Wednesday, November 01, 2017

A call for help for Pratima Devi

This is an update - a composite of my social-media posts from the last two days - about Pratima Devi, the “kutton waali Amma” of the PVR Saket complex, whose house was demolished by the MCD on October 30, leaving her and dozens of dogs with no shelter just as the winter chill sets in. Yesterday, Ambika Shukla and her team got a makeshift tent constructed with tarpaulin, and we cleared up a lot of the rubble. The hope for the moment is that the MCD and the cops will let her stay under the tarpaulin for some time at least. Meanwhile we are looking at legal representation.

There has already been some media coverage; here are a few points that might provide context to anyone else who can help:

- For a few weeks, an MCD councillor has been harassing Amma with accusations that she is supplying drugs to little boys in the complex. I know this to be nonsense. A few years ago, when Amma was unwell and didn't have much support for dog-feeding etc, she allowed some kids and adolescents to hang around at her place, even sleep on her charpoys etc - in exchange for what help they could provide with looking after the animals - and some of these kids were addicts. This has made it easier to spread rumours about her.

- While the land she has been occupying obviously isn't hers, she has got certain papers including an Aadhar card with a "PVR complex" address, and an electricity bill in her name, with a meter.

- There were other official papers - I don't know all the details, but I saw a couple of them myself a few years ago - by the MCD, giving her permission to occupy a spot near the complex. Now, apparently, some of those papers have vanished. Amma and her son claim that the councillor bribed one of her helpers to steal them from her trunk. I don't want to take such accusations at face value, but it is of course a possibility.

- During an argument with some onlookers (including a parking attendant and a shopkeeper who have old grudges against Amma), I was told things like "She is polluting this posh complex by keeping all these dogs here." Similar claims have been repeated in a Times of India story today (November 1). Which is rubbish. More than anyone, she has helped in regulating the dog population (regular sterilisations and vaccinations are carried out) and in keeping them content and non-aggressive by feeding them.

Just after the demolition
If the shopkeepers think the dogs are going to magically vanish if she is evicted, they are deluded; the MCD doesn’t have the authority to pick up stray dogs and dispose of them or relocate them. On the contrary, things will get much worse because now there will be dozens of frightened, hungry strays - used to being well looked after -  who will encroach on the complex and surrounding areas, and make life very difficult for everyone. But maybe that is part of the plan: to build a stronger case against the very presence of street dogs.

 – Apart from those who have been kind enough to offer help in the form of money or provisions, for those of you in Delhi and with some time to spare: do go across and meet Amma sometime in the next few days, just for a short while. It’s important to show the people who are keeping an eye on her from a distance - cops, MCD, the market association - that she has plenty of support. Call me if you’re coming. I have a lot to handle at home and in hospital, and my time is never my own, but I can try to come by.


P.S. Amma has been written about in newspapers and featured on news channels in the past - see this piece in Mint Lounge, for example. And here is my first post about her from a few years ago.

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