The mother of stray dogs 

Pratima Devi takes care of around 300 stray dogs in South Delhi’s plush Saket. Recently, MCD official razed her make-shift residence, but she says she will continue to live there

Photo by Vishwadeepak
Photo by Vishwadeepak
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Vishwadeepak

Animal lives are not considered as important as human lives, but I believe in the opposite. These four-legged creatures are more sensitive than humans. I have been living with at least 300 stray dogs for over three decades, but I’ve never had any complaints. They are sensitive to my moods more than fellow human beings. These animals are my life now. Now, at 65, I feel that my life would be ‘nothing without them.

All my dogs are obedient and do not create a menace in the area. Some of them come out of their cage only for meals and then go back in. It is not only the dogs that I take care of; there are around 10 cats and a few rats too.

Just yesterday a person came and left four just-born puppies here. Most of the canines were abandoned by the “civilised human society” and I end up taking care of them. I can’t let them starve; where is our humanness then?

They are like my kids. I feed them, give them a bath and also put them to sleep at night. I have names for all of them; the ones beside me here, Chinglu, Kanhaiya and Moti are naught and they run onto the road, so I’ve had to chain them.

I had a husband, of course, but he was an alcoholic and wasn’t interested in working or providing for the family. I have three children – two boys and one girl. The older son lives in Delhi and it was for him that I came to Delhi.

Born into a poor family, I left my village in Nandigram district, West Bengal, in search of a job just after my marriage. I had worked in a house as a maid for a few years in Kolkata. It was a coincidence that I ended up in Delhi. I came here in the early 80s in search of my elder son, who was offered a job by a Delhi employer, but he had lost all contacts with me. Soon enough, I was reunited with him. For a while after that, I worked at the home of film actor Rahul Dev, but they weren’t paying me enough. I left that job and began a small tea stall near PVR Anupam in Saket. I began the stall at a time when a cup of tea was just 25 paise and now a cup of tea is Rs 10. Imagine, how difficult it would have been to feed all these dogs.

That tea stall was mostly my only source of income; I would also pick and garbage. I did all this to feed my animals. It was never enough, but I couldn’t let me die of starvation either. Initially no one helped but, now, there are a few who provide left overs. Some NGOs have also come forward to help, but it is insufficient. I have struggle quite a bit to buy rice to feed them.

Around three weeks ago, MCD demolished my make-shift shelter for dogs at the behest pf some BJP leaders; they also threw away the food meant for these animals. Where will I go in this chilling cold with these animals? A member of my family, Luli, a one-eyed dog, (‘Lula’ is a word used for a physically challenged person) also had died due to the cold. I brought him for the treatment, but he could not survive. I will not hand over the body to MCD officials, instead I will perform the last rites. I raised him like my own child, then why will I abandon him now.

With my hard-earned money, I had constructed the shop, but it is nothing but debris now. These days I have also been ill, since I have to sleep under an open structure. My son keeps questioning if this is my service to the society and what I have benefited from this? Journalists have been coming to interview me for long, but what use has it been of? They get commended and maybe scholarships for the report, but my life remains the same.

I have requested my son, who works on a construction site, to help me, but how much can he do? I need protection from the cold and that is my priority now, but I know no one cares about my woes. This is why when my son questions the journalists who come here, I maintain my silence. Who will respond to my cries?

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