Animals rights group in India are boycotting the state of Kerala over the government's new policy that they say encourages individual citizens to kill stray dogs for cash.
KANNUR — Last month, Seetha was working in her backyard when a stray dog entered her house and attacked her nine-month old grandson, Abin.
"Suddenly I heard him crying loudly and I ran inside. It was a horrifying scene," she recalled. The dog had Abin's upper arm in his jaws and was pulling him outside, as he bled profusely and kept screaming.
"I shouted and threw things at him and somehow managed to make him let go and leave the house," said Seetha, who didn't want to give her last name. Abin is still taking medicine, and the wound has not yet completely healed.
Another local resident, Meena Antony, who works at a travel agency, was on her way home at the end of a working day when a pack of ferocious dogs came at her. "I was just a minute away from home and I was surrounded by five or six dogs from all sides," she said. "One dog got my scarf and ran away, but then another one came and bit my toe."
More than 80,000 people have suffered dog bites in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala since the beginning of this year, prompting the government to launch a culling operation.
"We have come across cases where a single dog has attacked people 30 different times. So the menace has to be dealt with firmly in order to protect the general public," explained U. R. Babu, chairman of the Municipal Council in Kerala, a state with a population of 33 million.
The government insists that they are killing potentially dangerous dogs that are suspected to have rabies. In other cases they are sterilizing dogs under the Animal Birth Control Program recommended by the World Health Organization.
The government has also announced cash rewards for people helping to capture rabid dogs. Animal rights activists says this has led to a kind of citizen vigilante hunt. "When you end up saying "I will give you X amount of money to kill a dog if it is dangerous," my instinct is that the dogs that get caught and killed easily are the ones that are really friendly and are coming to you," said one activist.
The animal rights activists have waged an aggressive online and street campaign urging the government to stop what they say is state-sponsored cruelty to animals. The campaign intensified in recent weeks after an official proposal suggesting that Kerala should kill all stray dogs and export their meat to countries where it is eaten.
Protesters also appealed tourists to boycott the state. Mohammad Aarif is among the activists in New Delhi who have taken notice.
"They are looking at it as a business opportunity and want to make money. But that's not our culture," Aarif said. "We have always kept street animals with us. Dogs are a part of our life. If a few have turned aggressive, that doesn't justify killing all of them — and with this kind of cruelty. It is barbarian and a shame for us as human beings."
Still, there is no denying that cases of dog-biting are rampant across India. Nearly 20,000 people die of rabies every year, which is more than a third of global death toll from rabies. Experts say this is because of the alarmingly high population of dogs in the country.
"We have one dog for every 40 human beings, which is a dangerously high ratio," explained R. S. Kharab, chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India.
Indian law forbids the killing of dogs and the Animal Birth Control program under which dogs are sterilized and vaccinated is not implemented strictly.
Kharab says while the neutering program is necessary, the problem will not go away unless the country fixes its abysmally poor waste disposal system. "Our cities and towns have been constantly expanding, but the civic bodies have not been able to handle the increasing solid waste. As a result, dogs get a lot to eat and the more they get to eat the earlier they mature and breed."