"Dogs are a metaphor for the vulnerable"

Updated: Sep 28 2008, 05:50am hrs
Hiranmay Karlekar needs little introduction, either as a journalist or a writer. His books have been suffused with that rare combination of passionate, intense learning and immense compassion. And though his latest book, Savage Humans and Stray Dogs takes off from the killings of dogs in Bangalore in 2007, the scope of this book includes fundamental questions about us as humans and looks to our future. Suman Tarafdar listens to him as he explains the psychological roots of violence and why we need to address the issue to ensure a less divisive legacy.

The title of the book is provocative. Why did you choose this

Dogs are a metaphor for the vulnerable in our society. You can maltreat dogs any ways kick them, kill them the police rarely reacts. The Prevention of Crue-lty to Animals Act is poorly implemented. I took stray dogs as a metaphor and the events in Karnataka as a backdrop of a study of human aggression. I have quoted Eric Fromm, who said human beings are the real killers.

The situation in the streets is not changing for the better. What is the way out

There are two ways of looking at stray dogs. I love them. Some people are afraid of them. I would not abuse them, but I would try to remove their fears.

The only scientific way of reducing their population is animal birth control programme. No other way has ever succeeded. But it will take time 10-15 years if the programme is seriously implemented. Unfortunately, it has never been tried.

India has the legacy of humane philosophy, but more care for animals is in evidence in the West. What can be done to improve the situation in India

Stray dogs are streets ahead of pedigreed dogs in almost every respect. In terms of hardiness, adaptability, sturdiness, courage and loyalty, nobody can beat them. If you give a biscuit to a stray dog, it will become your slave. What we need to do is to mobilise the intrinsic love of Indians for animals, to implement the ABC programme. Every locality has people who feed dogs. Make use of them to make sure that neutered dogs are sterilised every year. The community participation can give the fillip the ABC programme needs. Guidelines for protection of animals were issued jointly by the WHO and World Society for the Protection of Animals in 1990. It took us 11 years to pass the animal birth control rules. Even after that, it is constantly sabotaged by people who have a vested interest in keeping the number of stray dogs high. The 30,000 figure of rabies cases in India is full of contradictions. The 20,000 figure is statistical fiction. I do not have the proof. I have put forth the accusations. From the middle of the 19th century, stray dogs are being killed in India, but they remain.

Most Indians who love to claim dogs actually do not love stray dogs. A dog is often a status symbol. Middle class is apathetic about everything. About corruption, equally about dogs.

What was the effect of the incidents in Bangalore

Bangalore had international ramifications. That is why there is hesitation about repeating it. I have a feeling that civil society in this country is dwindling. People are becoming more self-centered. Discourse is ceasing to be an important factor. Present society gives you a huge amount monetarily, but leaves you completely tensed and drained. As Eric Fromm said, we work like mad, and the rest of the time we spend recovering. So when we see television, we do not want to watch anything that challenges the mind. My next book is Humankind on Road to Extinction. Wisdom is vanishing. So ability to cope with challenges that are bound to rise as society becomes more complex and technological is falling and a series of catastrophes will overtake us.

How have different philosophies affected the issue

The church evolved its theory of scholastic pattern of learning. There was a hierarchical ordering of knowledge, with God at the top. Faith over reason. Renaissance reversed the whole thing. But both said animals are excluded.

Descartes said animals were like automata. We can do anything we like. So in the West, there was an exclusive, brutal attitude to animals. It is from above god created. Our philosophy had a very different attitude. For us, life is god. In the west wolves have disappeared from central Europe, bisons from North America. What has happened is an evolution of a civilisation in the West that its muted its humanism. Man is the measure of all things, said Protagorus. I have said that has to be revived. We have to redefine humanism as humankind as a preserver and protector of all beings.

Has India learns from the mistakes of the West

If we keep mindlessly aping the West, then we will do it. If we are mindless we lose everything. Two-hundred years of colonial rule have cost us our self esteem.

Is it clear to a lot of people that greed leads to savagery

If you are wise, you will never be greedy. If you are unwise, you will do whatever satisfies your greed. In the process, you can commit murder to get money. People do not think they are greedy. Greed is often mistaken for legitimate aspirations. Todays role models are not soldiers, academics, doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers. Morality has ceased to be important. People laugh at you.

Trouble with Indias rich is that most do not think beyond profit. We have to change the way of living to make a more compassionate society, based on introspection, constant dialogue and not based on self-indulgent gratification. The present is based on desire to buy which is leading to destruction of forests and ruthless exploitation of resources. We have to be thinking, feeling humans. An important step is our attitude to animals.