When coronavirus cases began to decline in New Delhi, residents of my neighborhood were resuming their war for how to treat the animals among us.
The battle has been raging for the past two years as I went to Nizamuddin East, a leafy enclave located in the shadow of Humayun’s Tomb, the great Mughal mausoleum. In July, the conflict reached a new level of intensity with no sign of resolution.
On the one hand there are animal lovers who feed, vaccinate and sterilize animals, and who think they should stay.
On the other hand there are residents tired of being bitten, having their gardens swept away by monkeys and being awakened by howling dogs. They believe the transgressors should go.
The dispute forced me to face uncomfortable questions: what do I think about animal rights? Are deaths the price we pay for coexistence? Should we feed the strays even if they annoy us? And do monkeys carry rage? (The answer is yes.)
The monkeys dig food out of the trash, while more than 20 stray dogs have a handful of feeding places where they are fed. Walking towards the market, seeing Madala and Amber – my names for two particularly friendly dogs – often make my day.
But both species are guilty of biting people, and can be destructive. Monkeys plunder the gardens and defecate on the verandas, and dogs can get territorial. Once, monkeys threw bricks from the top of an apartment, smashing the windshield of a parked car.
Many residents of Nizamuddin East take a stick in their evening walk to protect themselves against dogs. Others complain that they are afraid to walk outside at night when the dogs are active, engaged in various turf wars.
A dog bit three of my friends in the neighborhood. “He kicked me a few other times before I was chained,” says one.
Yet the solution to the “threat” of the monkey and the dog, as the neighborhood’s WhatsApp group is called, is more complicated than it seems at first. Compared to my native province of Ontario, Canada, where a dangerous dog can be “destroyed,” the laws in India allow animals much more rights.
To remove the monkeys in the past, residents could call the monkeys – larger monkeys trained by a human handler to scare away monkey pests. However, the environment minister ruled against this in 2013, declaring that the use of langur was banned because they are a protected species.
“We are not allowed to kill dogs in any way, our policy is to sterilize the dog population so that the numbers fall at the end,” says a U.S. official. Animal Welfare Council of India, a legal advisory body that promotes animal welfare.
Last month, the battle escalated, with a resident who had taken to shooting a dog three times. Separately, an attempt to bring in a professional monkey was thwarted, apparently by animal lovers who called police.
The dispute is taking place across the country. “The dog population is quite high in India, which needs to be controlled and it is a long process,” says a lawyer who works with animal welfare organizations. “There are a lot of dog lovers and dog haters, they are equally balanced.”
In June, a judge decided on a dispute in New Delhi with a doctor he wanted to prevent anyone from feeding the dogs outside their property. (The matter has been settled amicably).
In his pro-dog judgment, the justice justice JR Midha said that “the feeding of animals has been considered from time immemorial as a good deed”, citing dogs in the Vedas, Hindu sacred texts.
He went on to say that dogs “have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed community dogs, but in exercising this right, care and caution must be taken to ensure that it does not affect them. not on the rights of others or cause any harm ”.
The trial has been acclaimed by animal lovers across the country, but is unlikely to help clarify the situation on the ground.
I don’t blame the neighborhood for not reaching a consensus on cohabitation with other species. Humanity has a terrible record when it comes to protecting wildlife.
WhatsApp arguing about dogs and monkeys seems futile, but I take it that every day on the SOS we call hospital beds, oxygen and medication that we experienced during the pandemic. I can’t help but see it as a sign of healing in Nizamuddin East.