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Poisoning Strays, Burning Monkeys: The Cruel Ways Housing Societies Treat Animals

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If you are living in a city like Mumbai, you probably are aware that gated communities are all the rage. You probably live in one. New projects, especially the ones coming up in Navi Mumbai, all have the same basic concept. They all have pigeon hole sized apartments with amenities such as a swimming pool, a small teeny tiny patch of green which is marketed as a garden, a gym, back up generators, elevators, round the clock private security and designated parking areas. Most of these residential blocks sell at around ₹8000/- per sq ft (the ongoing rate in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai. Residential properties in Vashi, Nerul, Seawoods and Belapur sell at much higher rates).

In a city where property rates climb faster and higher than the stock exchange, it is safe to assume that these residential complexes are out of budget for most of the working class population – which means that most people rent.

As someone trying to either rent or buy a home in Mumbai, it would seem as though the world is divided into real estate haves and have-nots; between those who own and those who rent. And I think that to any observant person, the hierarchy is quite apparent. The ones who own are higher up the real estate food chain than the ones who don’t.

In multi-tower residential complexes, the hierarchy becomes even more intricate. Because there, the real estate haves are divided into one BHK owners, two BHK owners and three BHK owners. Needless to say, three BHK owners perch on the topmost bark of the real estate hierarchy.

These homeowners then come together to form ‘cooperative’ housing societies. In nine out of ten cases, the society committee members are middle-aged, higher caste and upper to upper-middle-class men.

Having said that, I think it is easy to predict how easily the ball starts rolling downhill.

There are certain things that housing societies hate – Bachelors, for instance. Boys living alone are a big no no. Girls used to be looked upon as favourable tenants – it was believed that they are less likely to run afoul, less likely to create trouble and were considered easier to tame – not anymore. I recently learnt that girls are now considered risqué. “Aaj kal ki ladkiyan ladkon se aage hai. Ladke aate hain raat ko inke ghar pe. Aap hi samjho kiske liye. Woh sab naatak chahiye hi nahi apne ko (These days, girls are riskier than boys. They have boys over at night. For what, you tell me. We don’t want this drama),” was what I heard a society secretary argue once. I hope I don’t have to point out how any independence among women is considered undesirable.

A walk down any street and one can find various housing societies sporting, proudly – I might add, big signs on their gates refusing bachelors entry into their Sanctum Sanctorum.

If a housing society is predominantly occupied by vegetarians, then tenants eating non-vegetarian food are not welcome. There are landlords who put up this condition – no, I am not kidding – before they agree to rent you their homes.

Single mothers also make the list – they are popular targets for harassment. Minorities are hated as well and not considered favourable tenants. Homeowners do not agree to even sell their properties to minorities, so renting them their homes is out of the question. And let’s not even talk about the LGBTQ community.

But what I think housing societies hate the most are animals in general and pets and strays in particular. Banning pets and therefore pet owners from using building amenities (like elevators for instance) is commonplace in almost all housing complexes. And pet owners who are tenants (not homeowners) are fair game. They can be abused, threatened, harassed or removed from the housing society unless they learn to toe the line. And if you happen to be someone who feeds strays, then not even God can protect you.

Hatred is one of the things that I struggle to understand the most and hatred towards animals is something I believe I will never understand. What are the rules that apply here? How is the game played? Diversity is confusing to us and so we can only ‘tolerate’ that which is exactly like us and no one else – is that the mantra? Is it because Hindus consider animals to be impure (like they consider women to be impure)? Or is it because we simply love to hate and the post modern world has robbed us of our targets – you can no longer show your hate openly towards women, gays, lesbians, transgenders, and people of limited means without inviting criticism. So we will hate the only group that has been left out, the one that is the most vulnerable – the group with four legs and a tail. Is that it? Is that the logic? Is hate ever logical? Maybe I am the illogical one here – looking for reason in a world that is determinedly turning away from it.

A couple of months ago, I witnessed a young girl getting targeted for feeding strays in her society. She was approached by the society secretary and a committee member and was yelled at, harassed and threatened. The two gentlemen were also carrying on their personal mobile phones cctv footage of the young woman captured from within the society premises. He threatened to have her followed and he made it clear that he intended to collect more such cctv footages to track her whereabouts while she was in the society. They even wrote a complaint against her in the society register for creating nuisance by feeding the strays.  I feel compelled to add that both the secretary and the committee member were older men in their 40s and the young lady is a 19-year-old pet owner renting one of the flats with her single mother. Maybe my estimate about the present day hatred in society is off the mark. Maybe it is not about hatred. Maybe it is just garden variety bullying. Isn’t this exactly what bullies do – look for a vulnerable target, someone who cannot fight back, and harass them?

I read about such incidents almost every day. There are so many of them that it’s depressing. It’s a constant fight for the animal rights community. Every day there are residential societies looking for ways in which they can make themselves as exclusive as possible. The first casualties are always pet owners and the few amongst us who feed strays. Hurling abuses at pet owners and animal lovers is an extremely common occurrence. The arguments are the same every time – ‘Strays are a nuisance, they are dangerous, we are worried about our children getting bitten, we are scared of them etc etc.’ A couple of years ago, a housing society had sprayed acid on monkeys who happened to have lost their habitat and hence were forced to survive on scraps found in the society. A few days ago, a housing society beat all of the strays within its premises out. A couple of months ago, a housing society in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai threw away a litter of newborn puppies out on the street. Similar cases of cruelty have been reported by animal lovers across the city.  A housing society in Navi Mumbai made news when some of its members sent pornographic content to a woman who was feeding strays there. Tell me, who needs to be protected from whom?

Since when have we forgotten the difference between nuisance and compassion? How does a society become so self-absorbed, so selfish, so hypocritical and so intolerant that it does not recognize compassion even when it’s standing there naked right in front of them? Why this absolute refusal to share this world with others who inhabit it? Why are we so unwilling to tolerate animals? Why do we hate them so? Why is our relationship with nature still not balanced and healthy? Why this stubborn resistance towards education and awareness? Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals,” has been used so many times that it seems to have lost all meaning. But I still agree with it – wholeheartedly. There really is no other way to put it – the greatness of a nation is indeed judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable groups. There are many groups and subgroups that need our protection and I truly believe that animals deserve to be on that list.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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