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Saturday, November 13, 1999

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Cruelty to human beings
By Reeta Sharma

"THE black dog is dead". The announcement by Durga Mali was unexpected and out of the blue. "Thank God", I had blurted out. Seconds later when the news actually registered in my mind with its full impact, I felt guilty and remorseful. How could I feel happy at somebody’s death, even if it was the death of a stray black dog?

This question kept haunting me and making me feel ashamed of myself. How could I feel so relieved at the death of a hapless dog? However, I realised later that the blame for the dog’s death should lie at the doorstep of someone else.

If you may recall I had earlier written about this black dog in this column. The dog had become so much of a nuisance in our street that many like me had wished him dead. He had got into the habit of chasing vehicles. For the drivers of two-wheelers, the chase was a dreadful experience. Many fell off their vehicles and were injured.

Today he is dead. Reportedly, some people came in a van and poisoned him. Many other stray dogs are also reported to have been killed. Whosoever killed them, the ground reality is that as a society we have failed to tackle the problem of stray dogs. Well-meaning efforts of Maneka Gandhi and her followers, and the courts have not given us any solutions to handle stray dogs.

In a poor country like India, where even new-born babies are abandoned in dustbins, the cause of the stray dogs does appear to be an insignificant one. Yet we certainly cannot ignore its gravity because stray dogs can endanger the lives of human beings. It is a well-known fact that thousands of people die of rabies each year. Besides, the ever-increasing number of stray dogs is gradually becoming a traffic hazard.

Under the law, when a human being is viewed as a risk to other’s lives, or hampers anyone’s personal freedom or becomes a public nuisance, he or she is immediately arrested. How strange that stray dogs who have been proved to be a risk to the lives of human beings, besides, curbing the freedom, of movement of people have been allowed to roam around freely. What do you do when they pounce on children or old people? Nobody is responsible when they cause this kind of public nuisance. Yet we are expected to act as deemed in slogans like, "cruelty against animals is a crime". But what about the cruelty these stray dogs inflict (unknowingly, of course) on unsuspecting human beings? Who is answerable for it? Why should we carry the worry of being bitten by rabid stray dogs?

A criminal born out of certain circumstances can be sympathised with. But he or she is not allowed to commit crime against the entire human race. Similarly, a stray dog primarily originates out of an indifference and callousness of a human being somewhere. But should society as a whole suffer for someone’s fault somewhere?

If a pet dog causes you rabies or bites you or even scares, you can sue the owner. Hence, owners of pet dogs are bound to ensure your safety. But nobody’s answerable for a stray dog. I am know many youngsters who are full of compassion for stray dogs. They have tried to do their bit by offering their services in some way or the other. I adore them for such fine sensibilities. But it is like a drop in the ocean. I am a dog lover myself, but I strongly advocate that stray dogs should be put to painless sleep.

Baij Nath Sharma is 88. Yet, he is extremely agile and sprightly. One ought to learn from him as to how to create happiness and laughter around one’s self at such a ripe old age. Frankly, age has yet to catch up with him. His razor-sharp intelligence, excellent memory and flawless observations certainly defy his age. Is he the old man next door?

No, certainly not. He does represent the average Indian middle class. But he is a unique example of a person whose struggle has enabled him to sail through with positive achievements. What can possibly be the secret of his formula of success and happiness?

Hard work, honesty and passionate involvement in each of his relationships, be it with his wife, children, friends or work. Sharma is an honours graduate in history from S.D. College, Lahore. He began his career as a clerk in 1937 and 10 years later was an eyewitness to the gruesome brutalities during the Partition. He had begun his career at the lowest rank but continued to pass departmental examinations in first division, paving the way to much- deserved promotions. It was his dedicated and meticulous work and honesty that he detected many a fake claimants earning him his first award for honesty from the then Punjab Revenue Minister. In 1953, the then Chief Minister of Punjab honoured him with a gold watch for his extraordinary honesty. Within a year, Baij Nath Sharma was awarded yet another gold watch by the then Prime Minister of India for meritorious services. "This is that watch", he waves his hand before me proudly. "I have never ever bought any other watch in my life," he adds.

His honesty and child-like innocence can be gauged from an incident which took place many years ago. His wife was not keeping well and somebody suggested that she should wear a magnetic chain, which was available in Japan. He had no means to get the chain. However, he chanced upon a news item saying that Romesh Bhandari, a former Foreign Secretary, was visiting Japan on an official visit. He wrote a personal letter on a postcard to him saying that except for being a "fellow human being of your motherland, I have no other relationship with you. On the strength of this relationship alone, I request you to buy the chain for my wife. I give my commitment to repay you the cost".

Those were the golden days, perhaps, for Romesh Bhandari not only brought the chain for him but also refused to accept the cost saying, "It’s for my sister".

Baij Nath Sharma has extremely thought-provoking observations to make in retrospect. He says, "In our times, corruption was conspicuous by its absence. Ministers of the government were of high calibre, namely, Sir Manohar Lal, Sir Fazl-i-Hussain, Sir Chhotu Ram, Gokal Chand Narang etc. Ministers attended office full-time and wrote lengthy notes in their own hand. Files moved on their own merit. They needed no push or grease. Functioning of offices was expeditious. There was no sexual harassment of women employees.

How I wish those days would return again." back

This feature was published on October 16, 1999

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