The Mule Discourse

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Although cow slaughter was an offence punishable by death before the fall of autocracy, author and historian Khalid Bashir Ahmad offers rare insights into the evolution of movement for animal rights in Kashmir that paved way for creation of a vast network of veterinaries across the valley.

Foreign visitors to Kashmir were appalled to see the precarious condition of pack animals in Pahalgam. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Foreign visitors to Kashmir were appalled to see the precarious condition of pack animals in Pahalgam. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Captain P Grey, a British soldier on vacation in Kashmir in 1923, visited Pahalgam and requisitioned ponies including luggage and riding ponies. The visitor was appalled to see the precarious condition of the pack animals. On August 2, he shot a two-page letter to the British Resident in Kashmir.

“Of the eight luggage ponies, three were so lame to walk even without a load and two others had enormous gulls under the saddles at least five inches in diameter and an inch deep. In one case, the bonny ridge of the backbone was protruding. Of the riding ponies, one was too lame to proceed at all,” Grey wrote in pencil, adding, “From the surprise manifested by the contractor when I rejected these animals, I cannot but feel sure that visitors do not pay much attention to this pain.”

Grey felt that an appeal and some strong deterrent for the contractor might assist matters and alleviate the sufferings of these poor beasts. Through the letter, he sought the Resident’s assistance.

A month later, on September 7, 1923, another foreigner, Mrs K Geary Dyer camping at the Chinar Bagh, Srinagar, wrote to the Resident, “Whilst passing the village of Bren on the Shalimar road last evening, I found a horse with (apparently) a broken pelvis moving in the direction of the village under conditions which must have been sheer torture. I stopped my car and enquired from villagers the following information:-

“The horse was once the property of Col Dennis and is now in the possession of his late servant Hamid Wani; who lives in this village (Bren). Some two months ago, the animal met with an accident and same has been allowed to continue living under this wretched condition throughout this period.”

“I earnestly request that you will take immediate action to have the animal inspected, and if incurable, destroyed and in the interest of prevention of cruelty to animals, I feel sure that you will also make an example of the owner.”

Next year on June 23, 1924, several residents and visitors in Gulmarg held a meeting and decided to approach the Darbar with a view to have the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulation, Samvat 1969, extended to Gulmarg and Srinagar.

The Secretary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Mrs P Thomson-Glover wrote to the Resident the same day about the decisions taken in the meeting including starting a branch of the Society for Gulmarg and Srinagar, and to seek the permission of the Darbar to appoint an Inspector to help in bringing to notice cases of cruelty and to assist in the prosecution of the offender.

The Resident, Sir Jhon Wood, on June 30, 1924, sent a letter to the Foreign Member of the State Council, Hari Singh, who was soon to don the mantle of Maharaja, saying that a number of cases of gross cruelty to pack animals have been brought to his notice and endorsing the decisions taken in the Gulmarg meeting.

Subsequent communications between the Residency and the Darbar resulted in the State Council meeting in Srinagar on September 20, 1924 and approving the extension of the Regulation to Gulmarg. The Council refused starting of a branch of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at Gulmarg and Srinagar as there was already “arrangement for prevention of cruelty to animals in Kashmir”.

A year later, in its meeting held on September 21, 1925, the State Council accepted the recommendations of the Re-organization Commission made during its meeting at Srinagar on June 24, 1925. It accorded sanction to the provision of funds for the construction of a suitable hospital at Srinagar and a shed at Gulmarg for the treatment and accommodation of sick animals, besides grant of a monthly allowance of Rs 10 to the Inspector at Tangmarg for attending to the work at Gulmarg, appointment of a Chowkidar on a monthly consolidated pay of Rs 12 and formation of a local society to assist the Darbar officers in measures taken for prevention of cruelty to animals. The Public Works Minister was asked to furnish estimates of cost of the hospital at Srinagar and a shed at Gulmarg.

However, up to August 1925, neither the Inspector had started work at Gulmarg nor was the Chowkidar appointed. This fact was brought to the notice of the Resident by HR Cobbold, Secretary and Honourary Treasurer, Suffering Animals Fund Kashmir. The Resident forwarded the letter to Khan Bahadur Sheikh Abdul Qayoom, Foreign Secretary to the Maharaja, to “know how the matters stand”.

The Finance Minister in his letter dated May 5, 1927, conveyed to the Chief Engineer, Roads & Buildings Department the sanction of the Maharaja to the inclusion of the item for the construction of Chowkidar’s hut at Gulmarg in the main estimate amounting to Rs 1932 for the construction of sick Animals’ Shed and Veterinary Dispensary.

The Suffering Animals Fund in Kashmir passed several resolutions in 1926, 1927 and 1928 regarding cruelty to animals and making recommendations to the Darbar. An office note in 1931 observed that “without an animal hospital and medicines, the movement would not be far reaching enough to do much good. It is further added that the offences under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulation are strictly on the increase. In fact, it is not Tonga ponies only which require protection but also pack ponies and bullocks which are mercilessly beaten and ill-treated on the roads.”

As a result of continued pressure from the European activists, veterinary dispensaries were established in Kashmir and by the end of 1930’s, there were 12 dispensaries – six were named as ‘road dispensaries’ and were located on the Jhelum Valley Road and Banihal Cart Road for treatment of transport animals and to prevent entry of the disease into the State from the Punjab.

 (Author of Jhelum – A River In My Backyard, Khalid Bashir Ahmad is a poet and historian. He is currently heading J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages)

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