Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

One of the effects of this corona pandemic is to make you think about your lungs and respiratory system. Can you breathe easily?

It is vitally important to protect your lungs. There are things you cannot control individually (like air pollution, unless you have a factory that is creating it. Don’t add to it by bursting firecrackers or using a car when you can walk. Reduce it by planting trees). But you can control your food.

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Rosamund Young has written a book called the Secret Life of Cows which, surprisingly for a book on animals, has shot to the Top Ten bestseller list of the Sunday Times. It is a very sweet small book about the animals she has brought up and interacted with, specially cows, in her Kitt’s Nest farm in England. She has treated them with kindness and consideration, kept them in as natural conditions as possible. And she has been rewarded with watching an entire other world of innocence and love, play and happiness. She knows all of them by name and describes their personalities.

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

In Pilibhit, as in most districts of the Tarai, a large number of vehicles are still horse drawn. This is not just true of this area, but over most northern states. There are horses being used in Delhi as well – even though we have had them banned from most parts of the city.

I have a People For Animals hospital in Bareilly, and not a day passes when my team does not get a call from all the neighbouring districts to pick up a horse which has been in an accident, broken its leg because of the unevenness of the dreadful village roads, or has simply been abandoned because it collapsed from general weakness and an overload of passengers. Many horses lose their hooves because they are badly shod. Their feet swell and develop gangrene. Many horses have the dreaded disease glanders and are undiagnosed and untreated till they fall and die.

Some horses have bruised eyes from the constant hitting, and swollen legs from nails that make holes in their hooves and go right into the bone. Health assessment reports, done for PETA by a team of government veterinarians from the Maharashtra Department of Animal Husbandry on local working horses, found that they were all suffering from malnourishment, wounds all over their bodies, inflamed tendons, ligaments and joints. The veterinarians stated that if the horses were put to work again, their painful ailments would likely worsen to the point of permanent disability. A field clinic, done by Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V.  and IPAN in Ooty, showed 350 horses suffering from traumatic injuries and hoof problems caused by poor hoof trimming or incorrect shoeing.

Many equines at blood-extracting facilities suffer from anaemia, as well as untreated wounds, diseased hooves, malnourishment, infections, parasites, swollen limbs, lameness, and eye abnormalities.

No horses are kept by their owners in any covered area. In Pilibhit I see them tied to stakes at the edge of roads. They have no way to protect themselves from the burning heat of the sun, heavy rainfall or the extreme cold of winter. They get no fresh water, and their food comes in a bag tied round their neck, which they can eat between passenger stops. 

The risk of traffic accidents is huge. The search for fresh grass also poses deadly dangers for the animals. Horses need to spend upto 18 hours a day eating. The subsequent chewing of the food contributes to their well-being. But, since they are rarely let free from work, they have no time to eat or forage, and end up near overflowing rubbish. By eating food scraps found in the rubbish bins, they also consume plastic parts which, over time, form an indigestible plastic lump in the stomach, ending up with intestinal obstruction and intestinal perforation.

Many of the horses are impregnated forcibly. The mother and foal don’t stay very long together, as the foal is sold.

If the horse is white and female she is used for the most hellish purpose: the Indian marriage baraat. The violently loud music, the screaming and dancing crowd, the muzzle on her face, the hours of walking and waiting, the chomping on an iron bit that breaks her teeth… imagine the fear and pain that the horse goes through. Many horses are so traumatized that they bite their tongues and cannot chew food for weeks after that.

No horses get any medical help. Not only are the government veterinarians untrained in horses (or any other animal) but all the local veterinary clinics have no equipment or medicine. They do practically nothing. If you want to wish for a job which pays excellently and in which you have to do nothing, pray to be a government vet in India.

So how do we solve this problem ?

India has about 12 lakh working horses and mules. They are overworked, underfed, underwatered and never treated for any ailments. It is about time we regulated this. I made the laws on how many people could sit on a horse drawn cart, thirty years ago. They have been completely ignored by the local police and administrative departments. Technically, not more than 4 people can sit. But I have never seen less than 15.

