The death of Wagh Bakri Tea Group executive director Parag Desai, at the age of 49, is both tragic and untimely. Besides being the group’s sales, marketing, and exports head, and possessing expertise in tea tasting and evaluation, Parag was also the great-grandson of Narandas Desai, an entrepreneur from South Africa and a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi who set up the brand way back in 1934. Wagh Bakri is an iconic name in teas, and its name, deriving from its logo —a wagh (tiger) and a bakri (goat) drinking out of the same cup—conveys a utopian message of non-violence, peace, equality and tolerance between all living creatures. In his personal life, too, Parag was an animal lover, who generously supported charities like the Jivdaya Charitable Trust and even gifted two mobile treatment vans to the NGO that runs an animal hospital in Ahmedabad. Therefore, it is ironic that the news of his demise hit resident welfare association WhatsApp groups across the country with the misleading, clickbait headline ‘Parag Desai dies of stray dog attack’. Followed at once with the usual chorus of hate-filled messages from aunties and uncles declaring that Parag had been the victim of savage bites from rabid dogs and that all street dogs be put to death at once. If they had bothered to read the article below the clickbait headline, they would have learned that Parag was taking a walk when he was attacked by stray dogs, and in a bid to avoid them, started to run and suffered a fall, which caused a head injury that triggered a brain haemorrhage, which subsequently led to his death.
Animal welfare groups immediately came forward to point out that the news of the ‘attack’ was itself conjecture. They state that Parag was familiar with the ways of street dogs and would never have been alarmed or panicked by them. They feel it is far more plausible that the street dogs would have run towards Parag and jumped up to greet him, as they do with all animal lovers whom they know well. This, possibly, could have triggered the fall. After Parag fell, and sustained a head injury, the dogs would have barked vehemently to raise an alarm and draw attention to the fact that their human friend was on the ground and hurt. (Of course, this is conjecture, too, as there seems to have been no eye-witnesses.) Either way, the headline ‘Parag Desai dies of stray dog attack’ is sensationalistic, erroneous and motivated to stir hatred against animals. It is a well-recorded fact that if civic authorities do the work of animal birth control (neuterings and sterilisation) and vaccination (anti-rabies and distemper) efficiently, then small bands of street dogs, who are territorial about the area where they are fed, are a cheap and highly effective way to provide both security and pest control (they eat rats, small snakes and bandicoots) to any township.
The problem lies in the fact that many civic authorities are not doing this work properly. When a tragedy like this happens, it is the duty of all responsible citizens to demand, not the head of all the stray dogs in the locality on a plate, but more effective action from their civic authorities. Are the stray dogs in your locality routinely being rounded up for their annual vaccinations? Are their ears docked (which signals that they have been neutered and cannot breed)? Are they socialised, healthy and friendly? That is the correct path towards living in a Wagh Bakri world, a utopia where all living creatures co-exist happily together.