One of the main issues of the last few years has been the sexual harassment of women. Not a day goes by without a report of some attack on a single woman.
We in the animal welfare world come across it regularly. A large number of women feed animals on the streets. If she is a lone woman with no male backup in the house, like a brother or husband, first the neighbours will abuse her, then they will threaten to hit her , they will insist that she pay for the cleaning round their houses, they will insist that she feeds the dogs at 11 pm at night when they are asleep and the male criminal is on the prowl. They will threaten her with the municipality every day. They will go to their local elected representative and he will swagger into her house. Every time a dog barks they will pick on her. They will start poisoning her colony dogs or hitting them with sticks. Every time they pass by they will kick a sleeping dog in the hope of provoking it so that they can be mean again to the woman. If a dog comes to the flat of a woman, they will throw water on it and go and bang on her door at night. The head of the RWA will check out if there are just women who keep dogs with them for security and then start imposing illegal fines or illegally banning dogs from lifts. In one case, two young sisters in Mumbai were so frightened every night by chowkidars banging on their doors after midnight demanding that they stop feeding dogs, that they contacted me. Our investigations showed that they were being sent by the wife of a very prominent politician who wanted them out of the building because her husband had shown an interest in them. In a case in Mysore, the mother and daughter, who are the tenants of this family downstairs, were abused and spat on (literally), every time they came down to feed the puppy on the road, by the teenaged son of the landlord – who had dogs of his own. An attempt to bring the pup into their home resulted in him wielding a stick and threatening their lives. It turned out that he had come on to the daughter who had rejected his advances. The family calmed down when the police stepped in heavily. In yet another case, a father and son, both minor functionaries of a political party and known as local goondas, went into the house of their neighbour, a single woman, when she was away at work and took away her five dogs and threw them into the middle of a highway. Two were killed instantly. When she returned from work, both of them leered at her and told her what they had done. She went and brought back the remaining dogs. Unfortunately for them she turned out to be the sister of a female deputy commissioner of police. They were publicly humiliated, even physically, and they had to run from pillar to post to try and save themselves.
Every day I get a sexual harassment case like this. Now we have started using the law and locking up people who do this. I also call the heads of the companies or departments where the aggressors work. Some of these males are small timers in government departments who feel protected by their jobs. Their bosses get a call from me immediately. Some of them are retired and they make up for feeling useless in society by taking on the role of women-dog feeder–hunters. They have to be even more publicly humiliated and their children have to be informed.
This aggression has nothing to do with the dogs. It does not happen with male dog feeders. It does not happen when there is a couple. It only happens to the women and it is a form of female molestation that should be dealt with immediately. The government gives a Colony Caretaker card to feeders and this entitles them to police protection. No woman should have to put up with this.
The most horrible part of this sexual aggression is that some women take part in it as well. Just as a daughter-in-law cannot be killed unless the mother-in-law has a hand in it, these women will come out with their male kin and are equally vicious if it is a lone female feeder or a widow with young children. It probably has nothing to do with the dogs – it could be the insecurity they feel on having an unattached woman in their midst. But, since the aggressors are female, they believe that they will be protected under the same law and so they abuse and hit the lone woman.
People who feed dogs are doing a public service at great cost to themselves. They do not get grants from the government or NGOs. They take the money out of their own pockets and spend it on a species that needs to be fed. The value of these dog feeders to the safety of the whole colony is immeasurable. If they did not feed them, the dogs would not go away: they would bite people much more. And if the colony dogs are poisoned, more will come to take their place and they will be even fiercer. Therefore, the whole colony should step in to feed the resident dogs and get them sterilized. The High Court has ordered that dogs have to stay in their own colonies. They cannot be removed and an area and time has to be demarcated for their feeding. It would make sense for all colony residents to treat these woman feeders as essential to their own colonies rather than making them victims of that type of male who is treated badly by the women of his own house and makes up for it by being nasty and threatening to lone women who have no idea of what a coward he really is. Dog feeders are protected by very strong laws now. And so are women who are harassed for no reason.
Remember that, the next time you feel brave enough to attack a woman.
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi
*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*