What is needed is a regulatory regime that brings in money. That money can be spent on shoring horses properly, giving them a regular check up with deworming and anti-tetanus injections. Farriers can be trained in proper hoof care. I have suggested to the DM of Pilibhit that he make it compulsory for every horse owner to register his horse, and the registration is to be renewed annually. He will have to pay some money, and this will be used to give the horse a complete checkup and the necessary medicines, including shoeing the animal. Unlicenced horses will be confiscated. If the horses of an owner die too soon, he can be banned from keeping more horses.

This will achieve a minimum level of care for the animals and make the owner responsible. It will bring some money to the administration of each district’s veterinary hospital and hopefully, it will act as a deterrent for keeping/using horses. I hope to see this practice complete during my lifetime.

The first horse emerged from the depth of the ocean during the churning of the ocean. Called Ichchaihshravas, the winged horse was taken by Indra to Svarga. His descendants were wingless and were sent to earth. One of the famous avataras of Vishu is Hayagriva, the horse headed, and he stands for Knowledge. How sad that his descendants have become such pathetic victims of man's cruelty. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., www.peopleforanimalsindia. org

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

On March 24th, when the lockdown was announced, I immediately gave my phone number across the country for all animal volunteers to use if they needed help. I thought that perhaps a few organisations would get in touch. Not so. Thousands of calls started coming in from people who needed passes for feeding, people who were being accosted by the street police while feeding and people who were suffering from the viciousness of RWAs.  I am delighted by the coming of age of the volunteer animal movement. Now that we have over one lakh people whom I can identify across India, the next step is to organize them into legal champions and policy makers in their states.

Some people, to my delight, have become leaders during this time: Kaveri Rana of Noida, Chetna Joshi, Gurgaon, Nirali Koradia, Lata Parmar, Mumbai,  Shivanand Dambal, Bangalore, Nighat Lone of Kashmir, Rumpy Madaan of Jammu, Tejovanth Anopunjo in Guntur, Ajay Daga of Kolkata, Shakuntala Majumdar of Thane, Norma Alvares of Goa, Gauri Maulekhi and Meenakshee Awasthi, to name a few. Two people who stand out are Ishita Yadav and Kanika Dewan who handled my communications with the country – so that everyone knew the laws of different states immediately.

I spoke to practically all the Chief Ministers and Chief Secretaries. Barring the Jharkhand CM, whom, I was told by his household staff, refuses to speak to anyone and does not even carry a phone, and the Telengana CM who is a law unto himself, all of them immediately understood the need for feeding animals during this time. Naveen Patnaik immediately announced that money for feeding animals would be given to each Nagar Palika and municipality. Each Chief Secretary was mature, open to learning and understood what would happen if the street animals were not fed. All except one, that is. The Chief Secretary of Punjab gave me a long, ill informed and pompous lecture on how I should think of people first and to hell with every other species. But even he pales before the arrogance and bad temper of the Chief Secretary of Telegana who, till today, has banned passes for anyone, and has been the least helpful to any common citizen for anything till now.

In every state practically, all the police seniors, from SHOs and DCPs to the Commissioners of the city and DGPs of the states have been wonderful. They were sensible, flexible and mature in their responses and above all, compassionate. They came on the lines directly and were willing to listen to the smallest problems. Of them the three outstanding heads of police have been the Commissioners of Delhi, Srivastava, Mumbai's Paramvir Singh and Bangalore's Bhaskar Rao. They helped feeders, changed timings to suit people instead of being rigid, and intervened to solve problems. The DCPs of Mumbai and Delhi have been equally intelligent and quick in their responses. While the SPs of Punjab were usually helpful, their people on the ground, specially Ludhiana, were a nuisance.

