This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Rita Banerji. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Dog Lover Who Healed My Disillusionment With NGOs

More from Rita Banerji

By Rita Banerji:

I had thought I’d send in Shikha Bhandari’s name to a Times of India initiative that’s asking for unknown, local “heroes.” But when I went to the website I found that an email address for her was compulsory! But Shikha, who is barely literate does not have an email address! In fact she couldn’t even afford a computer. Her husband, a care-taker has a meagre income that the whole family subsists on.

the dog lover_rita.banerji

Despite this economic hardship, twice a day, every day, Shikha cooks a giant bucket of food — rice, vegetables and sometimes chicken or fish if there’s any to spare, and walks around her neighbourhood and feeds the street dogs who live there. She stops at certain spots and the dogs immediately come running to her. Then she puts out large steel plates on the pavements, and with a long ladle, puts generous amounts of food for the dogs and waits for them to have their fill.

She has been doing this for 30 years, ever since she married her husband Swapan Bhandari and moved to this neighbourhood in Kolkata. She says growing up in her native village in Bengal she always loved animals and birds. But when she came to the city, she was shocked at how cruel city people could be to the ‘voiceless’ animals that lived on the streets. It pained her to see the dogs, thin and hungry scavenging in the garbage for food, and how people would kick them or throw stones at them, or run them over, and when they died they’d throw them into the garbage, as if they were not lives, but trash.

Shikha not only feeds the dogs, but she protects them from locals. She says at least in their locality no one hurts them or they know she’ll come and fight with them. When I met her, she was asking around for one of the dogs who she couldn’t locate. “He is only 3 years old, and very calm,” she told me worriedly. She is anxious about the dogs getting run over or the city animal control loading them into trucks and taking them away. She also pays from her own funds for them to be neutered, to get shots, and when they die she pays for a proper burial for them in Diamond Harbour, which is a place on the outskirts of the city. Once a year she goes to the grave sites and lays flowers on the graves of these children on whom she has bestowed affectionate names like Lallu, Bulu, Ghonti, Tigli, and Rani.

For me Shikha is not just a local hero, but an important revelation. As founder of an advocacy campaign, The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end female gendercide in India, we are sometimes approached for help. However we are a zero-fund campaign and run entirely on volunteer assistance, and have no funds or means to provide aid. What we do try to do is facilitate assistance through individual professionals, like doctors and lawyers, and through other NGOs and organizations that are set up to provide aid. However, what I often find in the case of organizations whose websites claim that they help women and girls, by providing shelter, medical or legal aid etc. is that when we take a victim to them, often they don’t provide the aid they claim to provide! There are numerous cases where shelters for girls and women have been involved in human-trafficking, or sexual abuse and rape!

There was one particular case of a young woman, Roopa, which had upset me very much. Roopa’s husband and in-laws had pinned her down and force-fed her acid when her parents refused to give dowry. Roopa’s insides were burnt and she couldn’t eat. When I met her, I was shocked at how her skin was hanging off her bones, and I realized if she didn’t get surgery urgently she would die. Her father who was a factory worker could not afford the medical care and surgery she needed [Read about her case here]. For the next week I and all the administrators of the campaign approached every NGO for girls, for women, and for domestic violence in India and abroad. We approached government agencies, and international agencies in India, Europe and the U.S. None of them seemed to have funds! It’s the angriest I have ever been in the 7 years I’ve run this campaign. Here is a woman dying in front of your eyes, and you have money for fancy offices, cars, air-travel, and conferences in 5-star hotels, but you don’t have money to save a life? Eventually many of us from the campaign directly donated to her parents and helped the family through the hospital, the surgery, the after-care and later the legal proceedings.

Sadly, the more I see of NGOs and international aid organizations, the angrier and more disillusioned I get. I find the corruption, the sycophancy, the nepotism and the massive misappropriation of funds by these groups no different from what’s going on with governmental systems in India. An officer of an NGO registration office told me that a majority of NGOs are simply a means for tax-free wealth acquisition. Indeed I believe that it is extremely important for all NGOs to be brought in under the Lokpal ambit because right now there is no systematic accountability or supervision of them, and it is a system that is being rampantly exploited by Indians and foreigners.

For all the disillusionment I feel about NGOs, Shikha Bhandari and people like her restitute my faith in human decency. She has taught me that the ones who really care are not necessarily wealthy. They don’t have to set up NGOs with fancy and dishonest websites. They don’t give lectures at prestigious conferences or receive awards on prime-time television with the media flashing their cameras at them. They live and they give with heart, soul and conviction from whatever little they have. Generosity is not giving away your excess wealth, it is sharing from whatever little you have. Surely the money that Shikha spends on the dogs could help her own family live and eat a little better?

And that is why I believe that it is not thousands of NGOs and aid organizations that will make a difference to India’s many social problems. But the change will come when we, the aam aadmi learn to live with our friends and neighbours the way Shikha Bhandari does, like they are an extension of our family.

If you are in Kolkata or elsewhere and would like to visit or help Shikha, her address is below. I’ve also shared her contact number with her permission, and you can call her if you wish to speak to her.

Shikha Bhandari
16/2 Dover Terrace
Ph: 9831645705

You must be to comment.
  1. Arjuna

    Thank you for this wonderful story. It is indeed heart warming. My heart cringes whenever I see street dogs here in Delhi. There condition is pathetic but what is is even more worse is that they were extremely fearful of humans. This is not how I remember things were in my childhood. People have become increasingly cruel to the ‘voiceless’ species of our planet in the last decade. At times I wish that I must do something for the Dogs but often feel helpless. Well at least the dogs in one locality of India are getting some sort of dignity because of this one beautiful soul. Hats of to Shikha Bhandari!

    1. Abhishek Biswas

      Humans now are more attracted to the unnecessary habits. They have developed an attitude which has forced me to believe that humans don’t need to live. Try to remember the last time when you saw someone feeding or just patting a dog just out of love? Everytime I visit the lady to buy weed, her dog keeps jumping about in joy. It fills me with happiness because my presence makes a speechless animal happy. I remember this shopkeeper from whom I bought a smoke. She was teaching her small kid to hit a puppy. When I protested, they were laughing. I have a good mind to hit her with stones when her kid grows up a little just to show how a dog might feel when he is hit.
      At the same time, there is another shopkeeper near my house who buys milk only because a stray cat likes it. That cat follows him almost everywhere and usually stays in the shop with him.

  2. Yogesh Khandke

    Chicken and fish are not animals it seems, I’m sure they grow on trees in Bengal.

    1. Abhishek Biswas

      that was a dumb comment. I wonder why you still live.

  3. Abhishek Biswas

    Thank you for the address of the lady. I’ll make sure that I visit her and help her financially so that she can carry on with her love for dogs.

More from Rita Banerji

Similar Posts

By Bidisha Bhatacharya

By Nandini Sharma

By Tabish Khan

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below