Wednesday, June 23, 2004

A flea market for canines

I am still trying to convince myself that I turned 23 yesterday. Sometimes I wish I could freeze the ageing process... Anyway, while I do a little bit of introspection, here is a piece I did on a kutta mandi in Jaipur:

It was her second bidi in five minutes. Roop pulled them out of a packet carefully tucked inside her floral blouse. “Why do you bother us,” she yelled in a hoarse voice when she realised that a reporter was in their midst. “Let us live in peace.” With a yellow-striped dupatta that hid most of her features other than a heavily disfigured nose, she came across as an intimidating personality.

Nearby, an emaciated Doberman sniffed at an empty milk packet. Puppies, their eyes hardly open, wailed from pits where they were stocked for potential customers. And more dogs, many of them disease-stricken, were chained to their cots – waiting to be sold off. There must have been more than fifty dogs at the camp.

A member of a nomadic tribe from Haryana but based in Jaipur for 10 years now, Roop and her family members have been selling dogs, some of which, they claim, are pedigree. The tribe camps on Jhotwara Road and their hutments are known to locals as Kutta Mandi, a place for dogs at dirt-cheap prices. “We are poor and uneducated. This is the only way we can feed ourselves,” said a taciturn Arjun, the leader of the gang. A mongrel will sell for as low as Rs 100 but the price of a “pure” German Shepherd can go up to Rs 1,500. No papers are produced here to prove the pedigree.

When this reporter first walked in, the tribe members shoved a photo album that contained pictures of their dogs – all healthy ones – on a leash. “What would you like,” asked Arjun, sensing a buyer. “A Doberman or a Boxer? Or a Pomerian?” The tribe claims that they buy the dogs for as low as Rs 50 and look after them but animal rights organisations tell a different story.

“These people have to struggle to feed themselves. How do you expect them to look after the dogs,” said Rakhee Sharma, who works with Help In Suffering (HIS). “Most of these dogs are sick and end up dying there only. A stray dog can at least feed itself but not these dogs,” she added.

Controversy has long hounded the tribe, who have also been accused of stealing the dogs. “Many of my friends from C Scheme say that they steal pups,” said Sujeet Sharma, a German Shepherd owner. “They sure do not deal in pedigree dogs. They pass off mongrels as pure bred ones,” he added.

But that does not bother Arjun and his kin. “Go and write that we deal in stolen dogs,” he shouted, in unison with other members of the tribe.

(Some names have been changed on request)


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