A summer evening three years ago,Ehsan Ali was bitten by a stray dog while on his way home. And since that evening,the 38-year-old has only one fearthe fear of moving out after darkness engulfs the streets of Srinagar.
On the streets of Srinagar,where the fear of a grenade blast,a shootout or an arrest once kept people inside their homes after dusk,it is now the scare of stray canines. As the sun sets on the city,Srinagar turns into an empire of dogs,the canines pouncing on anyone who dares to step out.
The fear is not unfounded. In the last five years,more than 50,000 dog bites have been recorded in Srinagars hospitals. Last year,18,500 men,women and children reported dog bites,spreading panic in the city and forcing the government to think of a way out. The dogs would have to be culled,it was decided.
But animal rights activists opposed the move and the government decided to sterilise the canines to prevent the rapid increase in their population.
A census conducted last year by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation put the dog population in Srinagar at 91,110,a figure revealed by J&Ks Minister of State for Home Nasir Aslam Wani on the floor of the House. Animal rights activists differed.
To get over these differences,the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) decided to conduct another census,this time by the Humane Society of India (HSI),a Delhi-based NGO. This census was conducted by HSI. We only provided logistics and manpower, says Dr Javid Ahmad Rather,SMCs Veterinary Officer. This is a methodical census based on the Lincoln Index Technique.
Under the Lincoln Index,a technique where the population count is done on the basis of sampling,the dogs counted were painted in pink. Every dog caught by the trained dog catchers of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation was painted pink and released in the neigbourhood from where he was picked. The dog catchers would return after some days,catch some more dogs and painted them. Some of those painted in the first round would be painted a second time. The Index then uses a mathematical equation,which factors in dogs painted once and those painted twice,to arrive at the total canine population.
But the idea of painting the dogs and releasing them back on the streets hasnt gone down well with residents. The issue is simple. There are thousands of dogs on the streets of the city and the government needs to do something about it, says Abdul Rashid,a resident of Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar. Instead,the government is wasting its money by conducting census after census. Human life is more precious than a dogs.
The debate over the dogs brought people out on the streetsthough they took care it wasnt after dusk,when the dogs would be out. But when the government began placing restrictions on the demonstrations,the protests went onlinefrom Facebook pages to a Twitter campaign and an online petition.
They argued that dogs cant be allowed to survive at the cost of humans. Some even went to the extent of warning that they would take up culling operations themselves if the government didnt want to do it. We fail to understand the rationale of protecting dogs, says civil society member Zareef Ahmad Zareed,who is also head of Valley Citizens Council.
The debate is far from settled,but for now,the canines continue to roam the streets of Srinagar,most of them with a proud splash of pink from the recently concluded census.