| A kalandhar with his bear. A Telegraph picture
New Delhi, Oct. 31: Animals will march against the animal lover, if the President and the Prime Minister agree to meet them.
The unusual request to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Atal Bihari Vajpayee came after kalandhars (street performers) decided to complain against former Union minister Maneka Gandhi for harassing them.
The kalandhars, who plan to lead scores of monkeys, bears, owls and parakeets, want licence for street performance and an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1998, to end the “atrocities” against them by Maneka.
Their complaint is the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Maneka have made their lives miserable, robbing them of their only livelihood by getting them arrested and confiscating their pets in the name of preventing cruelty.
There are over 10 lakh kalandhars who eke out a living by performing on the streets with their animals and birds.
Dhirendra Pratap, president of the Kalandhar Panchayat, accused Maneka of double standards. “About 140 monkeys which looted food from residential colonies and created ruckus in government offices have been caught by the Delhi administration and kept in a cage in Rajokri, near Delhi, owing to lack of space. Is that not cruelty' They were not provided water or food properly and some of them ran away. Why is Maneka silent'” he asked.
Pratap said hundreds of goats, buffaloes and pigs are slaughtered for meat everyday and the government has even provided slaughterhouses. “Oxen are used for tilling farm and, in Calcutta, tonga carts pulled by horses are still in vogue. The horses are forced to wear iron shoes. Isn’t that cruelty'
“Whereas the kalandhars love their animals and birds and take proper care of them, Maneka Gandhi is not worried about these hapless goats, pigs and horses. She is after the poor kalandhars, who are following their ancient tradition,” Pratap said.
To make matters worse, Maneka, in a recent article, called them “thieves” and “murderers”, alleged Zakir Hussein, general secretary of the Kalandhar Samaj. The angry kalandhars burnt her effigy and held demonstrations at a few places in Delhi and Haryana.
Hussein said they wrote to the President and the Prime Minister on October 22, requesting an audience. “If we get the appointment, we will march to Rashtrapati Bhavan and 7 Race Course Road along with bandars (monkeys), ulloos (owls), bhaloos (bear) and totas (parrot) to plead with Vajpayeeji and Rashtrapatiji not to wreck our livelihood,” said Hussein.
Pratap said Maneka, in her article, also alleged that kalandhars “stole langoors from forest(s)”, which was far from the truth. It also betrayed her ignorance about the kalandhar community, he said, because they used monkeys and not langoors for street performances. Langoors and monkeys do not co-exist, he added.