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Published on Mue, March 24, 2009 at 11:54
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“Unseen they suffer, unheard they cry,
In agony they linger, in silence they die,
Is it nothing to you all ye who pass by?”

In 2007, the deaths of two children supposedly mauled by stray dogs sparked a series of horrific mass slaughter of stray dogs in Karnataka by both municipal bodies as well as crazed mobs. The hatred for these generally innocent and misunderstood creatures soon assumed an alarming proportion and resulted in the torturous death of hundreds of canines.

Hiranmay Karlekar’s Savage Humans and Stray Dogs centres on these incidents of uncalled for aggression, cruelty and retaliation of humans towards man’s best friend .An ardent animal lover, the author reveals deep sympathy and insight in a work that is truly written from the heart. It is also commendable that the author chooses to investigate the causes of human aggression towards animals instead of merely condemning various parties which participated in such senseless cruelty.

With aptly named chapters, the book is more than a mere collection of dry facts and passionate outpouring against the increasing cruelty and aggression of human beings towards animals. Extensively researched, it draws upon various sources to substantiate its arguments such as excerpts from newspaper articles and speeches of various officials/personalities. In addition, texts and works from the Judaeo – Christian and Renaissance - Humanistic tradition are compared and contrasted with interesting stories from Hindu religious texts such as the Adi Parva, Vana Parva and Mahaprasthanika Parva of the Mahabharata. However, the ironical and saddening thought arises that it is in India, a country traditionally known for its respect and reverence for all forms of life, that the worst forms of animal cruelty are perpetrated.

 In situations such as the Karnataka killings, it is noticed that animals bring out either the best or worst in people. The author expresses dismay that an “overwhelming” number of those who desired such slaughter were from the educated middle and upper classes comprising of “doctors”, “lawyers” and “bureaucrats” that were ruled by prejudice rather than reason. On the other hand, slum dwellers often protected the stray dogs that protected their homes from the state’s “savage drive against them.” A slum dweller is quoted as saying “Let the government first kill child kidnappers and murderers and then go after the dogs.” However, the author rightly does not generalize the categories of rich and poor as it is impossible to judge a book by its cover. Instead, he seems to suggest that while aggression can affect all strata of human society, compassion requires that we have awareness and empathy rather than power, wealth or social status.

The book also extends to other incidents of cruelty and aggression by humans towards other animal species such as unnecessary animal testing, hunting, dogfights etc. There are various reasons for human aggression. Unlike animals that are generally aggressive only when provoked, during the mating season or to defend their offspring, human aggression is more complex and may be aimed at towards their inferiors in order to achieve monetary gain and due to feelings of inadequacy, ignorance or sadism.

Karlekar accomplishes a difficult task in balancing logical and convincing arguments with deeply felt emotion. Misconceptions about stray dogs are immediately cleared as care is taken to explain the origin of the pie or pariah dog, the characteristics of which are described as “perhaps the most vulnerable yet loyal, friendly and immensely courageous of all urban species of canines”.

Yet the state decided that all stray dogs were a threat to human life and promised that they would be “mercilessly killed in a month”. This gave free licence for uncalled for cruelty and clandestine killing of pet and sterilized dogs while the pleas of many


Savage Humans and Stray Dogs

Savage Humans
and Stray Dogs

by Hiranmoy Karlekar

Our Price Rs. 265.50
*USD 5.53

First Aid for Animals

First Aid for Animals

by Judith Krantz & Maneka Gandhi

Our Price Rs. 54.00
*USD 1.13

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning

by Viktor Frankl

Our Price Rs. 182.25
*USD 3.80


animal lovers went unheard along with the pathetic yelps, whines and howls of the condemned dogs. The author examines whether the government’s policy was adopted due to a desire for sensational drama or in order to use the dogs as scapegoats to divert attention from larger issues such as negligence of duty.

Karlekar’s arguments prove the state’s policies wrong on various levels. The mass slaughter was conducted in direct violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and Article 51A (g) that calls for citizens to “protect the environment” and “have compassion for living creatures”.

It has also been proved that killing strays does not lead to a decrease in their numbers and instead becomes an obstacle to the Animal Birth Control programme which was initiated in 2001 under the 1960 prevention act.

Ecologically, too, the dumping of poisoned dog carcasses in water bodies not only destroys the environment but is also a threat to human life.

 Karlekar points out that the gulf between human and animal life is non existent and is based on prejudiced mindsets which have evolved over many generations. Various experiments have shown that higher animals such as dolphins, elephants, apes and dogs do possess some amount of intelligence and self-awareness.

The author laments the fact that the service and loyalty of animals towards human beings are often conveniently ignored. Instead, animals are condemned for the sins of a miniscule minority and denied inclusion and protection within the realm of moral order in our self appointed anthropocentric universe. In addition, Karlekar, using serial killers as an example, emphasizes the fact that cruelty to animals desensitizes the humaneness in human beings which can often result in the aggressive tendency graduating from animal targets to human victims.
Although western philosophy and religion excludes animals from the rational universe, from an ethical point of view, no religion advocates cruelty to animals. It is the opinion of this reviewer that as rational beings we should treat them with compassion and empathy if not with respect.
Some readers may dislike Karlekar’s comparison the mass slaughter of stray dogs with genocide.
However, far from exaggerating the situation or considering animals as more important than humans, the author simply uses such analogies to denounce the injustice of the plight of the unfortunate strays where an entire species is blamed for the sins of a few.

This book is a must read for all animal lovers as well as those who are not.


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Reviewed by Catherina Moss Designed by Subhadip Mukherjee