The Strays of India

I’m back from a lovely trip to India where I had a chance to visit with my family after more than two long years, get together with some good old friends to catch up on the good old times, and eat some really great food, a lot of it homecooked.

Desi and I covered a lot of ground, touching India’s east, west, north and south in 17 short days. But as tiring as it was, it was also exhilarating. I had tons of work waiting for me when I got back, which is why I have been slow to return to blogging, but I hope to catch up. For starters, I have a non-food visual post for you that’s very, very close to my heart: I’m calling it the Strays of India. The pictures, as always, were taken by Desi.

As many of you who have lived in India or visited it would know, India is home not only to the world’s second-largest human population, but also- unfortunately- to a very large number of neglected, abandoned and homeless animals of every kind. Cows, dogs, cats, sheep, goats…you name it, you’ll find them scavenging out of trash piles or hanging around food vendors in the usually vain hope of finding their next meal.
In a country long known for its vegetarian traditions, the sight of neglected and abused animals is always a shocking paradox. The dogs, particularly, are everywhere. I must say here that I do strongly believe that, no matter how tough their lives, it is better to let them live instead of euthanizing them as a public health threat. Most strays usually pretty much keep to themselves and don’t bother you unless you bother them- if you do, I’d say they’re fully justified in defending themselves. Feel free to argue with me, but in all the years I lived in India, I never once met anyone who contracted rabies from a stray dog.
The stray animals themselves, however, face many, many threats from the burgeoning human population and development. The growing numbers of cars on roads that honk incessantly at pedestrians make it difficult for people to walk, and you can imagine how difficult it is for the poor animals who are often hit and maimed or left to die by vehicles.
Public behavior toward strays is also often cruel, with children and even adults throwing stones at dogs and even cats for no apparent reason other than to send them as far away from themselves as possible. Some stray dogs do end up getting “adopted” by communities who feed them, but they are few in number.
What is also heartbreaking is the pernicious newfound love of the middle and upper classes for purebred pets bought from breeders and often imported into the country. In cities like Bombay and Calcutta I often saw people walking Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. There appears to be no interest among these “dog lovers” in giving homes to the lovely strays although some animal rights activists in the country have spoken out for this. I know from personal experience that strays make excellent pets: Desi and I adopted a number of stray puppies when we lived in Bombay and and they grew up into beautiful and smart dogs.
I also wanted to share some other pictures of experiences that were shocking or heartbreaking. At the Kalighat temple, one of Calcutta’s most historic landmarks and the place which gave the city its name, I saw freshly beheaded lambs being dragged out of the temple, their legs still trembling. Killing animals is in itself a lowly act, but sacrificing animals in the name of religion has got to be the most shameful act imaginable.

In the desert landscape of beautiful Leh, Ladakh, I saw abandoned and starving cows scavenging off trash, munching on paper. One of the cows ate a cigarette butt as I watched. But when I offered it a banana it didn’t look quite sure what to do with it.

One of my favorite people, Mahatma Gandhi, once said that a nation’s progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. In Gandhi’s land, is anyone listening anymore?

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  1. says

    welcome back, vaishali! good to know that you had a nice time in India. take care and get back to the routine blogging soon with many yummy recipes. The pictures makes me nostalgic.

  2. says

    That, indeed, is a problem. When I was in India, I used to feed lot of stray cats, which was objectionable to some of my neighbours. One, they considered it to be a bad omen. Two, sanitary issues (They weren’t.. ahem.. potty trained).

    Living in an apartment, sharing common area with other families, were all deterrents to my love for animals. Not that it stopped me. But in a land, where people themselves live in crammed places, four-legged friends become least of their problems.

  3. says

    Glad to see you back, Oh what a heart rending story.I know the pity and the pain of the stray dogs they go through.I have chided many kids for throwing stones at the poor souls just for the heck of fun.Oh dear I am so shocked to hear the slaughtering of the goat.Me too a animal lover and I do care for the sentiments of birds and the snacks trapped in the cage.

  4. says

    I can totally see you point Vaishali but as Sugs pointed out ..the priorities just don’t fit.

    Nice to know you had a great time in India.

  5. says

    Welcome back and gladto hear thay you had a wonderfull time.
    Well that is India,
    And anyway you see ppl also lying there around as stray animals.
    People are not even helping humans there so then do you think they are going to bother about animals.
    That is India for you.
    It has its bad and good

  6. says

    In a country of billion people where the life of a human being is so cheap and even the suicides of Farmers in Vidarbha in the thousands haven’t seem to made much difference, it is any wonder then that animals are accorded lowest priority? This is not to justify our attitude towards animals, but trying to make sense of why they are treated the way they are.

    That being said, I do know of many people who have adopted strays; there will always be people who hanker after pedigreed pups (and then abandon them when they grow out of their cuteness)but I think the tribe of people adopting stray dogs (and cats) is growing.

