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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Assaulted And Sexually Harassed For Feeding Thousands Of Stray Animals Every Day, These Women Refuse To Stop

  • IWB Post
  •  June 25, 2019

When was the last time you halted your steps at the sight of a stray animal? Did you feed the probably hungry being or went on your way, afraid of being called crazy or a loner for looking after those unwanted cats and dogs? Well, guess what, while you may have stepped back from displaying your inherent humanity, some women in Mumbai are feeding thousands of strays every day at the cost of their financial stability. People call them mad and throw stones at them, but they silently accept the punishment for the kindness in their heart.

It was in 2010 that two sisters, Charu and Mriidu Khosla, opened India’s first cat cafe in Mumbai, Cat Cafe Studio, with the motto of rescuing stray cats, caring for them, loving them and eventually get them adopted. In their initial journey of rescuing stray animals, they came across female feeders who are “invisibly making the lives of the stray animals in our cities better every day.”

Stray Animals

Their hardships are a result of lack of knowledge about their work and also because they are looked down upon by the community, as they cater to stray animals that are disliked, hated by a majority of Indians,” Charu and Mriidu shared.

The sisters are currently producing and directing a documentary called Feeders, in an attempt to present the heroic acts of these women and “change people’s perception towards our helpless strays”. As we discussed their ongoing documentary shoot, they shed light on the terrible state of the thousands of strays who sleep hungry every night and the trials, tribulations, and joys in the life of those women who dare to feed these ‘unwanted’ parts of our society.

Excerpts:  

What are the faces of society that you’ve tried to show in this documentary?

The daunting reality of a common man’s perception of the stray population of our country. How they are mistreated, ignored, and left to fend for themselves. And then comes the verbal and physical abuse of the people who are single-handedly trying to feed and provide medical attention to these helpless animals.

Through the film, we want to bring to light the heroic female animal justice warriors of India. These women take up the responsibility of hundreds of animals with no second thoughts and continue taking care of them even in the toughest of situations. And we think it’s high time they get the recognition and support they deserve. They cannot be treated as the rot of the community. They don’t deserve to hide in the middle of the night from society to feed stray animals. They should do it with pride and respect.

We often see that compared to men, women face far more prejudice and judgment. What have been the stereotypes, labels, and challenges that these women feeders have faced?

When it comes to feeding especially, female feeders are subjected to far worse than men who feed. The women we’ve met through the film have been called crazy, been pelted with stones, threatened to be removed from their homes. The animals they feed have been injured and beaten and they have been accused of littering, amongst many other far worse things they have experienced.

A few extreme cases have been that of physical assault and sexual harassment and we also have a case of one woman whose whole house was burnt down because she refused to stop feeding stray animals in her area. The stories of torment are endless.

That’s humanity at its worst. How is your documentary striving to break this negative and toxic mindset towards these women?

Our film aims to tell the stories of these selfless, everyday women, the lifelong commitment they have to care for these animals, and the hardships they face because of it. The end product of the film is to assist these women and any feeders across the country to get the support they need, by being more open, vocal and expressing their issues fearlessly. The awareness in the masses through this film is the first step towards bringing this change in the mindset of people.

Our parallel plan is to start the ‘The Feeders Project’, which is in the development stage at our agency Zcyphher. It will be an online platform for the feeders of India to come out in the open, seek any kind of help they need from donors, animal welfare organizations or individual animal lovers who would like to help them make the lives of the strays better. There are a lot of animal lovers in our country, who need a right connect with their local feeders to assist in many ways, either through donations, giving animal food or physically helping feeders to cover more ground each day.

What an amazing system it would be! Watching the trailer of your documentary, I was wondering whether the status of these women in society further aggravates their situation and makes them more vulnerable to the negativity of society?

While we would like to believe that one’s status in society doesn’t have to affect the way they are treated, it is true, in the case of women who feed, pretty much everything about them and what they do is often used against them. Since feeders are already disliked and looked down upon by the community, women like Suman aunty (who works as a maid) often get the worst of it.

She, in fact, deserves the highest respect for what she does, because, despite her limited means, she never misses a day of feeding the hundreds of animals around her home. But nothing breaks the spirit of women like Suman aunty and these are the stories worth telling and watching.

Stray Animals

Up till now, the project is about 40% completed, the entire pre-production is aligned and they are currently attempting to get funding for the rest of the film. 

You earlier mentioned that via the documentary you plan to teach and make people understand the need to show compassion towards these innocent animals.

By honestly showing people the real state these animals are in, the amount of work these women do to care for them and give them a better chance of surviving and the issues they face as a consequence, we aim to change the way society views and reacts towards them. Plus, spreading awareness about the laws India already has in place regarding animal welfare and feeding, we aim to better equip feeders and animal lovers to be able to stand up for themselves when they are mistreated.

Why don’t you enlighten our readers about these laws regarding animal welfare in India?

One of the main reasons these women face the kind of horrible stigma and abuse in the society is because of the lack of awareness of the laws we already have in place when it comes to the welfare of stray animals. Societies, resident welfare associations or individuals are not in any way allowed to oppose the feeding or caring of strays by law, it is a punishable offense. We hope that once people are aware of these laws, including the police and governing bodies that have the power to do something about it, things will change for the better. We have also included the police officials, animal welfare officers, and senior politicians as part of our documentary to educate more to the masses about our animal laws.

Stray Animals

You sure sound determined to work out a positive solution here. But what our readers would like to know is how can these women, walking a lonely path of change, be supported by other individuals who wish to lend a hand?

As the silent, heroic pillars of our community and country, these women with enough on their plate from their daily lives still manage to cook for strays in their localities and feed them night after night. And what’s more, they spend their own money to do all of it. We want people to help by funding this film and participate with us in telling their stories…to contribute in whatever way possible to help show the world the power of these feeders of our country.

Furthermore, on a more realistic front, one needs to be more observant of their own local areas, know your stray animals, find out how and from where are they getting fed? Do they have sufficient water supply? Once you start inquiring, you will meet your local feeder. Talk to them, thank them for their work and speak to them directly as to how you can assist them in their daily feeding tasks. Most of these feeders don’t take a break or go on vacations, because they don’t have anyone to cover for them, maybe the least you can do is feed the animals in their absence, so these women can also get the much-deserved breaks. 

Feeders Trailer

Presenting #Feeders, a feature documentary by Zcyphher, that follows the trials, tribulations, and joys in the life of heroic women who feed thousands of stray animals each day on the streets of India. Our crowdfunding campaign with WishBerry is now live!

The lives of these women feeders sound rather daunting.

Yes, it is. Someone like Suman aunty would go about her day by waking up early and doing her maid work in about 4-5 households until later in the afternoon. Then she comes back home and begins cooking of the animals for the night feeding rounds. About 8pm she begins feeding the cats and dogs on the streets of 4 Bungalows and 7 Bungalow in Mumbai city. This goes on till about 1 am. And then the same routine is followed every single day.

When she finds an injured stray, she also brings the animal home and takes care of it, even does vet visits if needed and releases the animal back to its location when the treatment is complete. Despite having multiple jobs and children to care for, nothing can stop her from feeding, even when faced with the taunts and threats of people around her.

The feeders community, in general, is actually extremely systematic and hygienic. Feeders also have a fixed route they follow, feeding all the animals along that way. This not only ensures that most animals are fed but also is a pretty organized way to do it. Most feeders feed on newspapers or paper plates, which are picked up after the animal has eaten. They are almost always seen carrying garbage bags with them during their rounds.

These women have to suffer so much to do a noble deed which actually should have been the responsibility of the entire society as a whole. Is there a method by which stray animals can be fed in a systematic and hygienic way by the community?

Yes, indeed there is, if the societies and localities can provide proper safe and clean designated areas for feeding of stray animals, the overall process would be easier and more systematic. Most stray animals need dry food and wet food (which can also be prepared at home if you don’t want to buy processed wet food packets). If the building people can fill one bowl of dry food for the animals in their area and provide one-time wet food along with a bowl of fresh water for them at all times, there will be no littering or unhygienic conditions.

Also once the animals are well fed and taken care of, they are calm, caring and loving to all people around them. The lack of food, random mistreatment by people makes them often aggressive and sick. Please know, they are much like children, all they need is human love and a little bit of food.

To help Charu and Mriidu in their initiative, you can help in funding the completion of their film here. By supporting them you will not be aiding just a single woman feeder but helping thousands of stray animals.

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