The news of a group of young men in Rampura burying a dog and her puppies alive after wrapping them in plastic bags must have jolted a lot of people, especially Bangladeshis who have pets and are animal lovers.
But, to be honest, treating animals harshly is not a new phenomenon here. In fact, in our collective psyche, positive changes towards treatment of animals have been slow.
Not saying that we do not love animals, especially dogs and cats, but having a pet at home is still limited even within educated families with liberal views.
Well, perhaps the word “educated” has to be defined outside the clichéd definition here.
In the recent Rampura case, it was an act of premeditated killing. The plastic bags were used so that the animals would be smothered. Eventually, the locals alerted the police and the murderers -- all young men -- were taken to custody.
But, even if animals are not killed outright, general treatment towards animals is often abysmal. While there are a few animal welfare organisations active in Bangladesh, public awareness needs to build in the cities and beyond.
The killing of the dog and her puppies made me remember a series of cruel animal treatment that we saw when we were in our teens.
Stoning for pleasure
The earliest memory of cruelty goes back to the late 70s, when it was a common habit for people to pick up a stone and hurl it at a stray dog or cat. This abhorrent act still remains. If you ask someone about where the fun in throwing stones at a cat or a dog is, that person will possibly give you a silly grin and change the topic. In fact, there isn’t any answer.
We saw our seniors do it and then the habit came to us by osmosis.
Once, in the late 70s, when we were in school, our academic books had images of young boys killing birds using a rubber slingshot. Today, no child is given this hand-held weapon as a toy, though, back then, this was a standard playing tool. Slingshots were used with either small marbles or pieces of stones.
In a connected Bangladesh, transformations are taking place in how we perceive the world and think about our place in it. However, as the recent incident in Rampura clearly shows, cruelty towards animals remains intact
Boys in groups went around merrymaking, targeting birds, and bringing home game to be cooked. That was also a period when hunting was a common winter-time adventure for people owning rifles.
Many urban and influential rural families owned guns and routinely went on family hunting trips to the nearby forest areas. Come to think of it, the Baridhara area, a marshland-type swamp some 35 years ago, was a favourite bird-shooting spot.
While killing birds for pleasure was deemed normal, using air-guns to shoo away a barking dog at night or the persistent cat was also common.
Possibly, this liberal and accepting attitude towards hunting injected in us a cavalier take on the cruel treatment of other animals around us.
If it’s exotic, kill it
This is another reprehensible dimension to our treatment of animals which is not uncommon. In the mid-90s, in Mohammadpur, an armadillo suddenly came out of a massive garbage bin. With its funnel like face and shelled body, it looked a little different. The locals got together, took out sharp instruments, sticks, and what have you, and beat it to death.
The same thing happened when a shushuk, a sweet-water dolphin or Ganges River Dolphin, was unfortunate enough to be caught in a fishing net. The aquatic beauty was quickly cut and the pieces sold with the lure of a delicacy.
This habit of killing an animal is somewhat entrenched in our minds. This possibly comes from an inner feeling of fear coupled with a primal instinct of savagery.
Still today, if a fishing cat (baagdash) is found within a rural locality, it’s rarely caught and handed over to the forestry officials. Instead, the locals form a posse and, in a festive atmosphere, put an end to its life.
A few years ago, a man living near a forest area taped himself firing shots at herds of deer. Later, he posted a photo of him on Facebook with the dead animal at his feet.
Thankfully, a wide social media backlash prompted the Jim Corbett-wannabe to remove the images.
Changes are slow
Once a sociologist friend expressed that such heartless behaviour has links to the series of famines this part of the world experienced in the past: “At that time, men, women, and animals competed to get food, and an inherent viciousness towards the opponent was sown in the minds; this was later passed on to later generations in the manifestation of this violent behaviour.”
Fortunately, in a connected Bangladesh, transformations are taking place in how we perceive the world and think about our place in it.
However, as the recent incident in Rampura clearly shows, cruelty towards animals remains intact.
The police are reportedly keeping an eye on the perpetrators, but some exemplary punishments are essential in order to create a strong social sense.
Didn’t I use the word “educated” at the beginning?
Well, near my home, there is a road-side settlement where day-time scavengers and rubbish collectors stay in ramshackle makeshift huts.
These people raise pandemonium now and then with the sort of language which can make a sailor blush.
Quarrels are regular, often leading to scuffles or fights with bamboo sticks. Yet, among them lives a massive dog known in the area as “mota.” He sleeps most of the day, wanders about, lives like a king, gives the spooks to a newcomer with his gigantic frame while the vagrants feed him as the exchange expletives.
I am learning a new definition of the word “educated.”
As Oscar Wilde said: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.