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The plight of stray dogs in India

1st November 2011

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In Delhi, the streets are littered with stray dogs. They are at every roadside, ribs protruding from matted skin that is peppered with scars from old beatings and flea bites. Some simply lie on the road in the sun and the dirt, too weak to move. Walking in a poor part of the city, you may pass a dog that is apparently sleeping on the pavement – at second glance you will notice that its legs are positioned oddly; realisation will be quick and sickening.

Lancaster University students with stray dogs at the Youth Parliament Foundation, New Delhi

In September, a group of Lancaster University students and recent graduates, including myself, travelled to India and saw these things for ourselves. A lot of our party were distressed, as is understandable. The plight of these animals is a horrible thing to witness.

In a country like India, which has numerous problems to tackle including endemic infanticide and the thousands living in slum communities, it is easy to see how problems that do not directly affect the human population can be brushed over. The issue of animal cruelty, against this torrid backdrop, is hardly likely to be high on the government’s list of priorities.

However, the stray dog situation in India is a dire one, and one that does need to be addressed.

The majority of the dogs we saw in and around Delhi (and believe me, there were a lot) were carbon copies of those described above. All are starving; the Indian sun has rendered them dehydrated. Most drink contaminated water. In the slums, they drink sewage.

This is what we saw. Our host, an environmentalist and university professor, said that this is the case for the majority of strays. Domestic pets are cared for, she told us, but there is little provision made for those animals that wander indeterminably and belong to no one.

Government policy is to sterilise the dogs, before returning them to the streets and hoping that they eventually die out. Is it working? I don’t have statistics (there probably are no statistics), but it doesn’t appear so from the number of strays we encountered.

Possibly this is because the official approach entirely contradicts itself. The Constitution states that every Indian has a duty to feed the strays, and that it is a criminal offence to stop this task from being carried out. Come on India, you can’t have it both ways. If it’s in your Constitution, clearly you want them looked after. If this is the case then surely you should shoulder some of the responsibility?

It seems to me that relying on a population that is in turn scared (the children we met at the Youth Parliament Foundation shooed the dogs away) or inclined to look in the other direction (as is the case with others we have met) is not the best way to proceed. Clearly, because the dogs are still starving, and still falling victim to seemingly mindless acts of violence.

In November 2009, three security guards at Symbiosis International School of Design in Viman Nagar were caught by a female resident beating, for half an hour, a stray dog that had wandered onto the grounds. The college stated that the guards were simply chasing the dog away. In May 2010, eleven dogs were allegedly butchered within the Delhi Jal Board Complex at Jal Sadan. DJB denied that any of their staff were involved, a hearing was cancelled, and police dismissed the case. Between March and July of the same year, Niyyatie Dua from southern Delhi saw five dogs that she had continuously fed over several years die ‘unnaturally’. Remnants of rat poison were found; it was concluded by local residents that the dogs had been deliberately killed.

Before even considering the welfare of the animals themselves, the fact that they are being viciously attacked and murdered is obviously not conducive to good civilian relations. No one wants to see a dog being beaten; the thought turns the stomach.  And violence against animals (which may appear minor, even though it is not) has strong correlation with violence against humans.

A recent petition entitled ‘Animals in India Need Urgent Help’, sponsored by the Animal Welfare Activists of New Delhi, signed by 1400 people and addressed to the Prime Minister of India, made a link between animal cruelty and domestic violence. It requested that ‘the leaders of India, the police force and the municipality corporations... make (their staff) understand that crimes against animals are an indication of more serious problems.’

The petition goes on to state that the actions of the Delhi Jal Board, in not investigating the case of the eleven butchered dogs, was in contradiction of Article 51 A of the Constitution, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960), and Section 38 (J) of the Indian Penal Code.

Yet no action was taken.

Lack of law enforcement is an endemic problem in India. Alka Lamba, head of the non-political, non-profit Go India organisation, told the Lancaster University group this when addressing the issue of child education. In a country so vast, with so many to govern and so many remote areas, ensuring that the laws are always followed often proves impossible.

However, these crimes did not take place in remote villages where the law fails to stretch. They took place at a prestigious university, and at the headquarters of the company that supplies water to India’s capital city. Kailash Hills, where Niyyatie Dua’s stray dogs were poisoned, is a wealthy area.  There are numerous similar cases: Nazammudin, Saket, both upmarket areas, both in New Delhi, both the locations of bloody crimes against stray animals.

There are organisations and individuals who are tackling the issue, but they need the voice of the masses behind them.

Those taking on the issue include the web journal Jaagruti (, from which documents detailing the law on the feeding of stray dogs and the punishments for those hindering it can be downloaded for distribution. The website also includes the Section of the Indian Penal Code that states the terms of imprisonment and fines for those charged with animal cruelty. Politician and environmentalist Maneka Gandhi is also behind the cause – her website is; articles relating to stray dogs can be found in the ‘Heads and Tails’ section.  

Photograph by Jesse Boon. 

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