Raksha: Make a Difference Interview
In conversation with Vanshika Gupta
Ms. Bhoomika Bhagat who is part of the magazine, Rupantar: The Destiny for Revolution, spoke to the Founder of Raksha NGO, Ms. Vanshika Gupta, and got an interaction about issues faced by the Animals Rescue Organization and their work at ‘Raksha: Make a Difference’.
1. Why did you start Raksha?
A: Raksha started as a group initiative for teaching poor kids, and so we had no idea how bad the condition is for animals because we had never interacted with stray animals at that time much. We just gave them food and stuff. There was a break in that teaching process for some time for people who are trying to rescue animals and train them and try to make their lives better. When I returned to Allahabad, someone had left a very big and injured dog in front of my house. I didn’t know what to do, I started calling people in Delhi who guided me on what to do because I couldn’t find anyone here who could help. We looked for NGOs, vets, anyone who could help but didn’t find any and that’s when I knew we could do something to help. People usually look once, twice, thrice for someone who can help, but after that incident, I realized we should step up and do something about it, or people will feel like there is no point in trying. We got it registered, and after that, we became so involved we couldn’t focus on anything else. We set up a helpline and ended up getting 12-13 calls every day about injured and sick animals in Allahabad
2. As an organization working for Animal Welfare, what are the difficulties you face while working in small cities and villages in India?
A: When you first begin, being a woman I can tell you that it's really hard to do anything because no matter what you are doing, where you are doing when you are doing, it is always difficult. People ask, “Why are you doing this?/Why would you do this?”
People would ask, “Why did you go there? Come back on time,” etc. Why are you roaming around at this time alone? Whatever we have built at Raksha happened because I never relied on people. Even when volunteers come today and help out, there are times when they don’t and I have to do everything on my own. If I rely on people then I’ll always be unsure of how they would manage everything. First of all, you don’t really get help from people. Thousands of people will offer their help but when you need them to help in related to animals, they don’t show up. They are eager to be animal lovers on social media but when something requires help they don’t show up.
Across the community also, even in the areas where we have sheltered our dogs, we get calls from people who are animal lovers, who are feeding these animals, and they want us to take them away because people are harming them. People living around cause a lot of trouble.
3. As an organization working in this field you must be aware about cases of animal cruelty lately in Indian societies. Would you like to share any such incident or instance which still haunts you?
A: There are a lot of cases of animal cruelty. Once there was a dog who was beaten up and thrown in a sewer --well, he was trapped inside, and we were told that he was dead. When we opened it, he was crying inside and alive. There have been so many incidents. There were dogs who were hanged, dogs who were beaten up and killed, pregnant dogs who were kicked and killed, who were run over on purpose, so there are so many cruelty cases.
4. What do you think? Are all Indian citizens including government bodies, policymakers & the local population, aware about the cruel treatment/conduct with animals? If aware, do they stand and protest against such cruelty? Do they contribute in any other way?
A: The police department, of course, never helps, because it is a joke for them. Animal cruelty is something to laugh about because there have been incidents where we have been beaten up, where I have been beaten up while working, and when we went to file a report, it was a joke. They just sit. There was a colony of judges and inspectors who told me I should not take this personally because that was not to harm you personally but because you interrupted them when you were throwing away the pups. Since it is a social cause, you should not take it personally when it happens, they would tell me.
5. How did you cope with this scale of violence? Because it's not just animals that were harmed, but you as well.
A: It is very exhausting-- mentally, emotionally, physically, in every way but the only thing that keeps me going is that you have to do what is right, no matter what it takes because if you don’t do it, nothing is going to change. You have to take a stance. If someone is harming someone and there is a potential threat to me, I can’t just stand by and watch the animal that is dying. It is very hard because there have been instances where people gathered outside my house and-- my mother, sister, and I were beaten up. They planned it beforehand. We filed an FIR--it has been more than a year and a half but nothing has been done.
The law enforcement is of no help. There was a time when dogs were being illegally relocated, so we interrupted, and we asked them why it was happening. We called the police, the police helpline. They had no idea dogs were not supposed to be relocated. Instead of telling the crowd not to do that, they charged us. They took us to the police station and held us there for hours, threatening that we would not go home. I don’t think I have ever received support from the police.
However, now there is a change. In the last year, in the last 3 years, there seems to have been a change. When I called 112, most of them knew me already because there had been so many incidents.
There has been a change, which is amazing. I’m always told you’re so young, you should be concentrating on your career instead of helping these animals. You could do so much better and I always say, “You do what you do, and you don’t do what you don’t do.” While I am focusing on my life and my career, this is an equally important cause that deserves attention. There have been times where we struggled too much. I think luck is with me all the time because I get into trouble but I also get out of it. Authorities sometimes recognized me when I or my volunteers got stuck. It takes time, and a lot of your peace, but things do change. If I look at how things were three years ago and now, there has been changing. People had no idea or time to consider the animals living around them in their streets but at least they consider that now.
6. What’s your opinion about ‘the role of today's youth and responsible citizens regarding animal welfare and taking further steps to stop cruelty against animals?
A: Frankly speaking, what I could say about the youth of the country based on my experience, is that there are people who obviously make excuses but I have seen people who do something about things that are wrong in front of them. Sometimes people want to help but their families will be targets. I can honestly say that my family didn’t allow all this. When I went to the station for the first time, they were obviously worried, they were saying the police will charge you for things you didn’t do, etc.
Most of our volunteers are youth, who are animal lovers who want to bring a change and help animals. They have done very difficult rescues with us, but they had to stop because their parents didn’t like them volunteering with an NGO or going to a police station.
7. As an organization do you want to suggest any of the ways and means in which a common citizen can contribute towards animal welfare? We would love to hear from your side
A: First of all, the very first thing you can do is not harm them. If you think of stray dogs especially, which are very common animals you can see around, if you feed them or don’t feed them, care for them or don’t care for them, they will still stay there and try to eat and survive. So if you try to feed them, it will not change much for them but it will change a lot for you. If you feed them one roti, it will not fill their stomach, but you will feel satisfied that you have helped. If you cannot even do that, you can avoid harming them. I believe that if somebody is suffering or dying in front of you in spite of you being there, that is your responsibility. Many times we get called and we say we are not able to take care of them right now due to a shortage of resources and we get very rude responses from them. They just tell us the area, they don’t tell us their names. They just want us to take the animal away and go, and if we don’t do that, we are a fake NGO to them! If an animal is in pain, suffering, dying of sickness or disease and you don’t do anything, you are responsible. You can try to call somebody for help, but if they are unable to help you can try to reduce the animal’s suffering by taking them to a vet. I don’t expect people to keep these animals at home, but this is the least I can expect people to do -- no matter how busy they are or how important they are.