Rayomand Coins

Animal rights and wrongs

A regular advertiser in our Jamshedi Navroz March 7 New Year issue this year had an unusual request. Instead of publicizing the company’s products he wanted us to create an advertisement that highlighted the plight of stray dogs and the indifference, if not cruelty, shown them. We asked our friends in the animal nongovernmental organization sector if they could help out with visuals. We searched our archives for pictures of dogs we may have clicked while on various assignments. Finally we found two, one taken in Navsari of dogs living on a street near Jamshed Baug and the other of a dog scavenging for food in a parked garbage dump near the Thana Town Hall (gifted by a Parsi). A member of the editorial team wrote the text.

But the advertiser’s concern for the hapless creatures made us ponder on the community’s general affection for animals, especially dogs. Around 1832, the East India Company "promulgated a law to destroy stray dogs," stated the Bombay Panjrapole Institution Centenary souvenir published in 1934. "People appealed against the promulgation but it continued." Hindus and Parsis showed their displeasure by rioting. But in the aftermath of the dog riots, Hindu and Parsi sethias got together and resolved, "There should be (a) Panjrapole in the city for stray dogs and cattle (to) nurture them. For the expenses, Hindu and Parsi sethias contributed money, opium, sugar, pearls and interest bearing promissory notes and signed off on a document."

Panjrapoles were often set up for sheltering dogs who are regarded as righteous in Zoroastrianism and hold an important position in Parsi religious and social life.

Of the four people "given positions of authority two were Parsis, Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy and Bomonjee Hormarjee Wadia [who also built the Clock Tower and Fountain at Bazar Gate Street (now Perin Nariman Street)]." Jejeebhoy played a "key role" in the purchase of land and lease rights. Of the 15 trustees, "five were Parsis."

Who did the Panjrapole shelter? The souvenir lists: "Privately owned, defective (maimed?), old, useless, limbless, blind, diseased, hungry, half-dead, and those that cannot be managed at home are sent to the Panjrapole… Some of these die before they enter the Panjrapole. Animals rescued from the Bandra and Kurla abattoirs by kindhearted people, which come to us emaciated, like skeletons, without blood or fat, those that cannot walk on the roads, and half dead due to hunger. Animals less than eight days old are brought from stables — these are half dead when they are brought. These are made to sleep on a bed made from wooden sawdust. Many of these have their backs broken and cannot stand. Dogs that cannot be cured of their illnesses, infected with skin diseases, very weak and infirm, totally useless, hairless, roaming the streets, infected with deep wounds, accident-affected, bleeding, diseased are also brought here. Also, those that are brought here in the Panjrapole’s vans that are sent out to bring them."

The Times of India, December 11, 1884 write-up on the inauguration of the Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals which was established in 1874 in Parel, quoted Dinshaw Manockjee Petit as stating, "Hitherto it has been the practice here, when any bullock has been found disabled or discarded, to get the owner fined. Finding that this system, instead of lessening the mischief was only increasing it, for, when a poor cart-driver, who has to make his living by plying his cart, is deprived of that only source of income, he is naturally unable to get the proper treatment done for the animals and they are consequently ill fed and almost starved. I have in order to remedy this evil, founded this hospital, which, I may say, is the first of its kind in India, where such animals will be received for treatment by the Society at a mere nominal charge for their feeding, from their owners, and after they are properly cured will be returned to them."

Therefore, the daily noted Petit offered "to erect the Hospital at his own cost. The present site was eventually purchased for Rs 45,000; and the large bungalow on it was given to Government free of rent, on condition they would maintain (it) as a Veterinary College."

An electric crematorium dedicated to the memory of the late industrialist Naoroji Godrej, "who loved animals," was inaugurated at the Hospital in 1997, noted the Mint of July 5, 2014. In 2009 Pervez Minoo Mistry bequeathed Rs 45 lakhs to the Hospital, notes the Mumbai Mirror of February 19, 2018. "After the required court proceedings, the will’s executors, Rustom Dalal and Mehernosh Currawalla handed over the amount on January 18, 2017."

But the efforts to ameliorate the lot of animals still continues. Apart from feeding strays, Parsis also assist by providing space for offices of animal welfare organizations and even an outlet for sale of their goods.

Among the most active and successful community lobbyist for animal rights is Poona based Diana Ratnagar’s Beauty Without Cruelty, an international educational charitable trust for animal rights. The organization’s quarterly publication Compassionate Friend (CF) advocates vegetarianism (an anathema to most Parsis), takes up cudgels especially against companies that use animal parts for their products and opposes the participation of animals in sports and performances. The editorial in the spring issue of CF mentions, "The proponents of animal rights will continue in their efforts to rescue crocodiles from (those) who want them killed so that their skin can be utilized to make items such as bags and shoes." Other articles state how feeding monkeys near national highways attracts them to the road resulting in "monkeys being run over by speeding vehicles;" why "non-animal paint brush(es) should be used;" how 80% of down feathers used to stuff pillows, quilts, winter clothing etc "is plucked (worldwide) by firmly holding geese or ducks by their necks or wings and ruthlessly ripping out their soft, fine, white feathers...No one waits for birds to shed or mount their feathers, so down from live geese or ducks is wrenched off...leaving bleeding, painful follicles;" how parrot astrologers clip the birds’ wings, imprison them in "the compartment of a cage a little bigger than the parrot itself;" how a chartered accountant lobbied with government to introduce catering courses for vegetarians; and so on.

The list of animal loving individuals and organizations is too long to fit into an editorial But it is indicative of a caring, compassionate community — at least as far as animals are concerned.


Villoo Poonawalla