By Chandrima Pal
Two students in the nursing department at a medical college in Kolkata, killed 16 puppies and laid them all out in a neat row. An adult dog was whimpering in a plastic bag nearby, its eyes had been gouged out. The puppies had been beaten to death. Their heads smashed to a pulp. The massacre was caught on camera by two students from a building nearby, and the video has since then gone viral, sparking outcry and demonstrations.
The two women who were filmed committing the heinous act – they actually chased the pups after injuring them so that they could finish what they had started – have confessed to the crime. The pups were a nuisance, they told the police. Hence the pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder.
Social media has been in turmoil since the story was first reported. The two women were arrested and later released on bail for the lack of “evidence” because someone out there removed the CCTV cameras that could have nailed them. And here is where things get more disturbing. The college’s nursing unit has launched a counter protest, justifying the bloodlust of the two students, claiming that the pups and their mothers were “too much of a bother”.
Many years ago, when I was a student we took to the streets to protect the strays that shared our college campus. Men in a canine van had arrived with giant tongs and were grabbing the campus strays by their necks and dragging them away. Apparently to be neutered. The terrified howls of the canines galvanised us into taking some decisive action. Yes, neuter them, but do you need to be so barbaric? We locked the college gates. Sat down on the road. Blocked the busy intersection, singing protest songs and refusing to let the van pass through. Our principal tried to mediate. His pleas did not work. He threatened – it is either me or the dogs. We chose to go with the dogs and hit headlines the next morning.
After all, violence and bloodlust has become the new normal.
Those were gentler, far more idealistic times I guess. As students, we have all shared our spaces and our stories with our canine buddies. We have given them names that mean something to us. They have listened to our songs, got high on our smokes, grown up on the tidbits from our plates. They have been witness to our love and our heartbreaks. And marched with us when we protested everything from leaked question papers to oppressive political regimes.
Strays, in more compassionate times, were as much a part of our lives as Doordarshan and Akashvani. The dog you patted on your walk to school, the three-legged sentinel at the chai shop who would lay down his life for half a biscuit, the puppies that had been orphaned after their mother was run over by a car… they have all been around us. Stray canines and middle India have literally shared everything from roti and kapda to makaan.
But not all of this shared history is pleasant. Just as some of us made sure they had shelter from the storm, there has always been that one person who harbours a pathological hatred for dogs. But we coexisted. The good, bad, and ugly.
This is not the first time we have witnessed cruelty toward pariah animals in the country. In July 2016, a video of a dog being thrown off from a terrace in Chennai went viral. In March last year, six puppies were killed in Gurgaon and some residents said they needed to be “finished” because the pups would bite them.
They are not anybody’s mata and you have no chance of winning salvation by feeding it rotis on auspicious days.
Yet the Kolkata incident, is different. The people who are justifying the killing of the puppies today are as vocal as those condemning the act. And this wound – split wide open – says a lot about the world we occupy. The massacre and the support it seems to enjoy is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. The justification of violence and blood bath spurred by a heightened sense of self-preservation. This is the world of Black Mirror, where we are suspicious, mistrustful, and hateful of everything from a hapless puppy to a man with a beard. Everything is a threat – perceived or real. We have zero tolerance for anything that comes in our way, becomes an annoyance.
There could be a hundred ways to deal with the menace of stray dogs on the medical college campus. A few women got together and decided one day that they are going to do something about it. Not leave them on a lonely street kilometres away, so that the pups could not find their way back home. They decided to smash their little skulls and parade their carcasses for all to see, as some kind of a trophy.
For a moment, I thought we are talking about lynch mobs from a different part of the country. After all, violence and bloodlust has become the new normal. In a country where hatred is a universal language, should we really be shocked that many empathise with the two women?
Unfortunately for dogs, they are of no use to us. They do not win elections. Neither do they give us anything edible. They are not anybody’s mata and you have no chance of winning salvation by feeding it rotis on auspicious days. The two killers who are out on bail, could be disturbed. (There is enough research out there that connects animal abuse and other criminal behaviours). Or they could be just like you and me. Only with a taste for violence and the macabre.
Chandrima Pal is a journalist and columnist
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