With more than 90 thousand dogs in Srinagar city alone the battle for space has left many lives in perils. Faisal Shabir Bhat reports how victims are made to suffer in absence of healthcare and how even dog menace is not detached from politics in Kashmir
Sitting inside his modest dwelling at Shanpora, Habak in Srinagar, Abdul Ahad Dar, 42, recounts the fateful day of 2nd September 2013, when his nine month old daughter was mauled by dogs. The baby later died of rabies at a Srinagar hospital.
Dar, a laborer by profession, lives in a hutment made of wooden planks on the banks of Tailbal Nallah.
On the fateful morning, Mehmooda went out to fetch water from a community tap while her husband was praying at a local mosque. “My baby was sleeping inside, alone.” says Dar.
Within minutes a pack of stray dogs managed to enter Dar’s unguarded hutment and attacked his infant daughter in her sleep. When Mehmooda returned home she was shocked to finds dogs surrounding her baby. “She was lying in a pool of blood with dogs all around her,” recalls Mehmooda.
It was only after Mehmooda raised an alarm and called for help that locals managed to rescue her daughter from dogs. “We rushed her to SMHS hospital where she received 40 stitches on her face alone,” says Mehmooda.
A few days later Mehmooda’s daughter had fever and was rushed to GB Panth hospital. “We were told that her chances of survival are low as she has Category III bites,” says Dar. She died a few days later.
“When a rabid bite is close to head, the chances of survival are very less,’’ says Dr Safoora Bilques, Head department of Social and preventive Medicine at Government Medical College Srinagar.
Bilques adds that the Rabies virus attacks the Central Nervous System (CNS) of the body and causes death in 2 to 3 days.
“It leads to behavioral changes and the patient becomes phobic to light and water,” says Bilques.
The treatment of his daughter did not come easy for Dar who had to shell out way more than his monthly earnings for the same.
“I did all I could. I did not even hesitate from selling my valuables to save my child but fate had something else in store,’’ he says.
In January 2012, a 12 year old student Mudasir Ahmad Wagnoo of Lalbazar Srinagar was attacked by more than a dozen stray dogs outside his residence wounding him seriously with over a hundred bites. The dogs had injured his neck, face and windpipe. He was rushed to the Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura where he underwent multiple surgeries and fortunately managed to survive.
A survey conducted by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation in 2011 estimated the Stray dog population in Srinagar to be 91,000. According to the Association for the Prevention and Control of Rabies in India (APCRI) Srinagar has the highest dog to human ratio of 1:13 in India. Big cities in India like Mumbai and Bangalore have a ratio of 1: 31 and 1: 37 respectively.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India accounts to more than 60 percent of the estimated 35,000 annual global rabies deaths.
At the anti-rabies clinic of SMHS hospital in Srinagar there is a rush of dog bite victims waiting for their turn to receive the anti- rabies vaccine. According to the Community Health Officer and in charge of the clinic Mehrajudin, the clinic receives 40 cases of dog bites daily on an average. He says that most of the victims are young school going kids and elderly people who are chased by dogs when they venture out of their homes in the early hours for morning prayers.
According to official records the clinic has received a total of 5704 dog bite cases in the year 2013 with Srinagar topping the list with 2219 cases followed by Bandipora district with 1567 cases. A survey by the state health department had found that 53,925 people were bitten by dogs between January 2008 and August 2011 in Kashmir. Health officials believe that the large stray dog population in the valley is responsible for the ever increasing number of dog bite cases in Kashmir.
There has been an exponential increase in the stray dog population in Kashmir since animal rights activists approached the court of law seeking ban on the culling of stray dogs under the animal cruelty laws. These animal rights groups instead called for the sterilization of dogs.
The anti- rabies clinic at SMHS hospital besides the local population had some VIP visitors last year including the divisional commissioner Shalendra Kumar and minister for Medical Education Rajinder Singh Chib. While the common man in Kashmir is attacked by stray dogs these VIP’s were victims of their own pet dogs.
In December 2013 the state government inaugurated a dog sterilization facility at Shuhama constructed at a cost of 1.20 crore rupees. The facility consists of specially designed 50 kennels and an operation theatre. The government claims that the facility is being created to carry out the Animal Birth Control Programs in the valley to control and manage the stray dog population.
In the past the local people and civil rights groups in Kashmir have accused the army and the paramilitary forces of consciously feeding the stray dogs and increasing their population to be used as a tool of surveillance.
Interestingly in a recent development the army has offered free treatment to the dog bite victims in Kashmir under Operation Sadbhawna. “Dog Bite Can… Kill. Act Fast. Act Smart. Visit the Dog Bite Treatment Center Immediately,” reads the message on the hoardings erected by Army in various areas of Srinagar city. The hoardings contain a helpline number on which the people can call in case of an emergency.
Besides, the army claims that it would provide the life saving injection, Immunoglobin, free of cost in addition to the anti-rabies vaccine.