Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dog Is God for Mumbai's animal activists

Pushkal Shivam

All beings are fond of themselves, they like pressure, they hate pain, they shun destruction, they like life and want to live long. To all, life is dear; hence their life should be protected.

The Juhu beach, one of Mumbai’s tourist hotspots, was bustling with life and cacophony on the Sunday evening. A tom-tom like sound suddenly captured the attention of the ‘bourgeoisie paradise’. It was a group of students dressed as clowns and dogs led by their teacher. Muses and murmurs could be heard as the people said, “Hey, look it is a street play (known as ‘Nukkad Nattak’) group”. While some stood by, others chose a paddle and spicy food over ‘Nukkad Natak’. A group of around 70-80 people encircled the vibrant street play group.

The exuberant Durga Rai, a post-graduate from the prestigious National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi, is the leader and founder of the Mumbai based group. She has been an animal welfare activist since last 20 yrs. She recently gave up her lucrative job, that of a creative director, to devote herself to animal welfare evangelism. She said, “Earth belongs to all and every creature has certain fundamental rights which we human beings are depriving them of” in Hindi. It was at the beginning of this year that Rai decided to take the plunge, and the idea of spreading awareness materialized in the form of street plays. Rai’s life as an artist has been that of an animal lover. She emphasizes, “I have always used art as a medium for sensitizing people about animal welfare”. Rai, presently working as a volunteer for an animal welfare NGO known as Karuna, plans to launch her own NGO ‘SPACE’ (Society For Performing Arts and Cinema) with focus on art for the nature. Her group mainly consists of Mass Communication students from the KC College, Mumbai.

The recent dog census 2010 carried out in Mumbai put the figures at 74,000, an increase of 4,000 from the last census. The massive sterilization drive by Mumbai’s municipal corporation BMC (Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation) and several NGO’s like SPCA, Animal Welfare Society, Ahimsa etc. has ensured that numbers stay put. However, Chander, another volunteer for Karuna, claims that reality is ghoulish. He said, “All NGOs dealing in animal welfare, except are rogues. Animal lovers prefer dogs dying on road rather than taking them to NGOs. Every NGO has infection and Dogs die because of that. NGO’s are solely responsible.” He also said, “These NGO’s are killing the dogs instead of sterilizing them because it is the easier way out. For initial few years, they were sincere but later on they got fed up.”

In 2008, the BMC had invoked a dormant clause in the sanitation and cleanliness bylaws, which bans people from feeding animals and birds. The ban came in the wake of an incident, where a nine-year old, Sonavi Chitale was allegedly bitten by six stray dogs. The local corporators created ruckus which lead to the ban. Durga Rai argues that the move is perceived as a ban on feeding the stray dogs, but actually, it is a ban on garbage proliferation as a result of dog feeding. She said that depriving stray dogs of food may have far severe implications. Also, she said that she wants to clear the air on the BMC ban by ‘Nukkad Nattak’. As per a rough estimation, as many as 25000 Mumbaikars nurse a dog bite every year. In fact, the matter went all the way to Bombay High Court, which in a response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), ruled that dogs which were a nuisance can be killed. To this Rai said, “Dogs are territorial animals, any intrusion in their territory could be met with violent response. What would you do if someone barges in your house? Will you kill him?” in Hindi.

Rai also filed an FIR against two kids aged eight and seven, who allegedly slaughtered pigeons and sold them to Chinese restaurants. She also said in Hindi, “We don’t have any tangible evidence but it is an open truth that dog meat is being sold as mutton at several places as it costs much less and generates high profits.”
On being asked that why doesn’t she take up the issue aggressively with the media and the government, she said that because of endemic corruption and red-tape she would have lost her focus eventually, like many other animal lovers. One of them is aforementioned Chander. He left his career and a well-paying job midway to work for the welfare of the dogs but six years down the line, he feels that he is banging his head against a wall. He has turned cynical and said in Hindi, “Nothing will happen, these creatures will be killed”. Because of his animal love, he had to face financial hardships as well.
Durga Rai emphasized in Hindi, “The best solution is to disseminate awareness at the grassroots level and that is what I am doing with Street Plays and young students.”

Nikhil Vaishnavi, one of the students from her group and a second year mass communication student, said that, “Imparting knowledge and awareness to the people gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride”. He added, “Dogs cannot express their feelings, and we are doing it for them.”

So far, the group’s street plays have evoked good response. In fact, in areas such as Churchgate, mainly inhabited by the elite, people donated as well. But, on an exceptional occasion, spectators at Sion-Koliwada turned hostile and pelted stones at them, fortunately no one was injured. They have performed all across the western suburbs of Mumbai from Colaba to Mira Road. Ketki Asher, another student of the group, stresses on the fact that street plays provide direct and mutual interaction with the people. There seems to be an air of dedication around this group which drives them to perform in scorching summer days.

The play started at the Juhu beach with Durga Rai apprising the people of the article 48 A and article 51 A(G) of the Indian Constitution. According to the former, (Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life)”The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”. According to the latter, “It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the Natural Environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for all living creatures." The play or ‘the Nukkad Natak’ takes on a gamut of related issues in a simplistic and entertaining manner.

Surji Savala and his daughter Sejal Savala, who watched the play, said that such groups must get recognition in forms of media reports and government support. On the contrary, a young boy from the bunch of people watching the play said, “Nothing is going to change in this country. People have been peeing and spitting on the streets and they will continue to do so. But it is really weird that when they go to foreign countries they conform to rules of the land”.

Durga Rai, buoyed by the response their play received said, “Miracles happen, we make them happen, our optimism does that.” Moreover, one of the students of the group conferred a symbolic epithet to their efforts, ‘Dog Is God’.

Pushkal Shivam is a freshie and an enthu one at that!  He has already worked as a Student Journalist and writing seems to be his passion!

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