Two children were killed by feral dogs in Delhi at the weekend, their family say, reigniting a debate on the growing conflict between stray dogs and humans.
Anand, seven, and his five-year-old brother Aditya, who lived in a slum near the affluent neighbourhood of Vasant Kunj, were allegedly mauled to death by a pack of dogs in two separate incidents.
In both cases, the brothers went into the Sanjay Van forest to relieve themselves, before being attacked, their family said.
“We did not see the dogs attacking them but both of them had deep wounds from an animal attack … my nephew saw some dogs with blood on their mouth,” their mother Sushma told local media.
A police officer, who was investigating Anand’s death, reportedly heard the commotion and took Aditya to the nearest hospital where he was declared dead.
India has witnessed a number of similar incidents in recent weeks, sparking renewed debate on striking the right balance between protecting the rights of humans and animals — including dogs.
As per Indian law, street dogs cannot be beaten, killed, driven away or displaced.
A month-old baby was reportedly killed by stray dogs at a government-run hospital in Rajasthan’s Sirohi district earlier this month. The hospital's CCTV footage showed two dogs entering the ward and then emerging with the infant.
Two weeks ago, five-year-old Pradeep was killed in southern Hyderabad city after a pack attacked him. A surveillance camera captured the moment the child was walking down a street when three dogs ran at him.
“What are we doing? These sorts of incidents are increasing day by day," said Narsimha, a Twitter user. "Do we have any importance for children over stray dogs? Please take some action over this issue. Make it safe for children and senior citizens to walk alone.”
Another Twitter user said the municipality should be charged with criminal ignorance.
“The outbreak of stray dogs is spreading not only in Delhi but in the whole country. Hardly there will be any city where there are no stray dogs on the road,” Sanjay Verma wrote.
Karti P Chidambaram, a parliamentarian from southern Tamil Nadu, has demanded the federal government form a task force to find humane ways to deal with the "menace".
India is home to more than 62 million dogs, according to the State of Pet Homelessness Index, and reports 1.75 million cases of dog bites annually, as per the World Health Organisation.
The large stray population is seen as a public health concern as many dogs carry diseases such as rabies, with India leading the global list of rabies cases and some 20,000 deaths annually, according to the WHO.
Whether a rural or an urban setting, stray dogs are seen everywhere, living within human settlements, in large packs and feeding off rubbish and food left by animal lovers.
Experts blame their aggressive behaviour and attacks on humans on failed sterilisation programmes that are allowing the dog population to grow in the country.
India’s Animal Welfare Board has mandated municipalities across India to sterilise stray dogs to maintain and stabilise their population.
But the government said last year that municipalities had failed to implement the programme, leading to the overpopulation of dogs and triggering conflicts with humans.
“It is the duty of municipalities to run an effective dog sterilisation programme… getting dogs sterilised has been a requirement for 21 years — and if all municipalities had been taken this lawful duty seriously, there would hardly be any dogs on the road today,” Sachin Bangera, vice president of celebrity and public relations at PETA India, told The National.
Mr Bangera said sterilising just one female dog can prevent 67,000 births in six years, accounting for births spared also by dogs who would have been offspring.
“Sterilised dogs are also far less likely to bite because they aren’t fighting over mates or protecting puppies,” he said.
But it is not only the animals who attack humans. In trepidation of attacks, the dogs have also been assaulted by people.
A video from Noida, a satellite city outside Delhi, went viral last week, showing a dog being thrashed by two stick-wielding men.
Residents killed a stray dog in eastern Bihar state in January after it went on a biting spree and attacked more than 100 people.
There have also been incidents where acid was thrown at the canines after residents failed to shoo them away.
The Kerala government in September unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court seeking the culling of violent and vicious stray dogs amid rising incidents of attacks.
Gaurav Sharma, a Delhi-based independent animal right activist, said that the government was unable to control the population as well as failed to provide shelters to keep dogs away from humans.
“The government should ideally provide a good facility where dogs can be kept, they can be sterilised and they get food and keep an eye on them,” he said.