In Delhi, every dog has its day
Friends, today I will show you a nicer side of my city.
It is 3 pm and I’m in Vasant Kunj, a posh neighbourhood in south Delhi. Nosering, Sweety, Kaajal and Sudama are sitting close to a Mother Dairy booth. Sonya Ghosh is expected. An associate professor of English at the University of Delhi, Ghosh arrives daily in a Maruti van carrying six pails, two buckets and 20 plastic bowls. Driving through two sectors of Vasant Kunj, she also feed the fat Bullah and the old Kaali.
They all are dogs.
Milk, rice, daliya, soybean, pumpkin and chicken waste — all cooked together — is the meal Ghosh serves stray dogs at India’s first designated dog-feeding sites, set up in 2009. Today, the Capital has more than 100 feeding sites for stray canines, which number to more than two lakhs. No other Indian city has such a facility. I guess no city in Pakistan too can match Delhi in this instance, at least.
“Some people praise me,” Ghosh tells me, filling up a bowl for the brown Marina who was abandoned by her owners. “Some consider me a crackpot. Others think I’m making money. But it’s coming from my salary.”
The credit for setting up the dog-feeding sites goes to Ghosh and other activists. Harassed by some for taking care of stray animals, they had filed a petition in 2009 in the Delhi High Court. Over the next two years, the court gave them more than they had expected. Not only did it order police protection for volunteers feeding the dogs, it also directed the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to select dog-feeding sites in various neighbourhoods and decide on timings, along with the resident welfare associations (RWAs) and the local police.
Every locality can have more than one spot. The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus has 15 sites; Vasant Kunj, 17; Golf Links, seven. This doesn’t mean that dogs cannot be fed if a neighbourhood if it has no feeding spots. I know a woman who lives in Noida, adjoining Delhi, and who feeds 17 stray dogs daily. This inspired other residents. With increased interaction, it became easier to catch dogs for sterilization and vaccination. In three years, the dog population in her locality came down from 70 to 40.
Until the early 1990s, a dog was either taken to the New Delhi Municipal Council’s veterinary hospital in Moti Bagh to be electrocuted, or teams from the MCD would poison the stray, taking it away in a refuse bag.
The killings stopped after the Delhi high court ordered sterilization instead in 1992. Today, after sterilization and immunization, the stray dogs are released at the same place from where they are picked up. This is more in the spirit of Article 51 A (g) of the Indian Constitution, which makes it a fundamental duty for citizens to show compassion to all creatures.
Back in Vasant Kunj, Ghosh sees no dogs at a site at the corner of D-4 block, and blows the car horn. An obese dog appears immediately. “That’s Brownie No. 2,” she says. “He has been fattened by shopkeepers.”
The shopkeepers in the area’s market have bonded well with dogs. The tailor, Vijay Kumar, gives Tiger biscuits to dogs. At Priya Drycleaner Walla, they get Parle-G biscuits. The boutique lady keeps milk for Bimbo, her favourite. The cooks at the Frontier Foods takeaway stall throw leftovers to dogs. Some customers order tandoori chicken specifically for them. At the Gulzar Chicken and Mutton shop, Jumbo prefers mutton trimmings.
Caring for animals is not only a trait of the privileged. Ramesh, a labourer who sleeps on the Mathura Road pavement, lives with a street dog he calls Kaali. Patting the black dog, he says, “I may go hungry, but I make sure that Kaali gets her roti every night.” In the morning, before leaving for work, Ramesh feeds her bread and milk.
Such caring brings out some of our contradictions. In a city that has thousands of malnourished people, we now have feeding sites for dogs. “Each species has a right to shelter, security and food,” says Ghosh. She has fed all the dogs and she is now returning home. Sweety is sitting alone at a feeding site, perhaps waiting for a certain Mr Mazumdar, who lives in the adjacent building, who might feed her later in the evening.