Maneka keeps ministry for animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1999:
NEW DELHI––As always prominently
including animal protection on her
platform as an independent candidate,
Maneka Gandhi on October 3 won election
for the fourth time in 10 years as Member of
Parliament for Pilibhit District, Uttar
Defeating her only opponent by a
margin of more than two to one, Maneka is
among the most securely seated members of
the ruling coalition, headed by the Hindu
nationalist Baratiya Janata Party. The BJP
and allied parties won 297 of the 543 seats in
the Indian Parliament, substantially increasing
the strength of the second successive BJPled
government since the end in early 1998 of
nearly 49 years of rule by the Congress Party,
whose seats decreased to just 134.
Maneka’s growing influence was
affirmed on October 13, when she was sworn
in for a second term as Minister for Social
Justice and Empowerment.
Under that umbrella, Maneka in
August 1998 gained authority over federal
animal welfare programs. Basic human
obligations toward animals are affirmed in
the Constitution of India, the only nation
whose constitution has such a provision, and
are enforced by the Animal Welfare Board of
India––but because the AWB was previously
under the agriculture minister, and has
always lacked both budget and enthusiastic
cabinet representation, it has historically
relied more upon moral suasion than upon
enforcement to get things done.
Maneka changed that in a hurry.
Becoming in effect the first cabinet minister
for animals, Maneka moved immediately to
restrain vivisection; enforced neglected
statutes against obliging captive bears, monkeys,
tigers, lions, and panthers to perform;
and pushed India closer by various means
toward the goal AWB set in December 1997
of becoming by 2005 the first nation in Asia
with no-kill animal control.
Seemingly campaigning almost as
much to help Parliamentary allies as on her
own behalf, Maneka spent most of September
on the road, passing out pairs of scissors to
illiterate villagers to remind them to make their
mark beside the picture of scissors, her symbol,
on their ballots. She emphasized her
record on education, women’s rights, and cutting
She reminded listeners that she, like
many of them, is a widow and mother who
knows the difficulty of making her way alone.
Her husband Sanjay, the younger son and designated
heir of former Indian prime minister
Indira Gandhi, was killed in a 1980 plane
crash; Maneka split with the rest of the
Gandhi family over both personal and political
issues, and was evicted from the Gandhi
household in 1982 with her then-infant son
Feroze, two suitcases, and two favorite dogs.
Maneka did not speak much on the
campaign trail about animals. She didn’t need
to. Her views are clear, are nationally known,
and animal issues––like animals themselves––
were never far in the background.
For instance, there were the elephants
who protected voters during the polling
in Meghalaya state. Far from Maneka’s own
district, the Meghalaya elephant problem
nonetheless exemplified an ongoing crisis that
she tried to remedy by creating and improving
care-for-life sanctuaries for ex-working elephants
as far back as 1989-1991, when she
served two Congress coalition governments as
Minister for Environment and Forests.
As many as 1,500 wild elephants
roam the Garo Hills district of Meghalaya.
Like most wild elephant populations in India,
the herd is believed to also include abandoned
former logging elephants, who may have been
addicted to alcohol while in captivity, to keep
them working. Liquor-seeking elephants
crashing through villages are a constant hazard
in parts of eastern and central India, especially
around elections, when local candidates may
share a few locally brewed beers––or more
than a few––with constituents. This year about
30 Meghalaya polling stations were considered
especially vulnerable to stampede. Guard elephants
were recruited to put themselves
between lines of voters waiting to cast their
ballots and any stampeders.
Evidently, they did the job.
Maneka combined her themes of justice-seeking,
self-empowerment, and animal
protection by arranging the June debut of an
“Easy Animal Aid” hotline in New Delhi:
9622 069069. The telephone service company
Easy Call announced the hotline by presenting
pagers to representatives of the Sanjay Gandhi
Animal Care Centre, named for Maneka’s late
husband; the Jeev Ashram; local organizations
called Friendicos and Circle of Animal
Lovers; and the Delhi and Gurgaon chapters
of People For Animals, the national animal
protection group that Maneka herself founded.
Newly empowered animal advocates
spent much of 1999 liberating animals from
illegal performing venues and looking for
places to put them.
In Bangalore, for instance,
Compassion Unlimited Plus Action on July 24
confiscated five dancing bears, released into
the Bannerghatta National Park a day later.
The park is building a 60-acre rehabilitation
compound for former circus animals, to be
managed by the Zoo Authority of Karnataka
state, but the compound was not scheduled for
completion before October. A staff of 100
people is to be hired to provide quality carefor-life
to as many as 70 lions and 30 tigers.
In Vadodara, the Gujarat SPCA in
August brought a complaint against the Great
Royal Circus, seeking custody of 15 lions and
13 tigers. The circus management won permission
from the Kerala state high court to
continue business as usual, pending issuance
of complete new federal captive wildlife regulations.
As Guajarat is not Kerala, the Gujarat
SPCA then threatened to pursue legal action
itself if the government failed to act.
Concern for working animals also
surged. In Kanpur, People for Animals set up
signboards to warn carters against overloading
horses and bullocks; in Mumbai, backed by
exposes in four major newspapers, Ahimsa in
August secured the arrest of two carriage horse
owners, confiscating three allegedly abused
horses who were sent to the Bombay SPCA
hospital for veterinary care.
T h e
prosecutions were meant to send a message to
the entire carriage horse industry.
Identified by The Times of India a s
“the moving force behind the drive against
cruelty toward horses in the city,” Ahimsa
campaigner N.W. Alimchandani challenged
centuries of custom by arguing that horses are
too sensitive to be used in noisy traditional
The most contentious animal issue
partially within Maneka’s jurisdiction, however,
is dog population control, closely associated
in India with rabies outbreaks that kill as
many as 35,000 people per year.
