Shravan Krishnan from Chennai has been a busy man for the past week. His phone hasn't stopped buzzing, with messages from his 5,000 – mainly new – friends on Facebook. Some 22,000 more people recently following him are also constantly trying to keep in touch. Most of these are people who are concerned not so much about him but Bhadra – the five-month-old "Chennai dog" who was thrown off a terrace by a medical student in Chennai, but miraculously survived.
The video of the horrific incident went viral on Facebook on Monday, showing Gautam Sudarshan smiling and posing for the phone camera in the hand of his friend, Asish Paul, while he casually threw the clueless dog off the terrace. Krishnan, an animal rights activist, fought for police action against the culprits. The outrage that followed helped ensure that the city police and cyber cell followed the case assiduously.
Incredibly, the dog was found alive on Tuesday, with fractures in her right leg and spine. Since then, Krishnan has been in charge of tending to her. "We have named her Bhadra. #bhadrathewarrior," Krishnan posted on Facebook on Wednesday.
Facebook has helped him share regular updates on the pup’s well-being and the status of the case. “I don’t know how so many people were able to find me so quickly and add me as their friend,” Krishnan said. “It’s really heartwarming.”
He added: “Even the dog was found so quickly because the video circulated on social media and there were many people looking around the medical college. We initially thought it would be dead after such a steep fall but it just suffered severe injuries.”
But concern for Bhadra soon turned into rage once it was known how lightly the culprits were let off. While medical students Gautam Sudarshan and Asish Paul were forced by the management of their college to surrender before the police and later suspended, they were let off on bail after being produced before a magistrate, who fined them Rs 50 each under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Krishnan says he has been receiving lots of messages from people asking him to campaign for strict punishment for the culprits. But that's not really possible until the laws change. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 prescribes a penalty ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 50 – and the fines haven’t been updated in the last 56 years.
The response of people on Facebook, Krishnan said, gave him and other animal rights activists hope for the future. Krishnan runs "hotels for dogs" in Chennai and Bengaluru, in addition to another non-governmental organisation which works on rescue and sheltering of dogs. Social media, Krishnan said, could help organise support from unexpected quarters – common citizens who don’t own pets or work with animal rights organisations.
“Now, there’s a clear sense of belongingness amongst the people on social media,” he added. “They are no longer dependent on NGOs to campaign for something when they can start their own campaigns.”
A petition asking the medical college to debar the two accused in the case surfaced online soon thereafter and it has already garnered the support of 25,000 signatures. Some of these signatories include people like Gourab Ghosh, who teaches English at GD Goenka University and fosters rescued animals, using uses Facebook to find them adoptive homes.
Recently, Ghosh managed to find people willing to adopt two cats by posting on Facebook groups for animal lovers. “We got many requests from people asking to adopt and it happened quickly after we put up the posts,” he said. “Then we shortlisted and interviewed five-six of them before letting them adopt.”
Adoption is one of the ways where social media has proved to be a godsend for animal activists. Those who were earlier fostering multiple animals at a time are now utilising groups such as Everything Meow or Fosterdopt to find homes for these animals.
Fosterdopt, a community of animal lovers, was started by Rishi Biswas, a resident of Noida, in 2012. It soon turned into a non-governmental organisation working on helping animals treated with cruelty get medical help and homely care. Since then, the organisation has also facilitated around 100 adoptions purely through social media.
“[We use it for everything] from things like asking for donations of food or medicines, to things like spreading awareness of the latest news, updates or laws,” Biswas said, adding that social media has helped expose cases of cruelty much faster now – and that, perhaps, is the reason for people becoming more active and vocal about ensuring animal rights.
“People are interested because they find the suffering of a helpless dog akin to their own struggles of daily life against much larger forces,” Biswas added.
The new crop of animal rights activists believes more in the power of Facebook than big NGOs in ensuring that animals remain safe and healthy. Take Abhinav Srihan, for instance, who runs an organisation called Fauna Police in Delhi which works on rescuing and treating injured animals, mainly birds.
Adoption and rescue is better done through social media than depending on NGOs to show up, believes Srihan. “No matter how big an NGO is, they can’t be everywhere," he said. "You need an active force of on-ground volunteers which is always present on Facebook.” He pointed out that he has been utilising social media since 2010 – a time when most other entities weren’t actively doing it.
Meanwhile, there are other problems with depending upon large shelters and hospitals to carry out animal fostering activities. Srihan said it is often not the best environment for an animal that has been treated cruelly or is in a state of shock.
“You don’t know the kind of care one animal will get out of 200 who come to big shelters every day,” he said. “Also, if one of the dogs is infected, for instance, it is likely to spread it to others in the vicinity, which is not the case with people fostering one or two dogs at home. That reduces the risk.”
Putting animals first
Garika Goel, who works with an international consulting company, often fosters kittens at her home and uses social media groups to get them adopted. She said that almost all adoptions occur through Facebook, and it also allows people to become adopters even if they aren’t actively looking to pet a kitten.
“Social media allows you to share multiple pictures and make people follow the story of the rescued animal. You are able to provide a complete history,” Goel said. “Many people are not looking to adopt actively but they end up adopting as the stories are heartwarming.”
She added that adoption through shelters is not rising because social media is proving to be a stronger medium.
“People don’t want to adopt from shelters as the kittens there are in really sad condition – unkept, lot of illnesses etc,” Goel said. “So they resort to word of mouth, get in touch with vet clinics or search social media for home – raised kittens.”
However, it will be wrong to think that the fight for animal rights in India is new or novel – older organisations like Friendicoes in Delhi and People for Animals have been doing it for decades. But now, even these organisations seem to be depending more and more on internet platforms.
People For Animals has an active presence on Facebook, where it shares videos of animal cruelty, news articles on the latest updates on ongoing cases and even puts pictures of dogs and pups up for adoption.
Friendicoes, meanwhile, hosts about 2,000 animals at any given time and works on rescuing dogs. The organisation says that the law are quite “weak” and only social media can help them advocate for national attention.
“The problem is that we have been asking for amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act for two decades but nobody noticed,” said Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Friendicoes. “It’s not like people are angry suddenly but they are only visible now. It’s only because of social media that we are able to quickly communicate, mobilise and activate our communities.”
Her organisation may not have resources or time to go for full-time campaigning on social media but Seshamani added that there are more volunteers than ever before.
“While we work on helping the victim animal and getting the culprits punished, there are people who have become activists and they are asking for stricter role,” Seshamani said. “We can’t do everything alone but we can achieve a lot of things if we do them together.”