13 children have died of dog attacks in this district. Authorities say dogs are being killed in retaliation by villagers, who say authorities are also involved.
Sitapur: Villagers in the Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh have declared a war on street dogs. Hit by the loss of six children — allegedly due to dog attacks — in the last few days alone, there is widespread clamour to make villages “dog-free”. From lathis to guns, everything is being used by villagers to avenge the deaths of their children.
As a red-faced administration scrambles for answers for the killings of 13 children in 12 villages within a radius of around 20 km in this district, the blame is squarely put on dogs – and every dog is being made to share it equally.
“We are convinced that the killings have taken place because of dog attacks… Villagers have been witness to the attacks,” sub-divisional magistrate Shashank Tripathi told ThePrint.
“The villagers are angry… Some killings have happened, but the administration has not supported them in any way.”
However, this statement is wholly contradicted by villagers.
‘We killed whatever dog we saw’
These stories of mass dog massacres are eerily similar to those from Kerala in 2016, where mobs would routinely beat dogs to death, and then parade their carcasses through streets, as if it were all a sport.
In Khairabad village, where two children have allegedly been mauled by dogs, the anger of the villagers is palpable. “We kill whatever dog we see,” says Rukiya Bano. “The forest officials, police and villagers have together killed all the dogs in the village.”
Bano is sitting next to Jarina, a nursing mother, who lost a 12-year-old son earlier this month. “For days, we had hung the carcasses of a few dogs on a tree… They must have fallen and rotted away now,” says Bano.
None of the carcasses were sent for post-mortem, even as the administration says it’s trying to study the behavior of the dogs to find answers to the children’s deaths.
While some local media reports have been referring to the attacking dogs as feral animals, the same has not been conclusively established yet. According to some definitions, feral animal refers to one living in the wild but has descended from domesticated animals.
The result of the bloody human-canine conflict is visible on the streets. There isn’t a single street dog to be seen anywhere, even as devilish tales of these ‘wild’ dogs abound.
Local WhatsApp groups bear testament to the horrific killings of dogs across villages. Gory pictures of dogs beaten to death, hung on trees, and shot with guns are circulated among villagers, local reporters and officials.
“They are not like normal dogs. They are much bigger in size and reddish in colour,” a wide-eyed elderly man says, as he strokes his long beard.
“They look like wolves, and move around in packs,” he adds, even as he admits that those killed by the villagers and administration include regular stray dogs.
Such is the fear of the dog attacks that children are not going to school over the last one week, and are never left unaccompanied by adults. “Even when children go to the fields to relieve themselves, adults accompany them with guns,” says Urmila Devi, an angandwadi worker.
No sterilisation of dogs despite Supreme Court orders
Asked if Sitapur has any public sterilisation programme, SDM Tripathi said the administration had just started one a few days ago, despite the Supreme Court saying in 2016 that “although dogs cannot be allowed to become a menace to society, widespread killing of dogs is unacceptable”.
Last year, the state government had formed Uttar Pradesh Animal Birth Control Committee for the sterilisation of street dogs for population management and rabies eradication. In a meeting held last year, it was decided that 16 Animal Birth Control Centres shall be made in 16 nagar nigams across the state. However, no progress has been made in this regard so far.
“Sitapur has a nagar palika, and not a nagar nigam,” Tripathi said in his administration’s defence.
So far, at least 18 teams have been engaged by the district administration to catch stray dogs that are believed to be behind the killings, but with no results. Even as dozens of dogs have been brutally massacred, attacks on children have not stopped.
Over the last two days, two more children were attacked and severely injured. “Someone happened to see my child being mauled by dogs, otherwise he wouldn’t have been saved either,” says Uttam Jaiswal, whose 10-year-old son is now undergoing treatment in a local hospital.
A desperate administration
While the first death took place in November last year, the administration was caught napping until the death toll reached a dozen this month. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath Friday visited the injured children and bereaved families in the district, and announced Rs 2 lakh compensation for all those whose children have died.
However, bereaved families said that while the deaths started last year, nobody had bothered to come and meet them so far.
“After November, the deaths had stopped, apart from a few incidents in January-February,” said Aniruddha Pandey, district forest officer, Sitapur. “Now they have started again because this is their mating season, and dogs are more aggressive now.”
Asked if it is possible for dogs to turn man-eaters, Pandey said it seems that some pedigree dogs have mated with indigenous breeds, and this more aggressive sort of pack has come up. “But the chief minister has met with all the families and ascertained that the deaths are being caused by dogs, so now everything is clear,” he said.
However, animal rights activists are alarmed. “What is happening in Sitapur is appalling,” said Gauri Maulekhi, an aide to union women and child development minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi.
“First, they fail to implement the sterilisation rules, and wait for a tragedy to happen, and then indiscriminately go on killing animals in complete violation of the law,” she said.
A team of veterinarians, animal welfare officer and dogs handlers has now been deployed in Sitapur by the Humane Society International to provide expert assistance at the behest of the Wildlife Institute of India.
“We understand the seriousness of the situation; however, indiscriminately killing street dogs, who could well be entirely unconnected to the tragic incident, is both unethical and ineffective,” N.G. Jayasimha, managing director of HSI India, said.