Back in Srinagar after a year, the first thing I noticed was packs of dogs hanging at every nook and cranny. A few dogs ran after us while boarding the car at the airport. The dogs looked well fed and territorial. They ran snarling through streets – a sight which should be unusual for any city that claims to be well-administered. As the dogs hurled past squirming people, grimy and emaciated children with huge flailing gunny bags were raking through mountains of debris lining the road. We hit a traffic jam that that did not open for almost an hour. Srinagar gets clogged with traffic that has grown exponentially in the past decade with little improvement in the roads. Paramilitary bunkers stood at strategic places as checkpoints; thanking people for their cooperation and “Regrrtted any inconvnence (sic).”
Most of this scene was predictable except for the number of dogs, which I had noticed since last year seems to have swollen to unbelievable numbers.
Dogs exist in the city of Srinagar (capital of Kashmir) in unusual numbers; doing what they can do best in an urban situation - running amok, begging, snatching, defecating, and fighting. They are ever-present - outside the butcher’s shop, stores that sell chickens, on highways, plazas smelling around the stores that may display the hip “Reebok” and “Nike” labels, near homes scouring through trash, waiting for wedding feast leftovers that will soon be thrown into the street and of course outside the bunkers.
It is quite usual to spot a fresh litter mewing at alley corners. People despite the problems they face on account of the unbridled dog aggression, will try to keep the young pups and their mother comfortable especially in the cold winter. They collect rags, gunny bags and cardboard pieces to make a snug nest, and make sure that the mother has a meal to eat.
A recent report claimed that Srinagar with 14 lakh humans has 80,000 dogs. (1 lakh = 100,000). An expert claims that there will be no less than 20 lakh dogs in another five years, exceeding human population. In the last couple of years mauling by dogs has become very common. Since 2005, there have been seven fatal attacks and the Srinagar hospital has received more than 20,000 dog bite cases. People are afraid to step out alone after hours for the fear of being attacked. It has become a common norm for children to be accompanied by parents even for some a minor errand, say buying a piece of gum from the store next-door, lest they be attacked. Women do not venture out alone for morning walks but form groups to ensure their safety. People feel the need to carry sticks and machetes to ward off any attack. One lady’s face was ripped off last year in a dog attack and she barely survived. A four year old child died of complications from a dog attack.
In early days of militancy it was common for the Indian troops to raise stray dogs around the bunkers. These dogs became default guard-dogs – a kind of animal militia. It was not uncommon to find huge well-fed dogs around the bunkers that people abhorred for mainly two reasons. One, Kashmiris are not dog people, if anything they hate them (sorry Donna Haraway). Second, these dogs would often show unbridled aggression to people in the vicinity. The people of course could not do anything but complain amongst themselves and suffer the formation of huge packs which would congregate outside the bunkers waiting for leftovers, occasional pats and many merciless beatings from the soldiers on some errant behavior (whatever that was).
Nowadays the presence of dogs in Kashmir, in this manner and at this level is deeply metaphoric of what is happening or what has happened to Kashmir. The way dogs run amok in the city, in large packs during the day and especially at nights gives an impression of being in a jungle.
One late night after attending wedding, while driving home we had to pass huge packs, some fighting and others dragging rotting carcasses. It was as if no one lived in the city except dogs that ravaged through the heaps of refuse. At the street where I got off, I had to literally wade through dogs that for reasons I attribute to being a dog-owner once gave me way without showing any aggression (and I was channeling the Dog Whisperer). They of course, did not spare the person who was accompanying me. He was jittery and had to run fast inside the house for safety.
The unchecked population of dogs in Kashmir at this time in history reeks of disregard for human life and administrative neglect. A deep sense of imbalance permeates the relation between animal and man. The current dog situation in Kashmir gives rise to the question: how did Kashmir come to this?
Most of the burden of the situation can be put on the animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi who is against any move to control dog population through selective killing mechanism. She advocates neutering and restraining dogs in pounds. Although legislations from the central government (in India) need to be passed by the Kashmiri legislature, Maneka’s dictates have been accepted without demur.
There has also been a dearth of effective solutions to curb the menace except for some questionable ones. Last year,the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) flew in a team from the United States to train their staff in dog-catching. It produced no results. In another attempt, SMC attempted to hire Khursheed Ahmad Mir, touted to be a pied piper of dogs. Khursheed claimed to use scientific technology but since his method cost around 20 crore, the project was shelved.
As of now, the SMC is planning to train the dog catchers in trapping and dog care. These dog catchers will be posted at dog pounds coming up in Srinagar at the cost of Rs 900 crore over 312.5 acre of land.
To be concluded…Dogs, Kashmir