As they rule the streets after dark, Srinagar residents fear for their lives

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For Waseem Mushtaq, the twelve-kilometer-long journey from Lal Chowk, where he works as a salesperson, to his home in Hazratbal in Srinagar is riddled with fear. Mushtaq downs the shutter in Lal Chowk at about 8 pm. That is when fear overtakes him. “They are everywhere, barking at and prodding you as if you are their prey,” he said.

More than the government forces that dot the streets all day but become more fearsome to ordinary citizens after dark, the 21-year-old is afraid of street dogs on the prowl. Every evening, as humans hush indoors, dogs take over the streets.

In Srinagar, as soon as the clock strikes 8 PM, dogs are everywhere in the city, from garbage dumps to shop fronts to pavements, “The fear of them charging at and biting me is something that keeps growing every day because their population only seems to be growing,” said Mushtaq.

Srinagar has a large population of street dogs — estimates from 2019 put the figure at between sixty and more than ninety-thousand, in a city of 1.2 million humans. “In the past, there were other elements who you would fear, especially during night time, but now it is the dogs,” Mushtaq said.

On 6 March, an 8-year-old boy Azhar Manzoor was playing in an agricultural field in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district when he was attacked by a pack of dogs.

The child had run as fast as he could to save his life, but the pack caught up with him. The pack was chased away by local residents after which they found the child in a pool of blood, his skin on his neck and head were torn from his flesh. The young boy died in the district hospital.

In the last five years more than 35,000 cases of dog-biting humans, especially young children, have been reported at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS) alone — dozens have died across Kashmir. Among them is a senior lawyer Abdul Majeed Rather from north Kashmir’s Baramulla who died in a Srinagar hospital after he suffered multi-organ failure twenty-one days after being bitten by a street dog.

Rather’s was attacked by dogs on the early morning of 16 November when he was returning home after praying at the local masjid. He was in a habit of going out on walks after the prayers. He was bitten on his face, thighs, and back. In an attempt to save himself from the canines, he had also fallen down and fractured his back.

Soon after reaching the hospital, Rather had gone into a coma and was on a ventilator. He was unable to talk or move around. Doctors put him on dialysis as well, however, he couldn’t survive.

Some years ago, the firebrand legislator Abdul Rashid had moved a bill in the erstwhile state assembly to curb the menace of street dogs. “Get rid of stray dogs, it’s not AFSPA,” he said as he moved the bill that he titled “Jammu and Kashmir Curbing the menace of stray dogs bill, 2015.” In the bill, Rashid had also suggested a provision to pay compensation to the “victims of dogs” between one and five hundred thousand rupees.

The bill was put down, brutally.

Four years later, in 2019, however, the J-K high court reprimanded the Srinagar Municipal Council observing that “No concrete steps at all have been taken by Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) to reduce the menace of stray dogs in the city by reducing the availability of energy-rich garbage to them.”

The city’s hotels, restaurants, residential houses, poultry outlets, and abattoirs generate about 450 metric tonnes (MT) of waste daily, according to the SMC, of which about 200 MT is meat waste. Studies by researchers have found that dogs in Kashmir consumed about 700 or more grams of meat daily.

The court had directed the then SMC Commissioner to curb the menace of stray dogs in the city by reducing the availability of “energy-rich garbage” to them. The court also directed the SMC to place before it the step-wise method of garbage collection, its segregation, dumping, and the ultimate treatment accorded to it. “The Corporation shall specifically inform this court about the manner in which garbage is collected from the households and the location of the dumping sites,” it had directed.

The court further asked the largest civic organization of Kashmir to give a list of the locations at which it has installed segregated dustbins in Srinagar city and the manner and schedule in which the garbage is collected from there.

However, on the ground even after a period of two years, things seem unchanged.

Srinagar city is the worst hit, this was corroborated by data released by the government. According to data of eleven months between April 2019 and February 2020, about 3,975 out of the 6,319 cases of dog bites were in Srinagar.

The highest number of bite cases was reported in 2015, during which 7,324 cases were treated at the Anti-Rabies Clinic of the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar.

The incumbent SMC Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu had recently met with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to brief him, among other matters, the menace of street dogs in Srinagar. But so far no plan of action has been put before the public.

In the meanwhile, city residents like Mushtaq continue to be fear-stricken. Given the track record of the successive governments towards the public’s issues, he is learning to live with his fears.

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