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Natural Born Killers! - By Pritish Nandy

Last week it was the Srikrishna Report. Recording man's inhumanity against man. This week it is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Resuming the killing of stray dogs in Bombay. An example of man's inhumanity against others.

The Bombay riots are now history. The cruelty has already happened. It is time to apply the healing touch, not to open old wounds. The killing of stray, defenceless animals is another matter. It means restoring a barbaric, criminal tradition that was stopped under public protest four years back. It is a wicked, retrograde step and must be stopped at any cost because it stands for cruelty about to take place. And, in this case, we know who the killers are. In fact, they are going to kill with the authority of the State. With the money you and I pay as taxes.

So there is still time to prevent it. It is in your hands.

If we keep quiet, we will be endorsing the bloodsport. For a BMC that is losing Rs 3.76 billion this year and are yet ready to spend another Rs 50 million to kill these animals just because they love the sight of blood on the streets.

Remember, violence breeds on itself. Those who kill helpless stray animals are those who can kill helpless old people. When you desensitise the society you live in, the violence you spawn will one day turn on you, enter your own home, destroy those whom you love. It is like rape, foeticide, bride burning. It spreads quicker than you think.

In Brazil, Colombia, Peru they kill stray children on the streets. By shooting them. Orphans, bastards, vagrants. Lost kids who have no one to call their own. The reasons they give are identical. That these are useless, filthy creatures, a public nuisance. They spread diseases. They annoy people, put off tourists, dirty the roads. But behind these excuses, lies a simple truth: We want strays off the streets because they keep reminding us how cruel and uncaring we have become, how inured we are to the homeless that we are not even ready to suffer them. We want them dead. Officially murdered.

Today, the BMC is about to kill dogs. Tomorrow, they will pick up stray cattle from the streets and kill them, uncaring about the feelings of millions of Hindus. After that (who knows?) it may be stray children. The chain of violence finds its own links. Each senseless killing, each "encounter" leads to another. Every violation of rights on this planet - be it human rights or animal rights -- ends up by increasing the sum total of violence in our life. Violence that eventually leads back to your own home.

Do not complain, therefore, when your parents are murdered just because they are old and defenceless, your sister is set on fire because she took no dowry with her, your children are ragged to death in colleges just because everyone loves to watch the bloodsport. Gandhi said the way we treat animals tells us the kind of society we are creating for ourselves.

Nowhere in the world do people kill stray animals as BMC did for years. Like a Tarantino movie. Sadistic, criminal, sickeningly inhuman. These were the pets of the poor. They shared their meagre meals with them. They kept them as watchdogs, protectors of their shanty homes, their few belongings, their wives and daughters. They saved them from the wanton cruelty of thieves, robbers, cops, thugs, bullies and corrupt BMC officials.

That is why the BMC would send these natural born killers, often at dead of night, to catch them with long iron tongs and break their necks in front of their owners. When the owners protested, the animals were seized and taken away to filthy slaughter houses to be crudely and painfully electrocuted to death. Those who keep pets will tell you that it is like watching the murder of a family member.

If you do not believe me, come with me. I will show you the slaughter houses. You will be ashamed that the taxes you pay are being misused for such filthy, obnoxious, sadistic purposes. For growing such purposeless violence in our society, our life.

These killings on the street shocked some of Bombay's citizens so much that several non-government organisations got together and begged BMC to stop. I was among them. We produced statistics from all over the world (and Bombay itself) to prove that killings do not reduce the dog population. Only sterilisations can do so. We showed them, with facts and figures, that the more dogs they killed in Bombay, the more the dog population grew, the more the bites, the more the cases of rabies. Whereas, in cities where sterilisation programmes are installed, the dog population has actually come down. So have bites. This is internationally recorded with facts and figures.

The pressure from us was so much that the BMC had to stop killing. This did not mean that they put the Rs 50 million they annually spent on killing into sterilisations. Of course not! The money was pocketed by them and NGOs were told to find their own funds to sterilise the dogs. They did. It was not easy but these NGOs were led by amazing, public spirited citizens like N W Alimchandani of Welfare of Stray Dogs, Jigisha Thakur of All India Welfare of Animals, Sudnya Patkar of In Defence of Animals, Satnam Ahuja of Ahimsa, Colonel Nageshkar of Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They were supported by Jain bodies, dog lovers, and generous Bombayites who realised that this cruel, barbaric ritual deserved a quick burial.

But this did not please the corrupt BMC officials, who had for years used the killing programme to make money and provide jobs to their hoods. So they used their health officials (and pliant journalists) to spread lies that the sterilisations had failed, the stray dog menace was increasing, rabies was on the rise.

Statistics show that each is a lie. Municipal records have been forged to establish this. Even the record of dog bites does not distinguish between bites by watchdogs at homes attacking unwelcome visitors and stray dogs on the streets. In fact, BMC has no statistics at all. They create and peddle only falsehoods, to argue in favour of killings.

Even though the sterilisation programme was not exactly a raging success, since the BMC pocketed the entire killings budget, the number of dogs on the streets actually came down by 38 per cent. Dog bites fell by 62 per cent. Most important, we stopped seeing wanton killings on the streets. The shrieks of pregnant dogs, of pups being murdered by breaking their necks became a remote, shameful memory that Bombay forgot.

But those who profited from these killings, whose livelihood depended on this savagery did not sit still. They kept campaigning, lobbying, lying and spreading horror stories so consistently that it gave BMC the perfect excuse, after four years of ahimsa, to return to crime. Led by Sardar Tara Singh of the BJP, who is single-handedly leading the campaign to bring back killings on the streets.

Even as you read this column, the killings are about to start and unless we persuade the courts to see the corrupt and evil design behind them, it will not stop. The blood of these innocent strays will be on your head and mine because we are part of a savage, brutal, soulless society that believes all living creatures who cannot afford a home have no right to stay alive.

If you believe that we must not kill defenceless strays on the streets of Bombay, protest against this wicked step. Stop the killing vans. Beat back the natural born killers who come to pick up the animals in your locality. Go to the courts. Tell them of the illegality of these killings. Talk to your municipal councillors, your MLAs, MPs. Take out protest morchas. Adopt a stray. Ask your friends to do the same. The poor will bless you.

Remember what Gandhi said. A society that does not protest when the weak and defenceless are killed suffers in the hands of the same people who perpetrate the violence on others. If you allow the State to institutionalise killing, to enshrine violence, you will find it impossible to tame the monster in future. You will also become its victim.

A bully does not stop unless you slap him hard. So slap these killers real hard. For they understand no other language. Show them your power as a citizen. Tell them we have tolerated their corruption, their bloodsport for too long. The battle lines are drawn. We, the citizens of Bombay, will no longer take things lying down.

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