When Indians were restricted to their homes on 24 March due to the coronavirus lockdown, I thought that it would be an opportunity for everyone to discover the best in themselves: read books, cultivate plants, play cards, laugh, breathe cleaner air, play with their children and animals, feed the homeless, both animals and people, write jokes on Facebook, catch up on homework, learn cooking, play music,
But this didn’t happen. Just as people in jail become vicious and want to hurt each other, many Indians became as mean as jail birds, like jail wardens, with all the power in their little kingdoms of villages and communities. It is as if we are in a sci-fi movie and the monsters have taken over.
The heads of Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) broke into people’s flats if they had animals. I had to rescue a boy, who fed cats in Mumbai, and send his attackers to jail. And he is just one of the several thousand who were victimised just because they had a compassionate side.
RWAs ran vicious campaigns on Facebook, threatening to beat feeders. They locked gates and ordered guards to beat the animals inside the compounds, even though these animals are protected by Supreme Court orders . They refused to let feeders go out.
They have also threatened to cancel the leases of tenants who fed animals. They kept poison for birds and animals in the open. In Delhi’s Kirti Nagar, which houses mid-level bureaucrats, a deputy secretary chased a 16-year-old girl and her mother calling them “whores”. I will deal with him after the lockdown.
In the name of resident welfare
One of the RWAs in Thane locked the gates at night after a feeder, who wanted to avoid human contact, had left to give the strays their first meal of the day. The feeder had to spend the night on the road. In Mumbai’s Kandivali, a guard beat an already-paralysed dog in Saidham building. In Mandsaur, the municipal employees, in full public view, beat a dog to death with lathis because his owner was suspected of coronavirus infection.
A high court judge in Delhi went on a stroll with his dog without wearing a mask and landed into an argument with a person feeding monkeys, who had a legal pass from the police. The judge was filmed as he threatened to slap the monkey feeder. He then rang up the police commissioner and had the feeder’s pass cancelled. I had it restored.
People who had lived as good neighbours for years made up stories about being bitten by the dogs their neighbours feed. Some groups went and spat in front of animal owners. One temple priest in Ludhiana attacked an old lady with his idol’s bhala for feeding dogs near his temple. Another well-known priest, of a major government-run temple in Guwahati, was caught selling donated cows to a Meghalaya butcher gang who had crossed the border.
A bus driver ran over a pregnant dog repeatedly till she was mashed into the ground. Someone in Kandivli took a cricket bat and killed a mother of six puppies. One person threw his family dog from the ninth storey. People threw stones at street animal feeders. A man and his three sons recently moved into Betim, Goa, took lathis and beat up an old couple who had been feeding the dogs for 30 years.
The police told me that every second call they received during this time was either people complaining about dog feeders, or from people who were being attacked for feeding dogs. I alone must have sorted out about 7,000 cases. World War 3 has been raging for the last one month and, as time goes on, it will get much worse. One of the problems is that the police don’t want to take action on anyone except counseling them as they have been asked by the “higher” authorities to show zero crime figures, which means that this is a good time for all to indulge in crime. You can steal and rape – but India has officially no crime.
And everyone can pick on women. A majority of this viciousness is aimed at women. They are the caretakers, they are the feeders. They are the ones who have embraced all life. And they are the ones who are being attacked by these low-life, selfish people.
On Monday, I got a call from a man who had been sent a legal notice by us to desist from hounding a woman feeder in his building. The man called and said the filthiest things about the woman, accusing her of putting all their lives in danger by going out. When I remarked that since he was not supposed to come out of his flat, how was his life in danger, he went into another paroxysm of rage about women in general.
The ‘Hindu’ misbehaviour
None of these incidents has a single Muslim in it. All Hindus being mean to other Hindus. And those Hindus, who say the loudest prayers, hate Muslims in the most obvious ways and celebrate every Hindu festival with great pomp, were the meanest. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked us to light a diya on 9 March, these were the people who smuggled in firecrackers and outdid each other in re-polluting the cities.
I have never been able to understand this latent violence in this sort of Hindu. Recently, I read a book called The Impeachment of Man, written in 1945-46 by a woman called Dr Maximiani Portas, a researcher into world religions who settled in India for 30 years and changed her name to Savitri Devi. She was active in the Independence struggle and met the Mahatma several times. This is what she had written in the 40s.
“Most of these Hindus for whom the vegetarian diet means more than a mere social tradition – more than a part and parcel of the caste rules – and who willingly despise the Mohammedans and Christians for not being vegetarians – are no animal lovers at all. They are at the most cow lovers and that also only theoretically. They are generally the last people to keep any animals as pets, and if by chance they do, to keep them for long. They will easily continue discussing high flown philosophical ideas or broad national and international problems, which they have no power to solve, while some distressed stray cat mews at an audible distance. They will boast of their superiority over the meat eating peoples but eat their food unperturbed by the sight of the hungry dog looking up at them with longing eyes. You tell the man so and he answers the usual thing we have heard again and again “there are millions of starving children and you speak of dogs and cats.”
“This is better suited to a man centred creed – a Christian or a Mohammaden – not one who professes to uphold the unity and sacredness of all life and whose vegetarianism is supposed to be a sign of that belief.”
In my next article I am going to quote what she had written about Hinduism and how people, who do not understand its glory, have misinterpreted it to become vicious. It should make us all embarrassed because it is so true.
Maneka Gandhi, Sultanpur MP and former women and child development minister, is an animal rights activist. She is the founder-chairperson of People for Animals organisation. Views are personal.