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‘Animal care needs serious attention’: Activist shares heart-wrenching case of cruelty

Chetna Joshi opines that citizens must create a safe space for animals

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Chetna Joshi (31), an alumna of Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park switched careers from being a fashion stylist to becoming an animal activist. Since the past ten years, she is practicing animal welfare and fighting against animal cruelty. She is the nominated representative of Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in Gurugram. And thanks to her efforts, many residents in Gurugram societies have become sensitised towards the needs of animals. Not only that, Joshi has been active in assisting government organisations to look into issues such as animal birth control. Her organisation Astitva Animal Rights Enforcement Foundation functions across Delhi-NCR to help animals with an impressive team of 45 volunteers. Read how and why she chose the field of work. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Please tell us about your educational background

I finished schooling from Apeejay, Panchsheel Park in 2009. After that, I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Manav Rachna Educational Institutes. Then I wanted to specialise in the Fashion domain and so, I opted for a post-graduate diploma course in Fashion Styling and Image Design from Pearl Academy. This was completed by 2016.

I have worked with leading designers such as Rohit Gandhi, Rahul Khanna, Rajesh Pratap Singh, just to name a few. Simultaneously, I felt inclined towards animal welfare and social work. Therefore, I have been taking up some rescue cases, workshops to guide feeders in residential societies, etc. It has been about ten years now. I am working each day towards improving the condition of animals in the country.

Why did you choose animal activism?

It is rather interesting because initially I was extremely fearful of stray dogs. I never thought that I would be able to venture near animals. But, it all began due to Ballu, a stray dog who I took a liking towards. He faced abuse by many people around my society and I didn’t like it. And so, I along with my family began to foster it.

He was five years old when we got him and stayed with us for many more years. Later, many people threatened to relocate him and take him away. He had suffered a lot of trauma from people and that is why he developed behavioural issues. I also worked with a therapist to understand him better and the way he communicated. This made me realise how easy it became for me to form bonds with other animals too. From then onwards, I began to feel more and more empathetic.

In 2018, Ballu was diagnosed with bone cancer. His situation soon became critical. His leg grew five times its size and he needed constant nursing and care. I even took a break from my profession to be with him in his difficult times. Once Ballu left us, I decided to start a foundation that will work towards rescue and cruelty cases. At Astitva, our aim is to fight those who behave cruelly with animals. We also operate in domains such as public policy, capacity-building and litigation.

Laws about animal welfare that citizens must know of?

Any animal lover should be aware about the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960. I believe that as citizens of India, we have inherent compassion for everyone. At our homes too, we are taught to provide food to dogs, cows, cats, etc. And an article in the same Act states:

“It is a fundamental duty upon every citizen of India to protect wildlife and have compassion for all living creatures.”

-Article 51A (G), Indian Constitution

According to me, the beauty of the Act remains how it defines animals: ‘Any living thing which is not a human, is an animal’. This includes all animals and species.

Every state has its own State Animal Welfare Board that regulates various aspects such as regulation of breeders, pets shops. etc. So, one should be informed about the animal welfare mechanism of their state and the functions and duties of each of these.

To know more about animal birth control and anti-rabies vaccination programme, one must save contact details of local agencies. Educate yourself about the regulation vide ABC Rule 2001 as well as key order issues vide SLP (C ) 691/2009, which makes it a contempt of court in case anyone illegally relocates street dogs from their territory and resorts to subterfuge or innovative methods to deal with the street dogs.

Which is the most appalling animal cruelty case you have taken up?

In 2020, we got a case of a stray dog who by mistake ventured into a nearby society. It was simply looking for some food and water. A few people in that area got together and began to corner him. Eventually, they beat it up. After that, they took the animal to a place outside the colony and buried it alive. Later, some of our volunteers were informed about the incident and they reached there in time. However, that dog did not survive. This is exactly why organisations need to build capacity. Even the police officials should be further sensitised about such occurrences.  

During Covid-19, what course did animal welfare take?

In those months, feeders were allowed exceptions to cater to animals. The police too identified and assisted them. About 70% of animal cruelty cases that we get now are coordinated and conveyed to us by the police. Since the Covid-19 imposed lockdowns, we have stepped up and are working tirelessly for animals.

What are your future plans?

My brother, Gaurang Joshi, a content generalist, is helping me with the work in the Foundation. At present, we have collaborated with the animal shelter, Friendicoes SEC, to which we send animals for special treatments. Astitva is also taking up a huge drive in the coming months to safely neuter 200 dogs in Gurugram area. Further, we have decided to re-name our venture and call it ‘Kaali Welfare Foundation’. It would take up all the cases of Astitva under the same team and management.  

Your fond memories of Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park?

I remember how the Founder-Chairman, Dr Stya Paul, used to visit our school. He shared with us so many learnings, and that is really helping me in my life now. The field of work that I have chosen requires me to be fearless and take gutsy decisions. Now, more than ever, I have understood what ‘soaring high is my nature’ means. The spirit of never giving up has been instilled in me from my school. And my teachers always taught me how to face and fight the odds. I am doing exactly that now!  

Mrini Devnani is a Senior Correspondent and Marketing Coordinator at Newsroom. She covers student achievements, interviews and contributions for the website. She was a former Correspondent covering Edutech for the India Today Group, and has passion for Social Media and Digital Marketing. You can reach her at [email protected]

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