Deadly Bites

A PIL in the Madras High Court has questioned rules which require RWAs to feed community animals. This seems absurd when stray dogs have increasingly and tragically bitten and killed humans

In an attempt to challenge the constitutional validity of Rule 20 of the Animal Birth Control Rules, 2023, a public interest litigation (PIL) petition has been filed in the Madras High Court. The Rule requires all resident welfare associations and apartment owner associations across the nation to arrange for the feeding of community animals, including stray dogs, on their property.

Local activist S Muralidharan is at the core of this legal dispute, arguing that state and local agencies, not resident associations, should be in charge of providing care for stray animals. He challenged the regulation, claiming it was based on a false understanding of animal welfare and that it puts the interests of animals ahead of those people who are trying to meet their basic requirements. 

The petitioner drew attention to the absurdity of how society reacted to the removal and killing of stray dogs, which frequently made dramatic news and drew protests from animal rights organisations, yet the suffering of millions of people who lack access to food and shelter was ignored. Moreover, Muralidharan asserted that feeding stray dogs had boosted their population and exacerbated violent tendencies, resulting in a situation where well-fed canines reverted to their prehistoric pack-hunting impulses.

In addition, he claimed that feeding stray dogs was a form of “obsessive disorder” that was responsible for their rise in numbers. “Well-fed dogs behave differently these days. They have returned to their natural state of hunting in a pack.” Well fed dogs proliferate, bite, chase cars, bark all night and hunt children and older people.

A division bench of Justices R Mahadevan and Mohammed Shaffiq heard Muralidharan’s case. The humane apprehension and observation of stray dogs that have bitten people is described in Rule 16, which too he was attempting to challenge. The Animal Welfare Board of India was represented by senior standing counsel V Chandrasekharan of the central government, who was instructed by the Court to take notice and get the required response by March 15.

Worldwide, India has the most number of stray dog attacks. Children and the elderly are deemed at risk. Of all the rabies deaths worldwide, 36% occur in India. Together with the greatest number of rabies fatalities, India also has the most number of stray dogs. Rabid fatalities go unnoticed for the most part. A stray dog may only be sterilised in accordance with the 2001 Animal Birth Control regulations. Most Indians feel that municipalities don’t take appropriate measures to prevent dog bites and that stray dog attacks are frequent. 

States with the most stray dogs are Odisha, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. The most dog bites occur in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Because a rule prohibiting the killing of stray dogs was passed in 2001 in an attempt to conserve them, their number has increased. Bihar has discovered that the third leading cause of illness in the region is bites by stray dogs.

Stray dog attacks have risen throughout India. In 2007, in Bengaluru, two children were killed by a pack of dogs, causing animal rights activists to protest against the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike for the action they took against stray dogs, which they considered to be cruel and improper. In 2009, Meerut had several attacks by dogs that killed children. In 2014, a two-month-old baby girl was mauled to death by a stray dog. After that, residents attacked and killed the dog. The incident caused anger amongst the public who complained about civic bodies not controlling the growing stray dog population. In 2015, in Delhi, a seven-year-old boy was mauled to death by stray dogs. The National Human Rights Commission spoke about the death and the need for a debate about human rights along with animal rights. The Delhi High Court asked South Delhi Municipal Corporation about street safety due to the death of the boy.

In 2016, a 65-year-old woman was mauled to death by stray dogs and a 90-year-old man was killed by them in Kerala. The woman was partially eaten by them. After this, angry locals killed 100 stray dogs. Some people even offered bounties for killing stray dogs. In 2018, stray dogs killed 14 children in Khairabad, Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. The dogs were called man-eaters as some of the children’s body parts were chewed off. Scientists investigated why the dogs were killing children.

In 2019, a boy was attacked, killed and eaten by stray dogs in Amritsar. The dogs were called man-eater dogs. In 2019, Chandigarh saw an increase in stray dog bites and a child was mauled to death by them. In 2020, a newborn baby was mauled to death by stray dogs in Farukhabad, Uttar Pradesh, as the hospital staff had left the window open in an operating theatre. The police filed a case against the hospital staff.

In April 2022, stray dogs mauled children to death in Punjab. In January 2022, in Bijnor, a 30-year-old woman was mauled to death by a pack of stray dogs, after a 15-year-old girl was killed by a group of

stray dogs. This was a rare case of stray dogs killing an adult woman, as they usually attack children. The death of a seven-month-old baby in Noida in October 2022 increased debate about dog rights. There were candlelit protests about the death of the child. In 2023, nine women were killed by man-eater dogs in Begusarai, Bihar. In February 19, 2023, a 4-year-old boy was fatally attacked by three stray dogs in Hyderabad on a deserted street, with graphic footage circulating on social media. A 70-year-old retired UNICEF doctor was also killed in AMU by dogs. His death was caught on CCTV. In Bijnor 10 people, including six children, were killed by stray dogs from 2022 to 2023. 

When the government of Kerala wanted to put down dangerous canines that were biting people and were infected with rabies, it encountered resistance. After children in Kerala were hospitalised due to dog attacks, residents hired vigilantes to kill the dogs.

This legal dispute has far-reaching consequences that go beyond the courts, exposing a significant rift in society about the best ways to strike a balance between the requirements of humans and animal care. Proponents of the contested regulations contend that providing food for stray animals is a step towards a more humane society, while opponents worry that such action can make problems like stray dog aggression and overpopulation worse. This debate highlights important issues regarding the obligations and roles that both individuals and organisations have when it comes to addressing the welfare of community animals and whether humans and stray animals can coexist together.

The decision made by the Madras High Court in this important matter will have a substantial impact on animal rights laws and community welfare programmes throughout India. How this delicate balance between compassion and pragmatism can be achieved will be interesting to see. 

—By Abhilash Kumar Singh and India Legal Bureau

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