A 65-year-old woman was mauled to death by a pack of stray dogs and parts of her body eaten in Thiruvananthapuram, police said on Saturday, underlining a growing menace described by the Kerala government as a law and order problem.
An hour after Sheeluamma was attacked in the coastal village of Pulluvilla, a 30-minute drive from the state capital, another woman was mauled by feral dogs in the same area but survived, police said.
Hundreds of people are bitten by stray dogs across the country every year but Kerala is said to be the worst affected with an estimated 2.5-lakh feral canine dog population. At least one lakh people were bitten by stray dogs in the state in 2015-16.
The latest incidents renewed calls for urgent culling of stray dogs in the state but a similar move last year had angered animal rights groups which described the proposal as “uncivilised”.
Union minister Maneka Gandhi, a vocal animal rights campaigner, too had warned the government against the move.
But angry residents of Pulluvilla lashed out at Maneka Gandhi for being more concerned about dogs than humans.
“We have lost all our patience as the authorities are hanging on to some obscure law which says dogs cannot be eliminated. Are we inferior to these dogs,” asked one resident.
People said the stray dogs, which used to attack mostly children earlier, are now afraid of none.
Selvan, the son of victim Siluvamma, said he was also attacked by the dogs when he tried to rescue his severely bleeding mother and escaped only by jumping into the sea. He was rescued by villagers who responded to his shouts of help. Sheeluamma died at the medical college hospital in Kerala’s capital.
Kochuouseph Chittilapally, a businessman leading the campaign against stray dogs, was quoted by reports as saying that he wished Maneka Gandhi would be bitten once to realise the danger that people in the area are facing.
“The law enables the government to kill dangerous dogs. At least now we should act,” he told reporters.
Kerala health minister KK Shailaja told journalists in Thiruvananthapuram that she personally supports extermination of dangerous stray dogs, but the government was facing legal issues over this measure.
“When we carried out killings of dangerous stray dogs, we received many warning notices from the Centre. So now we have opted sterilisation as an alternative.”
Last year, chief minister Oommen Chandy convened an all-party meeting after the issue was raised in the assembly by government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan. The meeting had allowed local authorities to cull stray dogs but it was later abandoned following protests by animal rights groups.