What a relief that those of us in the newspaper business can for once, after nearly two months, write without a sense of guilt about issues other than demographic concerns and anxieties. It is with such a sigh of relief that we too write of the menace of rabies today. A 2015 study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases said of the approximate 59,000 people who die from rabies every year, an overwhelming majority are in Asia and Africa. India alone, the report says, accounts for 20,847 deaths, more than one-third of the world`™s total, giving it the highest incidence of rabies globally. Furthermore, it is believed the actual number of rabies deaths in India could be much higher for many go unreported. Probably with a view to keeping with the World Health Organisation, WHO, pledge to eliminate rabies from the Asian region by the year 2020, in a number of Indian cities, stray dog culling has become common. Images of slaughtered dogs that appear in the media are however distressing, and many animal rights workers have begun campaigns to have the authorities tackle the problem in less cruel ways. Dogs after all are man`™s best friends. Manipur is not altogether free of the problem. Last year Churachanpur, and to a lesser extent, the two Imphal districts were in panic as rabies became an epidemic in these districts. Considering the manner in which dogs are reared in the state, with only very few owners caring to have their pets vaccinated regularly, the problem can surface again any time, and with costly consequences. The government must therefore take precautions in advance. We wouldn`™t recommend culling, but it must begin keeping stock of strays as well as domestic animals, be they cattle, horses but most specifically dogs, the latter being traditionally vulnerable to become carriers of rabies. While the government must take the responsibility of vaccinating and immunizing the strays, it must also think of a way to make it mandatory for owners to register their pets, and to vaccinate them. Perhaps it is a good idea to make pet owning against licenses only.
But it is not dogs and cats alone that become strays and live on the streets. There are also an increasing number of cattle and, surprisingly, horses. More than dogs and cats, they are a pitiable sight. It is not rare to see many of them painfully limping, lamed by motorcars, simply roaming around aimlessly on public tar tarmacs. Obviously, nobody wants them on their property, and understandably so, leaving them to make government public lands their homes, and in the cities, the most readily available are public roads. We wonder what they would be eating, left to fend for themselves in a city like Imphal, increasingly a concrete jungle. It is cruel for them, but it is also extremely inconvenient and even hazardous for traffic. The government must apply its mind to do something about this problem too. It must find a way to make their owners step forward to reclaim them or else they must be treated as ownerless and thus solely the government`™s responsibility to do whatever it thinks fit with them.
The stray animal phenomenon, especially in Imphal, also reflects a general mindset. It is indicative of the place`™s tendency to be obsessed with form without caring much for the substance. For a predominantly Hindu city, many of whom would object to cow slaughter, there is an embedded hypocrisy in this unconcern for the fate of homeless cattle on the streets. The same hypocrisy is unmistakable in the sight of lame horses hopping around on the roads with their dangling, bleeding limbs, in a land that prides itself for its ancient polo heritage. What is too often missed is, when the form is not matched by substance, the former becomes hollow. This is one of Manipur`™s abiding problems. The conceited nature of the collective ego demonstrated in these cases, is also very much the hurdle in so many other of its problem solving efforts. The time must come when everybody simply have to sit down and reassess themselves against the age they belong to. The form and the substance, or in these days of China obsession, the yin and yang, must be made to come to a stable equilibrium.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam