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Wildbuzz: Man-eaters of begumpur

Poonam Devi does not speak much anyways. Her culture nurtured her as a hovel home-maker and a self-effacing mother. At the fourth floor of the PGIMER’s advanced trauma centre, she sits hunched by her son’s bedside. And, weeps as silently as the dead.

punjab Updated: Nov 08, 2015 10:11 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
wildbuzz,PGIMER,Indroda Nature Park
Dogs extract a heavy toll on wildlife of peripheral jungles and around waterholes. Here, village mutts maul a neelgai at Indroda Nature Park, Gandhinagar (Gujarat). The neelgai was eventually brought down and eaten by the pack. PHOTO: VICKEY CHAUHAN

Poonam Devi does not speak much anyways. Her culture nurtured her as a hovel home-maker and a self-effacing mother. At the fourth floor of the PGIMER’s advanced trauma centre, she sits hunched by her son’s bedside. And, weeps as silently as the dead. Her son, Suraj Kumar (7), was literally butchered by four stray dogs at Nawanshahr’s Begumpur area on November 4. The kid’s scalp nearly came off requiring an emergency surgery, and claw marks and bites on his tender flesh make for a macabre tattoo from chest to toe.

Visitors speak in hushed tones. The kid, in the throes of intense agony and trauma, can hear the story of the canine assault being recounted by his father, Rajesh Kumar Das, a small-time cook/halwai. The word, ‘kutta’, stirs grievous memories and Suraj sobs silently. He does not answer his mother, who breaks her muteness in endearing whispers.

On persistent query, Suraj asks for water. Though doctors declare Suraj’s life to be teetering on a razor-line, hopefully, the dreaded rabies will not grip him when fear or phobia of water will be the symptom that he is beyond medical or divine redemption. Suraj’s samples have been sent for rabies test and will be known soon, say doctors. But even if the rabies virus has not been transmitted, doctors are jittery over tetanus complications.

Suraj at the PGIMER, Chandigarh. (PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH)

“Suraj is a hardy child. He never insists on buying toys because he understands when I tell him we don’t have much money. A combine harvestor’s driver freed him from the dogs and brought him to our home with his scalp hanging and bleeding all over. But Suraj only wanted to reassure me, and said: “Papa, mein aapki kasam khhata hoon, mein theek hoon”, recounts Das.

Suraj was hounded while returning from a government school, where he attends Class 1. He was alone and the dog pack pounced on him. The pack lives off a cattle carcass dump, as also meat/chicken scraps and soiled sanitary pads discarded by a labour colony. The dogs’ whiskers were evidently laced with a blood lust. Begumpur-based furniture retailer, Gopal Mohan Jangra, who has raised community funds for Suraj’s treatment, says the pack challenges adult humans also, but backs off. The lone kid, however, proved easy meat for these human killers, whose canine teeth are hardened on rotting beef and by gnawing at cattle bones.

Dogs at Punjab cattle-carcass dumps have frequently killed and partially eaten old people, drunkards and children passing by. Not all such dogs are afflicted by rabies.


A Scaly anteater. (PHOTO: Nikhil Sanger)

Poachers and smugglers of wildlife deploy ingenious code names to evade monitoring and law-enforcement. A trove of such insights from this netherworld of animal bones and skins is harboured by a Haryana forests and wildlife department official, who wishes to remain anonymous. He had penetrated deep into the racket by posing as an interested buyer. Since his seniors did not want to pursue the leads he threw up, and because the methods deployed were beyond the pale of law, the official’s work has remained off the record. Meanwhile, the culprits roam free and their trade flourishes.

Here are a few samples from his undercover probes in Ambala, Gharaunda, Yamunanagar, Haryana-Uttar Pradesh border, Roopnagar etc. The pangolin or scaly anteater is code-named ‘sippi’ due its scales, which are an item of international demand due to their believed aphrodisiac/native medicine qualities. Turtles/tortoises are known as ‘plates’ and depending upon the number of nails are known in the grey market as, say, ‘18 number wali plate’. Leopard skins are ‘phooldhar chaddar’, while tiger skins are ‘dharidhar chaddar’.

Red sand boas, which command an astronomical price, are believed to harbour the rarest radium that the NASA is desperate for! Boas, according to their colouring, are referred to as ‘black or red rassi’ or even as ‘double-engine’ due to their alleged two mouths. A boa above 4 kg is ideal and duplicitous smugglers stuff the live snake with bicycle ball bearings, hard glucose or even paint a Rock python like a boa to conjure the weight.

The official cites the case of a ‘loktantrik’ Haryana MP, who conducted rituals with a boa for his political success! Recently, outgoing Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar faced controversy over a video baring his indulgence in tantrik rituals.

The official’s assessment is that tantriks and smugglers spread rumours such as black money floating to the beneficiary if boa rituals are undertaken. But having seen the hollowness of such claims firsthand, he likens it to a chit fund scam or Ponzi scheme that trips gullible investors with the false promise of outlandish returns. The question is: why are tantriks not rolling in money themselves, if all that was needed was a boa and expertise in conducting rituals?

First Published: Nov 08, 2015 09:24 IST