Love + Feeding
Population Solution = ABC + Adoption
Kamna Pandey is Spokesperson, India Unites for Animals