Among the many street protests that followed Prime Minister K P Oli’s dissolution of the Lower House on 20 December was one by students in Charikot in which a she-dog bearing the portrait of the prime minister was dragged around town.
The photo of the dog went viral on social media, drawing widespread anger and criticism. When animal rights activist Pramada Shah saw the images on the internet, she reacted instantly: “We have to rescue this dog.”
Her team from Animal Nepal quickly traced the student leaders involved in the procession through Facebook posts, and spoke to them at length on the phone about the need to protect animals, and not punish them for human actions.
The debate went back and forth. The student leaders, Roshan Khadka and Bharat Shrestha first alleged that the opposition had taken pictures to make them look bad and that they had “only dragged the dog for like ten metres”. Then they argued that the idea was to show that community dogs are more faithful than the prime minister.
“The reasoning was quite contradictory to the act of cruelty, but we were eventually able to seek their support in helping us rescue the dog,” explains Shah. “I said you can’t do this because you are responsible student leaders. They’ve committed to never hurt animals again for political reasons.”
Nirmal Sharma, a lawyer who works with Animal Nepal arrived in Dolakha with his colleagues. It took them a while to find the dog who had gone into hiding after the traumatic experience. Students Khadka and Shrestha helped trace the dog, and she was brought to Kathmandu.
Animal Nepal named her ‘Chari’ after Charikot, and she was checked for wounds and diseases. Says Sharma: “She’s fine and now she lives at our office with other dogs.”
Chari has started making friends with other mutts who live at the rescue home, but she is terrified of the leash. Says Shah: “Leashes scare her because she was traumatised. She’s a quiet dog, really scared and timid. Basically, they used an animal to give out a political message.”
Shah finds it concerning that Nepali language is rife with analogies that equate negative human attributes to animals. “It’s something we need to get over. We got rid of gender bias in language, we need to make our language sensitive towards animals, too,” she says.
Nepal’s laws provide animals little or no protection. The Muluki Ain enshrined protection of cows and bulls for religious reasons.
“The Muluki Aparadh Samhita 2074, has a list of dos and don’ts in terms of crimes related to animals, but they have to be hinged on harm caused to humans to be punishable. Evidence is low when it comes to animals, so it’s usually hard to push for laws,” says Sharma.
Pramada Shah believes animals need legal protection, and her organisation has been pushing for it. She adds, “Once the law comes through maybe our animals will be treated better– but there’s a lot of work to do. But everything is dependent on politics.”
Indeed, it was the same politics that made Chari a part of a street demonstration, and one that gave her nationwide fame at the cost of trauma.