Of Mice (and other animals) and (some) men

12:21 17.02.2004
This is my first blog. What I have written here can sound pretty rotten to many. What I have written here is based more on ideas than on factual knowledge. If it seems to anyone that what I have written is wrong or incorrect, she or he is welcome to add a comment or send me an email.
I am from a city named Kolkata. Its old name was Calcutta. Many of you would be familiar with the latter.
There has been a news item in the papers in my city about a man dying of rabies. He was bitten by a street-mongrel a few days earlier. The hospital he went to couldn’t give him the necessary anti-rabies shot. He was too poor to go to a more expensive medical facility.
When I spoke to several people on this topic, it appeared that this man’s case was not an isolated one. One family friend, who is a hospital employee, tells me that every day nearly a hundred people visit that hospital with dog-bites. Many — she added — had to go without the anti-rabies shot, because there is a scarcity of that item.
There used to be — at one point of time — a programme of the Municipal Corporation (this is what a Town Council is called here) to capture and kill stray dogs. Nowadays the practice has been abolished. I hear this ban has been effected by the highest judicial body of the land. Because there are people — influential people — who think these dogs have a right to life and to kill them like that is inhuman.
The organisations they have formed, as I have already said, are strong. Not only that, they are often local branches of larger International bodies, which denounce “cruelty” to animals and insist on their (the animals’) “ethical” treatment.
The fallout of their activities is clear to the naked eye.
I have already mentioned that there is a stated shortage of anti-rabies serum in this state. It is because such fluids are manufactured using some chemicals obtainable only from the brains of sheep or blood of horeses. But these days the practice has probably been abandoned, bowing to the wishes of these powerful people; at least that is the explanation offered by medical facilities for their scarcity.
In the capital of one South Indian state, there were several reported incidents in which stray dogs have carried away new born babies. According to the new ethics nothing could be done in this regard apart from a drive to render the dogs sterile. I haven’t seen anything about that in the papers for quite a while now. Perhaps such reports are sensored to protect the reputation of those dogs. Since the new born babies were humans (and their parents were residents of a poor neighbourhood) and not animals, questions of ethics didn’t apply to them.
Closer home, in West Bengal, cattle lifting by tigers of Sunderbans is a regular incident. Greedy humans, it seems, have encroached upon the forest – the natural habitat of Royal Bengal Tigers — to cultivate crops, graze cattle and build huts. The ‘poor creatures’ had no options but to pick up a cow here or a goat there and sometimes the odd human looking for honey or fuelwood. In fact there is a village in the Sunderbans, whose residents have three things in common — one, all of them are women, two, all of them are widows, and three, every one of them lost her husband in a tiger attack. Nothing, it seems, can be done to ensure that this never happens again, because the tigers are protected species but the husbands of these women were not – are not. The balance of ecosystem of the Sunderbans depends on the existence of tigers and not on the existence of a ‘few’ men, nor on that of their wives, children and old parents.
In western West Bengal, herds of wild elephants regularly destroy crops and huts, often with humans in them. The arguments offered in this regard is the same – more villages have come up on the paths that these elephants historically use to roam. If the villages were not there in the first place, there wouldn’t have been any problem at all. It is the humans, it appears, who are to be blamed. As such there are more humans than there are elephants, so if a few of them are crushed under the feet of rampaging elephants and a few more are orphaned in the process, what difference does that make?
Apparently none.
The benevolence to animals was extended to circuses. It is understood that the tricks and acrobatics played by animals are learnt through brutality at great pain. So the best option to deliver the poor animals was to legally abolish their tricks. It doesn’t really matter that circus companies are losing business due to this move, rendering thousands of people unemployed. Their campaign against use of animals in street shows have forced hundreds travelling bear show artists looking for alternative Since we are to take it for granted that human feeling for animals is restricted to a hallowed few (i.e. those belonging to these exclusive organisations) we wouldn’t bother about the issue of attachments formed by animals trainers in circuses and what they felt when their beloved pupils were taken away from them. After everything said and done, they are only some animal trainers and trapeze artistes, aren’t they?
They indeed are.
It is not that these words are clearly pronounced by any mouth. But these ideas are hidden in the statements that some people issue, buried in the interviews they give to the press and lurk in their conversations in the talk-shows in the electronic media. In a nutshell, they are not SAID but they are MEANT. Well, as I write it, I know I will be charged with reading between the lines, where nothing is written and putting words into mouths, where nothing has been said.
But who are these people?
They are a handful of blessed individiuals, partitioned from the multitude of this country by their wealth and/or their position in the society. Their existence, it appears, is like an oasis in the desert of Third World misery and frustration. Their wisdom is such that they can figure out the ecology of a forest in a short visit and their observation will be more valuable than the oldest tracker, who has lived there for the span of his entire life.
Life has elevated them to a level where their children would never be picked up by groups of marauding wolves (consider the hamlets of Himalayan foothills), there table will never be short of food because hordes of rampaging elephants have trampled on the crops, their morning tea will never be shorn of milk (unless it has been proved by the most modern research that milk is harmful or something) because cattle have been lifted by hungry tiger, when going to work, their lives will never be endangered because a tiger might lurk around the block.
And they are worried about the animals and what their destruction might signify for the echology of this planet.
Several years ago, a letter was published in one of the leading English dailies of Kolkata. The correspondent lamented the fact that there are refuges meant for dogs but not for humans. I would say this observation was incorrect, less then than now. But I was surprised to note how many angry rejoinders this one letter attracted. The main theme was the same in most of these responses. They wanted to know what the writer of the earlier letter had done to remedy the situation. Of course there was no response from the poor chap (if I remember correctly it was a male).
I can understand what reaction this blog will attract.
In my simple way, I have thought of a solution. It might not be the best one around, but it might make a good beginning in the right direction.
It appears that it is particularly those humans, who live close to forests and animal habitats, that are the originator of all this trouble (or as many would like to put, the perpetrators of such horrible crimes), why not take the trouble to find out what it will take to satisfy their greed? Supppose, the small farmers in western West Bengal, gatherers of the Sunderbans and all such people are allotted residences in flats in the city, will they still want to cut down trees? Suppose they were provided with a source of income that assures a free flow of liquid cash will they still want to destroy forest to expand arable land? And that girl, who used to lie down among lions and tigers in a circus to entertain people not so long ago, would she prefer to do the same thing if a better career opportunity is provided to her?
Why don’t we find out?
(The date and time that appears at the top of the posting is when I first started hammering at my keyboard)

About Surya Sunder

Anglophone Bibliophile
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