As per the Indian tradition and culture, animals always had a respect and a special place in society. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism have always preached kindness and compassion to animals. Each Hindu God or Goddess is seen with an animal. Lord Krishna was a shepherd and is seen with a cow, Lord Rama with the monkeys, Lord Vishnu with the eagle and the snake, Lord Shiva with a snake around his neck and the bull 'Nandi' at his feet, Goddess Saraswati goddess of wisdom and literacy is seen with swan. Goddess Amba symbol of power riding a tiger, Lord Dattatraya always has dogs at his feet, and so on. The foundation of Buddhism and Jainism is 'Ahimsa' or 'non-violence', not only towards fellow humans and animals, but also to every living creature including an insect.
With such rich culture and heritage, where kindness and compassion were the foundation of society, there was no need for animal welfare organizations, as each home was an animal welfare institution by itself. Every home had cattle in the back yard. The bullocks worked in the fields alongside the farmer, the cows and buffaloes provided milk to the family, but only after the calves have had their fill. Dogs and cats lived inside the homes as members of the family. The hen lived happily in the front yard and provided the family with eggs. Leather was made from the hides of only dead animals. Thus it was a beautiful picture of co-existence of animals and humans.
But today times have changed. With population explosion, urbanization and consumerism catching up, animals are easy prey for human greed. They are soft targets for any one trying to make a quick buck, and prime candidates for exploitation. Today even healthy, young animals are killed for leather, meat and tallow. Calves are kept hungry and emaciated, while the cow's milk is sold in the markets for human consumption. Chicken are kept in cramped batteries, either for the eggs or for slaughter. Slaughter animals are made to walk thousands of miles to slaughterhouses, or carted in trucks / tempos packed like sardines, with the result some of them die of suffocation before they reach their destination. Rhesus monkeys and Dancing Bears performing on the streets, with hordes of people watching them, is another eye sore in India. The fear of the baton falling on their backs is clearly visible in their eyes. Same is the case with thousands of animals performing in the circuses. Research on animals is another major issue that needs to be tackled. With tremendous pressure from animal welfare groups in the developed countries, companies are bringing their research work to India, where the laws are not strict and they can get away with just about anything.
Today even in Metropolitan cities like Mumbai, bullock and pony carts are seen plying alongside cars and motorbikes; cows and buffaloes, let loose by dairy owners after extracting the milk are seen loitering or sitting right in the middle of busy streets and eating from the garbage, which consist of plastic, paper and sometimes even pins, hooks, or battery cells. Similarly donkeys used for carrying loads are let loose to eat from the garbage dumps. Dogs and cats live on the roads - many homeless and some looked after.
It is quite common to see community dogs or cats living in residential colonies. This is because due to very fast urbanization all the open spaces are getting used up for construction of residential complexes, and the animals like dogs and cats living on these open areas are getting displaced. The residents that occupy these residential buildings find these animals to be a nuisance and want them evicted.
Another victim of urbanization in the city of Mumbai is the Borivali National Park, which is the only lung of the city, houses plenty of wild animals including the leopards. Perhaps Mumbai is the only city in the world, where a National Park and a Metropolitan city lie adjacent to each other. The city has been allowed to grow to such an extent that it has started encroaching into the National Park. This 'lung' of the heavily polluted Mumbai city, also serves as the catchments area for rainwater that flows into the lakes supplying water to the Mumbai city. Despite its importance, unfortunately this National Park is fast becoming smaller and smaller, with the result leopards have started entering into the residential complexes in search of food and attacking people.
In this situation, animal welfare in India takes on a whole new meaning. With so many animal issues and so many animals on the streets, the need of the day is to have several animal welfare societies in each community, whereas there is only one full fledged hospital in whole Mumbai city which is not at all sufficient to look after all the sick and injured animals. NGOs who are running the ABC centers also treat the sick, injured animals or house the abandon animals with very meager means and facilities. The Government of India is trying to encourage setting up of an SPCA in each District of the country, but there are few takers. IDA India also has a project on the agenda to build an animal hospital with latest technology and equipments.
The only ray of hope is the advent of television. Awareness about animal issues and environment is spreading with youngsters watching channels like Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery. They are becoming aware of the place of animals in our lives and the need to give them due respect. IDA India hopes to tap the potential of these youngsters for welfare of animals, and has formed the 'Compassionate Children's Club' IDA India also regularly organized the animal welfare and awareness programs in schools, collages, and socials groups which is playing very effective role in bringing wider vision for animal issues among the adult and children.