A special mention of Haryana where the least harassment took place in any district. The Municipal Commissioner of Gurgaon is a good, intelligent man and he found solutions quickly. I would like to thank the CM of Haryana for showing the way with his practical approach.

On the other hand, the street police have been a nuisance. Quick to stop and hit, many were unnecessarily abusive – specially in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Thane. Jharkhand typically thought of a make-money solution and stood on the road, often in plain clothes, threatening to arrest people who had passes unless they gave money. I spoke to the SP in one case and it, perhaps, stopped. In one case, an SHO in Delhi went prowling every night to find women feeders, and to take them back to his thana where he sat and chatted with them till 12 or so at night. I had to complain three times, as this seemed to be a perversion rather than disciplinary action. He stopped.

The district collectors were equally amazing except for the woman in Mangalore who used her “power” to be mean to the poor. All the others came forward to be as kind as possible. They did not insulate themselves, they solved problems and, for once, showed what bureaucracy, if headed by the gentle, could do.  Chandigarh, inspite of having a good DC, had the least sense when it came to giving passes. The person in charge gave passes to each applicant for two hours per day, forcing them to come back daily, go through police pickets, and increase the chances of spreading Corona. The local veterinary hospital, the SPCA was also closed for no reason. Compare this stupidity to the instant responses of the head of Mohali, Dayalan and the head of Panchkula, who not only involved local NGOs with their own people, but also responded to animal sickness and accident cases with vets who treated them on the spot.

A special mention of Tamil Nadu where I had to intervene the least. Business people, hotels and animal groups. like the Blue Cross, joined together to feed and care for animals. Only the IIT-M in Chennai, headed by what the films called a “Shyana” (oversmart) head used his particular form of “scientific knowledge” to be mean to students who had stayed behind specifically to feed campus animals. A very big thank you to the Jindal University students who, en masse, revolted against the administration's viciousness until they had to cave in. 600 students joined the Animal Welfare Club. 

Which places stressed me the most : Pune, which has an excellent Collector but over 2000 really cantankerous feeders. Fortunately, Neha Panchamia of ResQ and Puneeta Khanna of PFA took most of my burden after a bit. Bangalore, where most feeders spent a lot of time fighting with each other and Thane Mira Road where people who took their passes misused them.

There are two categories that have made me really sad: the press and society associations which we call RWAs.

The press spread the filthiest and most untrue rumours all the time. One channel would do it. Then I would intervene to ask them to stop which they would, and then another would start. ABP of Kolkata was the worst with a constant tirade against cats. This led to thousands of cats being abused, and to many deaths. When they stopped News18 and Dainik Bhaskar took it up. They stopped when doctors pitched in to tell the truth, including India’s head of Community Medicine Dr C.K.Pandav, and the head of AIIMs Dr Guleria and the head of all the Veterinary Universities that have been researching this. As I speak, Aaj Tak has started now with accusing dogs of giving the virus – in spite of the fact that not a single dog or cat has got it till now. But no doubt animal haters will use this.  Local channels like the little known Siddharth TV in Bangalore and the Print pick up this kind of news. Why has the press been doing this ?  With a captive audience and no news except COVID, they look to raise TRPs by creating fears. I am waiting for them to announce that ants and cockroaches give the virus.

The Society Welfare Associations, usually headed by old vicious retirees, behaved so disgracefully across the country that this entire system of RWAs should be abolished. As it is, it has no legal standing. But that did not stop them from attacking people in their communities for feeding animals, making guards hit all animals, stopping people from coming down to let their animals go to the bathroom even if they cleaned the place, ranting  viciously on  community Facebooks against residents, entering people’s homes and giving them notices to leave, closing gates at random with their paid security guards to stop people with legal passes from feeding street animals. They got even braver when the feeders or keepers of animals were women-only households or single women. It has been like World War 3 on every community across India. When I intervened, as I do in about 50+ cases a day with the laws, then they backed down but generally I am appalled to see so much hatred generated at a time when we should be the calmest and most generous. We should look closely at who stands for election here, because it impacts much more than an MP or MLA election.