Free-roaming dogs are ubiquitous in
India, considered unclean by many––in part
because of the rabies threat––but fed and
befriended by others, and mostly tolerated as
vital to maintaining a semblance of urban sanitation.
Calcutta and New Delhi, for instance,
each have semi-permanent free-roaming dog
populations officially estimated at about
250,000. Cities which too aggressively poisoned
or electrocuted dogs have often been
overwhelmed by disease-carrying rats, like
Surat in 1993, as Maneka often reminds rival
politicians who suggest killing dogs en masse
to eliminate the bite threat.
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation
demonstrated the paradoxical status of Indian
dogs in May by pressing a pack who were to
be killed at the city pound into emergency service
as rat-catchers at the city offices.
“Officials said that mousetraps and
hundreds of cats living in the building for generations
had failed to curb the rat menace,”
S.N.M. Abdi wrote in the South China
Morning Post. “‘The cats have become as lazy
and laid-back as our staff,’ said the mayor.”
Dogbite victims who have no money
are entitled to receive free post-exposure rabies
vaccination at government hospitals, but in
June The Times of India reported that in
Allahabad a 63-year-old man named Suratdeen
was bitten on May 6 and a month later was still
trying to get his first post-exposure shot.
“Suratdeen’s allegation was that
those who paid 300 rupees were given the vaccinations,
whilst those who could not afford to
pay were simply given excuses that the vaccine
was out of stock,” wrote R.N. Pandy.
Ten days later The Times of India
exposed a second alarming case, involving a
vegetable porter named Raghubir Singh, who
died from rabies more than two months after
he was bitten in a village on the outskirts of
New Delhi because he did not know that postexposure
vaccination was available until after
he was already terminally ill.
Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, chair
of the National Human Rights Commission,
pledged to “start a dialogue on all aspects of
rabies, including the need to make the vaccination
easily available, and the requirement
for more awareness.”
Further Times of India c o v e r a g e
detailed progress by Indian Immunologicals,
of Hyderabad, toward developing a genetically
engineered canine rabies vaccine which will
be much cheaper than the conventional Imrab
vaccine used in developed nations, and will
not require cold storage––a critical issue in
India, where refrigeration is scarce, especially
in poor and rural areas. Clinical trials have
reportedly begun on monkeys; the canine version
is tentatively to go on the market next
year; and a version for human use may be
ready in two years, according to the reports.
But in India, as when rabies outbreaks
occur in the U.S., the kneejerk
response of politicans and the frightened public
still tends to focus on killing the host animals.
World Health Organization rabies
experts have advised since 1973 that this strategy
is usually ineffective, because it is virtually
impossible to eradicate a prolific host
species from habitat congenial enough to have
enabled the host to proliferate in the first place.
Nonetheless, cries of “Kill the
dogs!” rose during the election campaign in
New Delhi, Mumbai, Mysore, and
Bangalore, among other locales.
The rhetoric was sometimes accompanied
by unauthorized poisonings carried out
by unknown private persons, as in parts of
New Delhi, and sometimes by official poisoning
campaigns, as in Mysore.
Times of India reporter K.R.
Chakrapani wrote in July that the Mysore technique
was not only cruel, but “borders on vulgarity.
Mysore City Corporation employees
smear cyanide on the rears of bitches,”
Chakrapani explained, “so that male dogs
attracted to the bitches die on the spot after
licking the poison.” About 40 dogs a day were
killed by that method, an unidentified Mysore
health official told Chakrapani.
In Jayanagar, near Bangalore, a late
July resurgence of rabies allegedly spread into
draft horses. The Bangalore SPCA and
Jayanagar police––at some risk––took the
afflicted horses into quarantine.
Attempts to curb the dog population
through high-volume neutering are underway
now in many cities, usually handicapped by
lack of funding and lack of cooperation from
civic authorities. In Mumbai, five humane
organizations are among them altering 10,000
dogs per year; they must alter about 15,000
per year, Satnam Ahuja of Ahimsa estimates,
to stop population growth. The Brihanmumbai
Municipal Corporation has agitated for more
than a year to resume electrocuting dogs, halted
by court order in 1994. A June 25 ruling by
the Bombay High Court reinforced the 1994
verdict, holding that, “The emphasis in dog
management shall be in such a manner that
putting dogs to sleep may be the last resort,
and in that respect, if necessary, the approach
of the BMC shall also change.”
The Chennai Corporation in May
agreed to fund an Animal Birth Control program
managed by People For Animals and the
Blue Cross of India, which is to fix and vaccinate
30 dogs per day, following a model the
Blue Cross has pursued whenever funds permit
since 1964. Two days later, the Kennel Club
of India and Animal Welfare and Protection
Trust sent a motorized rickshaw with a public
address system into the Chennai suburb of
Vengaivasal, near Medavakkam, to publicize
the subsequent arrival of a Blue Cross truck
dispensing rabies vaccinations and information
about the ABC program. Other suburbs were
reportedly offered similar help, but did not
follow through by providing facilities adequate
to accommodate sterilization surgery.
Lucknow mayor S.C. Rai in May
pledged that his administration would fund an
effort to sterilize all of the estimated 30,000
stray dogs in that city within three years.
Catching the dogs proved harder than expected,
however. Only 21 were caught and fixed
within the first two weeks of the program.
Visakha SPCA honorary secretary
Pradeep Kumar Nath in August told The Hindu
newspaper that his organization––which had
never received a donation of more than $100
before 1998––had fixed and vaccinated 620
dogs since winning a November 1998 court
order obliging the Municipal Corporation of
Visakhapatnam to cease electrocuting dogs.
Nath said the Visaka SPCA could have handled
more, but the MCV had retained responsibility
for dog-catching, and was not proceeding
in an expeditious manner.