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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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