A 33-year-old single woman living in Gurgaon’s Nirvana Woodstock, Anchal Kapoor has been met by staggering hate by her neighbours over the past few weeks.
Her crime? Feeding ignored stray dogs in her society. Her plight is that of hundreds of animal feeders in India, who are threatened with eviction, verbal abuse and sometimes even violence for taking care of hungry stray dogs.
When a mob of around 100 people gathered outside her house recently, Anchal decided to live stream a video of them on her Facebook page. According to them, the dogs were becoming a nuisance and a threat to their kids for which Anchal was to be blamed.
Several calls were also made to her landlord to evict her from her house where she has been living for years.
This is not the first time she has been harassed by her neighbourhood.
Anchal is also a pet owner, which has invited another form of harassment and eventual threats of eviction.
Another female stray dog feeder, Deepsha Taneja in Faridabad, was recently physically assaulted and abused by a husband-wife duo as the crowd stood and watched. Her pictures and videos were among several others posted by distressed animal lovers facing similar kind of harassment.
While the Indian constitution protects the rights of animals, people have chosen to turn a blind eye towards them.
However, the laws are in favour of people like Anchal and Deepsha. According to a circular issued by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI):
Article 51A of the Constitutional Law of India speaks about the duties of every citizen of India. One of these duties includes having compassion for living creatures. So the animal lover is protected under the Constitution.
Article 19 of the Constitution of India deals with the right to freedom and in this freedom comes the right to profession, occupation, trade and business. Therefore, it means that every citizen has the right to occupation and if someone has taken the caring of animals as his occupation, it is legal and he has every right to carry on with his occupation.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India states the right to personal life and liberty. This is a very vast right. If someone wants to feed and provide shelter to dogs, he is at liberty to do so. He has the same right to liberty that the law provides to every citizen of India.
Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, provides that intimidation is a criminal offence which is cognizable. Anyone who threatens or intimidates any person taking care of dogs is liable for criminal intimidation under Section 503 of Indian Penal Code and can be arrested without a warrant.
As for owning pet dogs, AWBI’s 2014 circular on pet dogs and street dogs states that even by obtaining consensus, or even if the majority of residents and occupiers want it, Residents Welfare Association (RWA) and Apartment Owners Associations cannot legally introduce any sort of ban on the keeping of pet dogs, or bar them from entering parks and lifts either.
However, the police are ignorant of these laws, and so are a lot of people.
Despite lodging a complaint against harassment to her local ASI, SHO, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Women’s Police Station and even the National Commission for Women, no legal action has been taken in favour of Anchal so far. So, how do animal lovers protect themselves?
The Better India spoke to Anjali Gopalan, a human rights and animal rights activist, founder and executive director of The Naz Foundation Trust, and founder of All Creatures Great and Small (ACGS). She took us through the process of the many routes animal lovers can take to protect themselves from harassment.
“The High Court has ordered that people can feed animals at designated areas and it’s not against the law. However, the whole idea is to be aware of the rules, follow them and then show it the people who try to harass you,” she says.
AWBI’s circular advises dog feeders not to feed street dogs close to residents that are not their own. They also shouldn’t feed them near areas where children play; people go for walks or generally crowded areas. They should ensure the feeding site isn’t littered or dirtied, and if so, should clean it after that.
Feeders are also advised to take part in the dogs’ sterilisation and yearly vaccination as well, as they have gained their trust which makes it easier to do so. They are, however, not responsible for the defecating habits of the dogs.
The pet owners are also advised to work out a way with RWAs, where designated spots are created for defecation, or the owner can also invest in a poop scooper to clean up after their dogs. As long as you don’t violate any municipal or other laws, no sort of ban can be imposed on you.
Anjali says that the RWAs and similar associations should be made aware of these laws. But if the harassing doesn’t stop, then the next step is to contact the local police and lodge a complaint with them. However, as is common, the police may not always be helpful or even aware of such laws.
So in such a scenario, Anjali says the next step is to get in touch with animal protection organisations that would interfere and lend their support. “Organisations like the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) or Maneka Gandhi’s office can be contacted who offer to help animal lovers in such scenarios. People for Animals is another organisation that’s quite helpful. They will then get in touch with the RWA members or the cops, depending on what needs to be done,” she tells TBI.
Some even choose to consult a lawyer if they want, who in turn help them with the process and suitable action. The idea is to be informed and not let anyone violate yours or the rights of animals.