“I came to the city 33 years ago- a young mother with a 7 month old baby. One of the first things I noticed about the city was that its people loved animals and plants. Almost every house, big or small, resonated with the bark of a pet dog and the boundary wall of every house-big or small-had pots of flowering plants.
The first indication I got that a change was setting in was when, around 10 years ago, I was looking to rent a house and was told by house owners that dogs were not allowed! One building owner showed me the Association’s Rule Book that said that no pets were allowed in the building-no birds, no dogs and cats and no, not even an aquarium!!I Now I stay in a flat that is much bigger than we need just because we were ‘allowed’ to have a pet! Yes I know about the laws but when could laws and rules turn people into human beings? When could they teach human beings empathy?
Dog, Man’s legendary best friend, who has been wired by God to believe that Man is his pack leader, is now perceived by Man as a toy- to bring home and abandon for reasons that would put humanity to shame! And stray dogs are now perceived to be a menace-a dirty, dangerous animal that the gentle people of our society have to suffer in their daily lives- an animal that manifests solely to infect and inconvenience human beings!! There is such widespread hatred for these helpless, hapless animals that have to fight battles every day to survive!
On one side is the joy and pride of living in a city that is so upwardly mobile-so abundantly blessed with natural beauty- and on the other side-this! I still remember the strength and resilience that the Vizagites demonstrated when they slogged to bring back the city to more than its former glory post Hudhud, the cyclone that devastated the city. The city sprang back in record time to soon be named the third cleanest city in India! The GVMC, the people, the Chief Minister himself worked day and night to achieve this. I felt such a sense of pride to call this city my own…..
But heart? What about the heart of the city that has now stopped beating for its animals? For the horses that are allowed to give rides even though they are sick and suffering- for the cows that wait in vain near the vegetable and fruit sellers- for the pet dogs who have been abandoned by owners and are now required to scrounge for food and fight the street dogs for every morsel – these animals who are now living like orphans in the midst of man, who is busy racing towards more comfort, more luxury, more cleanliness- a grander lifestyle? What about the animals? Do we have a plan for them? Whose responsibility are they?
So typical of life! Every now and then it throws at us challenges that leave us clueless! I too want the Visakhapatnam of our collective dream but should not the price, if any, be paid by us-whose dream it is, and not by the innocent, voiceless living beings who, I firmly believe, God most certainly wanted us to be guardians of….?!
There has been a nameless, uneasy feeling at the back of my mind for quite some time now but now the unnamed emotion is becoming stronger with every day, it has now begun to growl…It demands answers that I cannot give it singly….
When it first raised its head around two years ago, my clever mind stifled it with the thought that it was too big a problem for me to do anything about it. So I did what most of us when faced with such dilemmas do-created a ritual to follow, to bring peace to my troubled heart. I started an equivalent of an Akshaya Patra for the birds and placed a big trough of fresh water for them to bathe in and drink from and I took up all the responsibility of the food and medical requirements of the 2 street dogs in our lane. However, rituals, however sincerely done, cannot replace grassroots solutions.
Man is God’s best creation. It is his tremendous will power and creativity that allows him to set for himself AND achieve newer, more and more unimaginable goals, every day. In comparison the requirement of other, if you want to call them lesser, living beings is very basic- Just food, water and a safe environment to live out their lives in. Is it alright for Man to disregard these animals in the name of collateral damage in his pursuit to attain his worldly goals? Do we need to address the problems being faced by animals as a result of overpopulation and urbanisation? Is it our duty to make sure that all the living being can co-exist peacefully? For animals now need the protection only man can give them, to be able to live with dignity and die a peaceful death.
So the question is-What do these animals eat and where is water for them drink? Our waste disposal system is now such that they do not get to eat leftovers like in olden times- there are no wells, taps and hand pumps with puddles of water around them for them to quench their thirst! People say dogs are becoming aggressive. More than anything else, this should make us reflect upon the existing situation. Why are they becoming aggressive? What is the reason for their out of character behaviour? Is it possible that it is hunger? Is that why they have started moving around in packs and attacking for food? By the way, we humans do worse when we can no longer bear hunger pangs-Haven’t we heard of mothers selling their children for money for the same reason??
I ask this question of every Vizagite! Now that we are on the fast track to becoming one of the cities known for its cleanliness, do we need to make arrangements for our feral and free ranging animals to be able to eat and have clean water to drink? Should they feature in our future plans for the city?? I think it is that time in the evolution of the city when we could collectively rise to a higher level of consciousness-by integrating the needs of every animal in our city.
It is said that this is the role that the opposite energies should play in our lives. The contradictions we face should not have us choose one over the other-rather the situation could and should be turned into our teachers-to enrich ourselves and raise our consciousness. The two energies should merge into, complement and transform each other to create an energy that is whole. Integrating animal welfare in our plans for development can and needs to be done-it’s not a choice! We cannot live in denial anymore!
Revive your heart, Vizag- for one can own a beautiful house in a beautiful, clean city but a house without warmth will always be a house, not a home. As an educator, I say that our children need to grow up in homes! Let’s help our children nurture a love of animals. It will help them become happy, thoughtful, responsible adults. They will learn compassion and generosity. Research into the human-animal bond has proved this.
Today children hate street dogs because they are taught to hate them- they hate because they are ignorant- but I wonder, when they have learnt to hate, are they then going to hate only street dogs? They are being taught that there are good dogs that they can love and pet and there are bad dogs that will infect them/bite them! By the way, now the ‘good’ dogs are also being turned out, abandoned, by their HUMAN owners for reasons that would make one doubt their state of mind! So what are these dogs? Good or bad? Your children might turn around and ask you this question one day and expect a correct answer!
By the way, isn’t it humanity that makes us ‘superior’? We were not born the way we are now-we have learnt to become this way-we have pushed our innate humaneness onto the backseat and allowed our desires to be the driver. I think it is time to unlearn to be selfish -anything that is learnt can also be unlearnt-am I right! Our animals need us! We cannot look away-we were and are their only heroes-If we don’t, well, I believe that WE will pay the price! We need to teach our children that we need to be a certain way to be called human beings by being that human.
‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’-The world is one family- is a philosophy that tries to foster an understanding that all living beings are the manifestation of one life energy. This philosophy originates from Hitopadesha, the main purpose of creating which was to instruct young minds the philosophy of life in an easy way so that they can grow into responsible adults. This philosophy is an integral part of the Hindu philosophy-it is who we are-as a culture! The gap in the feeling of oneness is giving rise to a depletion of peace-of love. We need to go back to being a cohesive group of living beings co-existing on the foundation of mutual trust and love. NOW.
I am sure there is a solution waiting to be found. Let’s do it once more, Vizag! Let’s pick up the pieces and create a still more beautiful city!”
About the Writer – Sangitaa Sehgall is a die hard animal lover. As an educator, she contributes to animal welfare by educating children through talks and discussions at schools.