We are now entering Phase 2. The feeders are running out of money. While the demand for passes is more or less over – I now need to ask for less than 20 a day (as compared to 500 a day) – but the RWA cruelties are increasing. And, as people get bored, they look for reasons to be unhappy and fight. Meditate, play cards, read, don’t watch TV, feed birds and animals and above all, be compassionate. The Prime Minister himself has asked you to think of the homeless animals at this time. This is not a world they made. So be kind.

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

While we all know that crows are very bright, few people know about the abilities and intelligence of the pigeon.

Pigeons can multitask – do more jobs at the same time – than humans. In an experiment by scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, test groups of humans and pigeons were trained to do jobs like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on. They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. Humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed. In the tests, where the subjects had to wait one second before switching jobs, pigeons were much quicker.

A 2015 study revealed that pigeons can identify cancer and distinguish between malignant and benign growths. Researchers at University of California, Davis Medical Center, put pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat. According to Scientific American, "Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing that the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

They ride the metro to get to their feeding stations, getting off at the same place every day. Which means they can count, remember fellow passengers and where they get off and landmarks.

They recognize people who are nice to them and avoid people who are mean, according to an experiment done in Paris in 2011.  Researchers of a similar age, build and colour either scared pigeons away or gave them food.  They repeated this for several days. The pigeons knew the feeder from the chaser—even when they swapped outfits—and would flock or run away accordingly. The study team led by Dr Dalila concluded: "The fact, that the pigeons appeared to know that clothing colour was not a good way of telling humans apart, suggests that the birds have developed abilities to discriminate between humans in particular.

Pigeons have extraordinary vision and can distinguish between nearly identical shades of colour.

They can also read the alphabet, if taught. In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

They understand abstract mathematical concepts, differentiate between number-like objects, order pairs, and accurately judge amounts – an ability that they share with only rhesus monkeys.

In the 1950s, psychologist B.F Skinner taught his pigeons to play ping pong – a game that requires a great deal of spatial understanding and dexterity. In 2017 a research published in Current Biology showed that pigeons understood the concepts of space and time.

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues trained pigeons in 1995 to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements and watercolor paintings from pastels. In a 2009 experiment, pigeons were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Like humans, pigeons categorise on the basis of colour, texture and general appearance. Pigeons can differentiate between photographs and even two different human beings in a single photograph.

Pigeons have been found to pass the ‘mirror test’, the ability to recognise their own reflection in a mirror. The pigeon is one of only 6 species, and the only non-mammal, to have this ability.

They are very good parents. They share equally in the nesting duty, dividing the responsibility of incubating their eggs to give the other a chance to eat and rest. You will never see a baby pigeon, because  pigeon parents keep their children in their well-hidden nests until their young reach near-maturity. The pigeon parents only reveal their babies to the world once they practically look like adults. They mate for life and it’s a love that endures. If one is sick, the other will wait by her in public, no matter what the danger to its life.

These swift and smart birds are blessed with navigational expertise, have an exceptional memory for topographical details and excellent hearing and vision. When they come down to eat at places where people leave food they don’t push and shove each other. You never see them fight. They eat in harmony and everyone gets something. Apart from impressive acrobatics to avoid being eaten, pigeons also do backflips in the air just for fun !

Charles Darwin was fascinated by their intelligence. He kept them as pets, joined pigeon clubs and wrote about them extensively.

Today they survive in tough cities, endure being starved and killed by ignorant and vicious municipal corporations, persecuted and crippled by passersby and traffic. They carry on wanting to live with humans with a grim persistence. They eat the rubbish we throw and the chasing of our children, the kicks and the blows. And still they come forth to make friends. They could find their way in the countryside – like most birds who have abandoned our urban areas – but they choose to stay.

Left to me I would make them the mascots of the city. Feed them. They represent your soul; bewildered and yet resilient.

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