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Oracle of the Dog: Communalism and Human-Animal Interactions in Contemporary India
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Oracle of the Dog: Communalism and Human-Animal Interactions in Contemporary India

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Umar Nizar

umarFather Brown, GK Chesterton’s indefatigable clergyman sleuth says in one of his romps, ‘G.O.D spelt backwards becomes D.O.G’. In the recent Iranian movie Kupal (2017, Kazem Mollaie) winner at the Bogota Film Festival, which is about a taxidermist who finds himself locked inside a safe chamber by himself, having to kill and disembowel his dog to retrieve the key, the director makes his animal friendly stand clear by quoting the lines from the surah Al-Kahf, in which the men who seek refuge inside a cave are accompanied by a dog.

The May 10, 2018 attack on a Kashmiri family in South Delhi’s middle class Siddharth Extension DDA flat complex, was attempted to be justified by the culprits on grounds that the victims were habitually feeding stray dogs in the vicinity of their house. This resulted in People For Animals (PFA) posting a video of the assault online and jumping into the fray. What is ironic is that the majority community in India is often stereotyped as lovers of fauna, based on their belief in metempsychosis and Muslims, from the quinquagenarian Salman Khan down to the local butcher, are caricatured as blood thirsty villains thirsting for animal sacrifice on a daily basis.

Animal-human interactions in India are fraught with economic, religious, political, cultural and communal issues, protection of the cow being the major bone of contention. Sovereignty of life in the form of the cow, led to fatal assaults on innocents like Akhlaq. All of these bovine inspired acts of violets were also carefully projected into the digital public sphere so as to create an aura of organic communitarian life built around an animal friendly Hindutva. Cow protection vigilantes with the abetment of the powers that be unleashed a nationwide reign of terror. Rigil Makkutty, the Kerala Youth Congress Leader who protested the prospective beef ban was suspended by his party. Bovine-human, elephant-human, ursine-human, equine-human equations have turned complex with emerging new paradigms in the anthropocene era where man has stamped his hegemony over other life forms. So do the fascistic powers.

Elephants are frequently mistreated in South Indian religious rituals of all persuasions. The threat on a UP groom who dared to ride a horse prior to his wedding ceremonies, which made it necessary for the police to draw up a map of the horse’s route, is a case in point. The baraat horse, a north Indian custom has been now copied in Dravidian lands also. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the popular village sport of ‘jallikattu’ which has been exoticized by foreigners and Indians alike, comparing it to the bull run in Pamplona in Spain, also became a flashpoint owing to its cruel treatment of oxen and bovine animals. Leopards are haunting Powai near Mumbai, and tigers are threatening farmers and foragers in Bengal. The energy of these interactions is tapped into the wider narrative of fascism, where they speak on both sides, and thus becomes an organic force representing our ‘blood and soil’.

The dog has been an exception since in popular Indian conception, it is an animal abhorrent to Muslims (that is how dogs in petit bourgeois households come to be called ‘Tipu’ ‘Sultan’ etc) and hence the recent attack on a Muslim family on the pretext of a campaign against feeding stray dogs assumes significance. The grammar of communal violence has become so warped that even the feeding of dogs can be the pretext of a communal attack. The People for Animals posted on their facebook page on May11, 2018 as follows:

 https://www.facebook.com/people4animals/?hc_ref=ARRWDtIFzgQ1lGNOtU5gSxomEKDQhKO-Vwqk25u0l09O2x6KDKTSMcwNGb7Vn183HiE&fref=nf

 An animal lover and her brother and sister has (sic) been brutally beaten by society people yesterday in Siddhartha Extension pocket C, Delhi. She looks after the dogs in the colony and for a long time society people have been planning to kill dogs and animal lovers.
President S N Pandey has issued a letter where he stated that he and other residents will unite together and take action in their “Self Defence”.

 Just because they are muslims, they have been harassed and molested for a long time. They have torned their clothes.

 I request you all to help this lady.
**** and her sister and brother are in a shock, they have got fractures and injuries. MLC was done yesterday.

 Please call and message these “Society People” who thinks that they can harass people in the name of Dogs. And who thinks that they are who can beat anyone they feel like.

 After yesterday’s incident, now they have approached South Delhi Municipal Corporation to remove all the dogs.

 In the pictures posted along with this write up, respectable looking elderly middle class men from the locality can be seen holding hockey sticks venturing to attack a hapless woman. The comments section has many people asking why bring religion into such a heinous act, prompting one to question PFA’s equivocal stand on the issue. Communal agenda of fascistic forces, who daily hold a flag meeting in the ironically named Siddharth Extension- DDA flat colony- Pocket C (this is a detail none of the news media that covered the incident have found worthy of reporting. The daily flag meetings have reportedly been put on hold for now, apparently owing to instructions from above) is clearly visible in this entire narrative of crass communalism and inhuman mob mentality.

 Comprador media carries anthropomorphosed new reports of feral dogs to make humans seem feral. Those who legally consume meat are attacked. Ironically, those who nurture animals also face the same forces. Thus marginalized groups are attacked no matter whether their relationship vis-a-vis animals is that of nurturing or otherwise, because the crux of the problem is that of the relation of the human being to his/her religious and personal self and dignity.

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Umar Nizar is a Research Scholar in JNU. His poems have been published in the Ibex Press Year’s Best Selection, Vayavya, MuseIndia, Culture Cafe journal of the British Library, and also broadcast by the All India Radio. He has previously worked with the New Indian Express as a Reporter.

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