A story of dogs

This article in The Wire, while entirely compelling, also contains an unarticulated tension. Headline: ‘How a Missing Stray Dog Led to the Withdrawal of a Caribbean High Commissioner to India’. Excerpt:

Uploaded on social media, a grainy dimly-lit video apparently shows the night-time confrontation. A man, speaking English with an accent, stands outside the gate of a residential compound and tells a mask-wearing woman, “You want the dog, take it, put it between your legs, you probably want the dog to f… you, that’s what you want.”

Startled, the woman also uses an abuse against him and says he is drunk. “I don’t care who you are,” she said. “F… you,” replied the man, before turning to the person holding the camera – and the video ends.

Speaking to The Wire, Ghosh, an animal rights activist, said she had been feeding a blind, old dog living inside the compound for years. The new tenant of the house, Charrandas Persaud, had only arrived in India in March 2021.

The story describes among other things a government not being able to pursue a harsher course of action against an individual for bringing grave harm to a dog because the individual enjoyed diplomatic immunity – even if it’s the same government that includes Maneka Gandhi, who has doggedly threatened or pursued legal action against those who so much as dream of getting rid of street dogs in one constituency, and whose office has been known to ring up those accused of (as opposed to convicted of) not being considerate enough towards stray dogs (as opposed to being physically violent towards them).

Gandhi is a known dog-lover who has furthered in the country a pro-rights rather than a pro-welfare policy towards dogs – such that these poor creatures have been left to scrounge urban garbage piles and bank on the sympathy of locals for food. In the course of their lives, they are often ravaged by diseases and/or also spread disease-causing agents to other urban fauna and people. They also render public spaces unsafe by chasing after passersby, bicyclists and motorcyclists and by terrorising children. There have been several reports of stray dogs mauling children to death around India.

Despite this miserable reality, however, these dogs continue to enjoy several privileges but lack all guarantees that they won’t be a nuisance to themselves, to others and won’t die in peace. In The Wire article as well, as Devirupa Mitra narrates, the dog that went missing was blind.

Ghosh thought to speak to a man in her neighbourhood because a stray dog used to live thereabout but didn’t turn up one day to be fed at her hand. I don’t claim to know what Ghosh’s circumstances are (the article doesn’t discuss them other than to say she’s a professor of English at the University of Delhi), but while it was good of her to investigate the dog’s fate, eventually exposing a foul-mouthed fellow, they speak to one of the things that keeps stray dogs around in our cities: the attitude of the élite.

Many élites view the act of feeding stray dogs as an exercise of material giving: they have money/food/resources/etc. to spare, so they give. But these places where dogs are fed seldom lie near their own houses, and are often by the roadside. The people feed and leave, and the dogs continue to be a nuisance in that place. (Some people have also tied such acts of ‘giving’ with their religious beliefs, of being tolerant towards other creatures and to donate food, ignoring the systemic issues they maintain and that keep these dogs around in pitiable conditions, including considerable waste generation and their improper disposal.)

Obviously I don’t take the ambassador’s side nor do I condone him having the dog killed. What he did was awful and he deserved what he got. The demand of welfare activists, with which I also agree, is that problem dogs need to be euthanised, without pain, in the interest of their well-being, and not snuffed out with whatever means are available. But there is something to be said about a) some people ‘solving’ short-term problems (the dogs’ hunger) only to prolong a long-term convolution (the dogs’ unrelenting persistence in people’s lived environment), and b) some people not being the ones to suffer the negative consequences of their actions.