Community-based strategies to address | ‘The Dog Problem’ in Srinagar City

This article is dedicated to Meeran Mushtaq, a 6-year-old boy from Solina, who got critically injured after being attacked by dogs in the local vicinity
Representational Photo
Representational Photo

An important indicator of good governance is proper animal care, control, and management. So, naturally, it becomes a matter of the state concern when any harm is conceived due to poor animal care and management in the city. “Dogs have wreaked havoc in the Srinagar city” is a common thing to hear nowadays. Almost every week, there is an incident where the governance has to face shame and blame. Governance actors often cut a sorry figure on such issues. Still, their failure to mitigate the persisting problem indicates poor policies and implementation, including a lack of autonomy within and across governance sectors of the Srinagar city. However, at the same time, what onus does the community bear? While the dog problem is a matter that concerns the state, it also affects the community people. To solve the “dog problem,” we would first have to understand what created it?

In collectivistic societies like ours, dogs are not considered part of the social ecosystems, leading to stigma and hatred against them. “Dog” is synonymous with the word “evil” in Kashmir. This stigma and hatred against dogs have passed on from generations. In the past, the government has shown a history of implementing stringent measures against dogs to control their population. However, due to recent changes in laws and policies, it is no more possible, which has probably left them in a state where they have no autonomy to take care of the situation, or cannot brainstorm a possible comprehensive solution that would be socially acceptable and constitutionally legal. This leads to a large gradient in the state of governance in Srinagar. In such circumstances, it becomes imperative for emerging scholarly voices and civil society members to brainstorm and supplement socially acceptable solutions to the governance actors that could be piloted and scaled at community levels. In this article, I have discussed a few bottoms-up strategies that could be tried and tested to avoid the possible “Human Vs. Dog” situation in Srinagar.

1. Immediate isolation of the dogs to prevent any mass tragedy:

In the current circumstances, it could be argued that the temporary isolation of dogs into a sub-urban makeshift sanctuary would be feasible. While this solution is not a permanent one, it has the potential to help buy some time while comprehensive strategies are being developed to deal with the situation. The government will have to allocate some funds for the smooth execution of this short-term strategy.

2. Decentralised and tailor-made waste management strategies and collection points:

Waste collection points are hubs for dogs, and the state of waste management in Srinagar has been a matter of concern for decades. The governance actors need to consider the community’s voices while setting up waste collection points. It is imperative that these points are convenient to the community and, at the same time, do not threaten their social harmony.

Civil society needs to come forward and supplement the government with locally made and tailored waste management strategies - areas-wise, that substantiate the “one size does not fit all” approach. Local youth volunteers at the Mahalla level, who are often the social agents of change, while maintaining the gender mix, can help facilitate brainstorming sessions within community members, with support from the governance actors where culturally and socially acceptable waste management strategies could be developed for piloting.

3. School-based sensitisation campaigns:

The safety of children is of utmost priority. The schools need to immediately start awareness campaigns where experts do sensitisation at the root level to destigmatise animals and provide necessary adaptive skills to combat unprecedented situations. The schools in Kashmir tend to use the existing staff to implement educational programs. It is essential to identify and hire experts who will execute such programs effectively and ensure that children do not have to deal with trauma and fear while undergoing the course.

4. Community-level workshops:

The local community-based workshops to debunk myths, rumours, and stigma against the dogs and other animals are required. A public-private partnership between the state and the lock business owners to organize and facilitate such workshops may help educate the community about the broader ecosystem, its importance, and management. Additionally, community gatekeepers like local religious leaders, social leaders, youth volunteers, schools, teachers, etc., need to participate in such workshops. However, such workshops will only be successful if the representation of all groups of participants is ensured.

5. Youth volunteers as social agents of change:

In the growing age of unemployment, the government could potentially try a community-based incentivised volunteer recruitment program. Male and female youth could volunteer to help accompany children from bus stops to their homes and similar situations, thereby acting as social companions or guards. This may aid the youth with economic strains and add auxiliaries to the needy households and provide status and a sense of reputation among the youth in Kashmir, which they are in dire need of.

6. Inter-sectoral collaboration for a resilient solution:

There is no shortcut or single answer to this problem. We will have to admit that it is more like a syndemic, i.e., an issue that has been originated by the intermingling of environmental, social, cultural, political, and economic factors. Complex problems require holistic solutions which require the representation of all sectors. The governance actors need to conduct a comprehensive stakeholder analysis centric to this problem and identify influential and powerful actors representing both the demand and supply sides of the state and who have significant roles in the causality and mitigation of the problem. Civil society must amplify the community’s voices while developing such a solution.

7. One health approach:

It is pertinent that we understand the ecosystem as a whole and not only through a human-centric lens. Environmental issues require a “one-health approach” that considers the environment, humans, and animals as co-existent and interdependent. This lens needs to be added to our higher education curriculum so that people start thinking from broader perspectives and come up with eco-friendly and culturally appropriate solutions to similar problems. In conclusion, it is high time for us to stop blaming, and procrastination, and take ownership of our problems. The city will survive only when its people and governance actors work hand in hand in responding to its needs. If Srinagar ought to become a smart city, the community will have to play a significant role in such transition. The city belongs to the people, and the people need to live up to the city’s maintenance requirements.

Dr. Ateeb Ahmad Parray is an internationally acknowledged global health researcher who works in the areas of health policy and systems research with a focus on vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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