Ayesha Christina, a dog lover and founding member of the animal welfare organisation Neighbourhood Woof, faced resistance, violence and assault by the residents of a Mukherjee Nagar residential area while she was doing her job.
She drove down to Mukherjee Nagar, North Delhi to pick up female street dogs to sterilise them before they became hostile and to prevent them from giving birth to another litter on the streets. The neighbourhood was reportedly poisoning and beating up the dogs.
" Gradually the crowd of residents increased. Definitely worried now, I repeatedly called the SHO hoping that if nothing else the situation could be diffused to be dealt with later. I was instructed by a constable to go pick up the dog. When I returned I was surrounded by the mob, now furious that they had not been successful in hindering my work."
"Over the next 40 minutes that followed many thoughts crossed my mind while more than 50 people hit me, stood on me, a few put their hands under my clothes, all the while holding me such that I could neither sit, nor lie down. The dog, having failed to escape, clung to me and I to her , this protecting both of us from further harm."
Here is a first person account by Ayesha about what happened on March 21. No edits have been made to the original text.
I could barely contain my joy as I buckled my seatbelt to drive to Signature View Apartments, a relatively new residential society in Mukherjee Nagar, North Delhi. In one fell swoop, I would be able to illustrate how a local dog care giver is instrumental in controlling the population of dogs in their neighbourhood by picking up all the females that had been identified by a resident who lives there. The MCD had allotted my recently registered organization, Neighbourhood Woof space to run a stray canine birth control and vaccination program, and the Signature View dogs would be the first to be sterelized there. I strolled into their complex with a letter from Neighbourhood Woof empathizing with their street dog related troubles and my intention to help solve them. Despite this letter followed by a telephone call from the relevant MCD official, the President of the RWA insisted on written authorization before he would permit me to enter 'THEIR' building.
I returned with my authorization letter, this time with a local PCR van that had agreed to accompany me after confirming my authorization. I was keen to pick up at least one particular female dog whose puppies had mysteriously disappeared. I was concerned she could become protective towards her next litter and therefore aggressive towards human beings. The RWA, however, continued to obstruct my entry, for no discernible reason.
More constables and inspectors arrived from our local police station and yet the residents continued to be adamant about not letting me enter to pick up the dog. Trusting the police were trying to be amicable to all, I waited patiently, feeling terrible for the three petrified dogs that I had caught from other areas that were now holed up in my vehicle.
Gradually the crowd of residents increased. Definitely worried now, I repeatedly called the SHO hoping that if nothing else the situation could be diffused to be dealt with later. I was instructed by a constable to go pick up the dog. When I returned I was surrounded by the mob, now furious that they had not been successful in hindering my work.
Over the next 40 minutes that followed many thoughts crossed my mind while more than 50 people hit me, stood on me, a few put their hands under my clothes, all the while holding me such that I could neither sit, nor lie down. The dog, having failed to escape, clung to me and I to her, this protecting both of us from further harm. I could narrate the violence that ensued but that would not accomplish much more than rousing a lot of anger, disgust and what is worse, fear, in the minds of my fellow animal welfare workers. I will instead share with you what I remember thinking while I held myself together and waited for something to happen!
Ayesha with dogs in the neighbourhood.
-I finally understood the source of the passion of countless people who conducted awareness campaigns when I was in school. As an ungrateful child only too thrilled to evade maths class, I would always wonder what drove them to address us with so much fervour.
-Educated men and women in my neighbourhood believe that the most effective way of humiliating a woman is to beat her up and expose her body. To them, a woman's dignity is defined by her modesty. Section 509 of IPC itself, pertaining to molestation, employs the phrase ‘outrage to modesty’. This only further establishes how widespread this viewpoint is.
-The Police (or at least those that were present), whether out of fear or apathy are ultimately just as ignorant and unaware as the residents who instigated this violence. If our legal language enshrines this attitude, our police procedures are such that a woman can be beaten up and molested just enough to scare but not hurt her and this can be covered up and lost in an endless stream of paperwork, FIRs, court dates, summons and what not. Despite favourable law, police and court proceedings end up harassing a victim rather than expediting justice. In the course of helping other women through similar trouble, I have been lucky enough to witness the way vigilant, ethical officers can make a world of difference. I did not have to emerge from this bruised.
Over the next few days an ugly but admittedly hilarious story has unfolded. It turns out the reason the Signature View RWA prevented me from carrying out my work was due to a malicious campaign carried out against me by the President of the RWA of the neighbouring apartments, where I stay. I had no idea the two RWAs were operating in tandem! My RWA President has claimed in a letter to the Local District Magistrate, the local SHO, the local MLA, the local Mayor etc. that I sneak puppies into the area in my car every few months, raise them at home and then sneakily release them in my area, because I get paid to do so. (WHO pays me is not specified in the complaint!!)
To me, this incident continues to be about a mob that prevented me from doing my job simply because they don’t understand how what I do helps them. I will therefore refrain from delving into details of their absolutely ludicrous activities and allegations regarding my work. The letters they write and their actions only seek to expose a glaring lack of awareness and common sense. This, after repeated attempts at workshops with children, addressing common dog related complaints as well as an outreach programme aimed at clarifying how and what I do is for their benefit.
Neighbourhood Woof team at IIT interacts with people on campus to address dog related problems.
My organization was founded with the belief that we can achieve far more in our effort to control the stray dog crisis if we could focus our resources and efforts on the field instead of drowning in an infection-ridden overburdened shelter. We want to provide medical care on the spot wherever possible, empower local care givers to resolve local conflicts, include residents in the exercise of canine population control and vaccinations.
This incident only furthers my resolve to bridge this needless gap between people who care for animals and people who fear and dislike them. My aim is not to convert people who are apathetic to dogs but to allow for a neighbourhood where we can peacefully coexist. It is important to initiate a dialogue with people who do not like dogs from their perspective, regardless of how deeply enmeshed in ignorance it may be. Without this, the best of intentions and effort can be rendered utterly fruitless.
And while all that goes on, I will continue to fight for justice in this particular case of harassment. My expectations are not unreasonable. To begin with my attackers must be punished for what they did, intentionally at that. Next, my local police station needs to be reminded that today's world is different. Injustice can be exposed immediately and with far more ease than ever before.
Ayesha with her pet pooches on a trip to Ladakh.
Absolutely overwhelmed with the love and support I have received from my family, my friends, co workers and people who believe in what I stand for, I am determined to bring professionalism, a work ethic and a certain standard to the vastly unregulated territory that is animal welfare in my country.
My heart swells when I think of everyone who has supported me, shared my story, written in with kind and strong words. In this support, I see strength and hope, a certain equality. Though people could well have said so out of concern and love, no one commented on what I should have worn or whether I should have gone there alone. For me, this in itself is my enemy's first defeat.
Photo courtesy: Ayesha Christina