The Pashupati Exhibition

Abhyas Trust launched ‘Pashupati: Save the Dogs Exhibition’, a traveling panel show which attempts to create awareness about the plight of stray animals especially dogs in our cities. The show was opened at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on April 24, 2007, with "Pashupati: Save the Dogs Concert" featuring Carnatic vocalist G. Elangovan and Punjabi Sufi singer Rekha Raj.

Abhyas Trust, a Delhi-based non-profit organization that has been involved with urban design and the care of stray animals launched its Urban Design Project (UDP) in 2005, to involve children and citizens in an exercise of "active-seeing" and thereby encouraging them to become proactively involved with their environment.

Our first exhibition, titled The Power of Seeing, offers a meticulously documented history of street elements over the last fifteen months and is ready to travel to schools and colleges. This exhibition silently points to the glaring absence of processes, planning and preparation, and in some cases the lack of sheer will and initiative in the course of city-making.

However, the recent barbaric killings of stray dogs in Karnataka and Kerala have prompted us to make this issue central to our agenda; in fact, we have decided to stall the UDP exhibition in favor of an animal-centric exhibition that hopes to raise consciousness on this issue.

The Pashupati Exhibition reviews the stray dogs issue in a very realistic manner and suggests measures that are sensible, effective, humane and becoming of us as both humans and Indians.

Stray animals are living beings on Indian streets and take precedence over street furniture. We cannot forget that dogs have been part of our civic environments perhaps since the beginning of our civilization, and now when we are at that historic moment when our cities can no longer sustain stray animals; then we are obliged to act responsibly and devise sensible and humane procedures of adapting to this changing reality.

The solution does not lie in polarizing issues and flaring sentiments. In fact, we must take special care not to divide this issue as it is a real situation that demands real solutions, street dogs have been part of our lives as far back as we can remember.

It was till only one generation ago that every Indian kitchen made an extra roti for the cow, the crow and the dog on the street. It does not behoove us to suddenly become intolerant of these creatures and seek their extermination, especially when there are viable options that have been successful tried in many other countries facing similar situations. The WHO (World Health Organization) report based on its experience in other countries like Ecuador, Nepal, Tunisia and Sri Lanka categorically states that "any reduction in population density of stray dogs through mortality is rapidly compensated by better reproduction and survival…of the survivors," and therefore "should never be considered as it has no effect whatsoever on the root cause of the problem," the only solution they advocate being a systematic ‘neuter and release’ strategy.

For the sake of sanity and in order to preempt the repeat of such mindless cruelties in other cities including Delhi, the Abhyas Trust is forming a group called "Citizens for Sane & Humane Choices". The group does not have to comprise of animal lovers alone, but also of citizens who stand united for sanity and against mindless acts of cruelty. Although the brutality factor has compelled us to bring this issue to the forefront, our larger concern continues to be the thoughtless planning of our cities. As much as we seek to protest against these forced killings of stray dogs we also wish to raise a voice against the endless hasty, patch-up jobs by the municipal authorities that we are subjected to time and again.

It is ironic, that with no viable systems in sight to tackle the real problems that plague urban India: the open drains, the caving-in roads, pedestrian death-traps and over flowing garbage dumps, both the public and authorities are suddenly obsessing over the "stray dog menace", diverting attention, and in some cases wrath at these hapless dogs. When what is needed is systematic planning, methodical implementation, follow up, accountability, and above all a political and social will with civic engagement.

We are not unaware of the stray dog problem, what we are protesting against are these mindless, inhumane, reactionary and ineffective trigger-happy solutions.

Navtej Johar, Managing Trustee, Abhyas Trust