We are staying in the YWCA close to Delhi city centre, so every morning we are collected by a minibus and dropped at the slum. I was faced with the first shock of the day as soon as I stepped out of the minibus. Most street dogs lift their heads to look at you as you walk past: this young one didn’t, so I stopped to get a better look. I called to him, then I gently touched him but he didn’t move. I picked up his hind foot, aware that I could be bitten if he was frightened, but he remained motionless. He was still breathing, but he was unconscious: he was dying.
I couldn’t do anything to help him. I called back an hour later, and as I ‘d expected, he was dead. At the end of the day, I looked again, and his body was gone. This type of incident must be a daily occurrence out here, but for a newcomer like myself, it’s hard to get used to.
I met Deepak, who is my interpreter for the rabies/street dog survey. He is a young man from Mayapuri who has been helped by ASHA and is now studying at university, a remarkable feat for a slum boy. He speaks good English, and equipped with the questionnaire and consent forms, we began to stroll around the slum area together, pausing to ask people if they will answer our questions. It was a learning experience for me: much slower and much more difficult.
First, there is the cultural gender issue: Deepak believes that women are illiterate (true here) and ignorant (not true anywhere!) and so he did not feel it was worth talking to them. I tried to dissuade him at first, but there was an obvious discomfort in talking with women, and after emailing Mission Rabies (who designed the questionnaire) about this, I decided that I should only interview men when there is a male interpreter. If I can track down a female interpreter, we will include women.
Second, I found it difficult to use an interpreter. How do I know if he is telling me what they tell him, or if he is just giving me the “right answers”? Sometimes the person being interviewed gave a great long answer, and Deepak translated that into two or three words. A great deal of trust is needed and that’s difficult when you’ve just met a new interpreter. I found it tricky at first but as the day progressed, we began to communicate better and his translations began to seem more in line with the person’s comments.
Third, it takes ages to complete questionnaires like this, and it is tiring. We only did twelve questionnaires on day one: I had hoped to do fifty.
What have I learned so far? It’s early days, but I’m shocked that most people don’t seem to know that dog bites can be fatal, and have never heard of rabies. Yet I also heard from a couple of people that they have known of two or three men who have died of rabies in recent years.
I have many more questionnaires to get through and I need to put the data into a proper spreadsheet and carry out formal analysis at the end, but certainly my early impression is that there is a desperate need for community education on street dogs and rabies.
My day in the slums was dotted with shocking experiences of life here.
Facts from the quesionnaire include the ultra-basic living conditions: up to eight people living in one small room. How pampered we all are in Ireland and the UK: we just don’t realise it.
A train swooshes by at speed, every half hour or so, just a couple of metres from dogs and human children. How many must die every year?
An impromptu rubbish tip is topped up every now and again by someone chucking a bag of household garbage on top: when this happens, both humans in rags and street dogs descend on it, picking out anything of remote value.
Yet bizarrely, the community workers here are shocked to hear about the high suicide rate in the West – despite the appalling living conditions here, suicide is unheard of. I’m not sure what the message is, but it certainly makes you pause to reflect.