Morning walkers strode into a pet debate at Rabindra Sarobar on Wednesday as Trinamul MLA and animal rights activist Debasree Roy made a pitch for allowing pooches at the Lakes.
No dog, pet or stray, is allowed at south Calcutta’s preferred morning walk zone — a rule that animal lovers called “colonial to the core” and “a rude reminder of the times when British-only public places carried the ‘No Indian and dogs allowed’ sign”.
A board at the gate put up by the Calcutta Improvement Trust, the custodians of Rabindra Sarobar, says animals aren’t allowed on the premises — without specifically mentioning dogs, which are aplenty on the sprawling lakeside park in the form of strays.
But many Sarobar regulars were in no mood to change the no-entry rule — unwritten but strictly followed in case of pet dogs — not even on a small portion of the Lakes to satisfy Debasree’s demand.
They argued that the place would get dirty if the “ban” is lifted because pet owners allegedly never care to clean up the “poop and pee” of their dogs; and there’s always the risk of dog bites. The Lakes are a much cleaner and safer place now that the dogs are out, they said.
The dissenting voices prompted Debasree to take out a rally demanding unrestricted entry for not only pets but also the right to feed stray dogs at the Lakes. She asked people to resist anyone ill-treating pets and street dogs.
Morning walk turned into a protest march from the gates of Calcutta Rowing Club to the memorial for victims of the AMRI fire tragedy, with the actor-legislator in the front and singer Monomoy Bhattacharjee a step behind her. “No one should be allowed to ill-treat dogs or even people who love or bring dogs. Who are they to decide that dogs cannot be fed in the Lakes?” she said.
“You should feed the dogs at the Lakes. If you want you can even feed the fish in the water,” she said.
Sources said the trigger for the rally was an incident about 10 days ago when a group of walkers allegedly humiliated poet Brinda Sen, who feeds about 20 dogs at the Lakes every day.
“What is wrong in giving food to street dogs. I serve food in a bowl to avoid littering the place. But the way I was humiliated, I cried in public. Since then, I am scared to go there alone,” said Sen who lives in Golpark.
Sen said she was upset about the fact that now she has to ask someone to accompany her to the Lakes. “Why should it be so? Why should I be scared to move around freely? Is it a crime to feed dogs?” she asked after the rally.
The poet explained that most of the stray dogs at Rabindra Sarobar forage on the pavements of Southern Avenue, barring “three timid ones”. “The trio never come out to search for food. They feel threatened in a large group. Do we leave them to die of hunger?” she asked.
The dog debate is an old one at the Lakes and keeps cropping up once in a while, mostly in the form of verbal confrontations. But arguments have escalated to bitter acrimony of late. Even the police are extra vigilant these days since two complaints of abuse have been lodged with Lake police station.
The deep division within the morning walkers prompted the police to deploy a posse of eight to accompany the rallyists.
Sumita Banerjee, a Lakes regular, said the place was converted into a clean place to catch a breath of fresh air after years of toil. “We are not opposed to people feeding dogs. All we want is they be fed outside the Lakes,” said the Triangular Park resident.
Many favoured the restrictions. “They never clean the place after their dogs urinate and defecate. Is it wrong to raise this point? We too have the right to walk in a clean place,” said a man who refused to give his name.
Businessman Ajay Daga, who marched with Debasree and 40 others, said: “It is the duty and responsibility of dog owners who bring their pets for a stroll to keep the place clean. We are not saying that they have the right to let their pets poop and pee anywhere. But the moot point is dogs should also get a place to take a stroll. Keeping them off the Lakes or stopping people from feeding stray dogs is inhuman.”