    The cows on the street are not usually abandoned – they are very much owned by small scale dairy farmers and are let loose every morning to forage for “food” in garbage cans and then milked in the evenings. And there are people who prefer this “pure cow’s” milk over the paseteurized milk which is not cow’s milk.

    Sacrificial animals have been a good part of our religion since Vedic times and I doubt that this is going to end anytime soon – not when there are people call a ban on the “jallikaatu” (bull running) festival, an attack on their culture!

    What gives me hope – people who take the time to report a trapped eagle or an injured bat to the SPCA and dont give up on calling them every hour till they come and rescue it. My friend’s mother who has been adopted by a cat and comes and goes as it pleases – household timings are adjusted according to her whims and fancies! LOL!

    Glad you had a good trip Vaishali – welcome back!

  7. says

    The plight of strays is very distressing. However, there are some people who strive to make a positive change. My neighbours in Delhi used to adopt so many stray cats, dogs and wounded birds. They would train and groom these dogs and gift them to friends, who often mistook them for thorough breds and happily welcomed them:)

  8. says

    Welcome back vaishali… Nice to have u back dear… Missed u in the blogsphere..:)

    hope u had a great india trip… take rest and come back with ur yummy recipes.

    Feel so bad for the animals there… its like they have to strive to survive… just liek the humans…so bad they can’t even cry out their problems… poor things

  9. says

    Don’t tell me about the kalighat temple.. the whole place was full of beggars and it was stinking of blood and the floor was wet… later someone told me that few minutes back they had beheaded a goat… ohghhh it give me shudders yet…

    I have heard its a very powerful temple and all… But all this really dooesn’t give u the sanctity.. that a temple needs to have…. I dont think I will be ever going ack to that temple… atleast not on my own…. hmm

  10. says

    Great post!

    Every time I visit India, I feel sick
    seeing the condition of cows and dogs in roads across cities and villages of India.

    In a land where cows are considered sacred, cows are used only as “milking machines”. And the consumption of milk and milk products has increased so much in past couple of years.

  11. Bhakti says

    Hi Vaishali, I recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying all the past entries while you have been away. This one… it is something I live and see everyday. I personally love the Indian dog breeds or whatever it is you call them ; mongrels, strays (I do not like that word though). They have the most beautiful and intellegent eyes. I especially love cats and we have had the pleasure of spending lovely times with the cats who have been a part of our family over the years. Much as I dislike seeing these pictures, I am glad you have put them up for us to rethink, re- feel and do something. :)

  12. says

    Uma, thanks.

    Suganya- you’re right. Raising awareness and quelling superstition as well as raising people’s regard for the equality of all life are the only ways to fight this ignorance. I am eternally hopeful…

    Paulina, it really is.

    Pearlsofeast, good for you, for chiding kids who hurt dogs. And seeing birds in cages is a truly heartrending sight when they are meant to be flying free in the skies.

    Evolvingtastes, Cham, Thanks, ladies.

    Mythili, You’re right that there are many other priorities in a developing country. But the way I see it, no progress can be made toward quelling human suffering if we remain without compassion for the animals that live among us and suffer voicelessly.

    Happycook- you’re right. There’s both the good and the bad.

    Madhuram, Madhavi, Thanks.

    Miri- Jallikattu gives me the shudders. It is one of the cruelest events, disguised as celebration. How anyone can celebrate animal cruelty is food for thought…
    I am happy you see some hope among the people who are fighting for better lives for animals. That’s an encouraging trend.

    Delhibelle, kudos to your friends!

    Shubha, Thanks. And you’re right- the Kalighat temple could have been a beautiful experience, but all I can think of now is the cruelty I will forever associate with it.

    Kumudha- so true about the “milking machines.” What is shocking is that no one thinks about the fact that milk and ghee and curds are really not a “gift” from the cow, as we from India have long believed, but something that is taken away forcibly from them using means that are cruel and ugly and far from respectful.

    Bhakti, thanks for your thoughtful response. The Indian mixed-breed dogs are indeed some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, even when they are living in horrible conditions, and their eyes are expressive indeed. Btw, I too am totally a cat-person and I hate how misunderstood they are.

  13. says

    I am also from India (from Tamil Nadu), though I currently live in England and I am appalled by the treatment of animals there, though as others have similarly observed, it is unsurprising that there are so many poor, homeless, mistreated strays when there so many poor, homeless, mistreated people. I am glad to say that the two dogs my grandparents have had (one died) were both stray puppies. There was also an instance of animal sacrifice at the temple opposite by grandparents’ house, but when they realised this was happening, they managed to put a stop to the practice at this place. I love your blog which I have just discovered and cannot wait to try the recipes, being a vegan myself.

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