Discovering first thing in the morning that the neighbour’s pet Labrador has answered nature’s call right outside one’s gate can be an annoyance. The whole of humanity will forever cleave over that question, one side dog-loving and the other agnostic, and we’ll be none the wiser why we as a nation are embarrassed at all by railway track squatters but beam indulgently while the said pooch does its business on the sidewalk.
But come to the case of the agent employed with a food delivery aggregator who fell to his death while fleeing a customer’s dog a few days ago in Hyderabad, and we are talking about an altogether serious matter. Twenty-three-year-old Mohammed Rizwan rang the doorbell of a third-storey apartment for a late-evening order and was set upon by an untethered German Shepherd. In panic, the man jumped over the railing of the apartment and fell three floors to his death.
As dog-bite cases go, this is the latest in a series that has horrified India in recent months: in July 2022, a pitbull mauled its owner’s mother to death in Lucknow; in September, a 12-year-old girl died of rabies despite being vaccinated after a dog attack in Kerala; and in October, a five-year-old was mauled to death by strays in an MP village. The death of the delivery executive in Hyderabad is a tragic addition to cases of accidental deaths of such workers in recent weeks.
Cases such as these tend to take a common trajectory: poor Rizwan’s family is left with a hefty hospital bill, the police has slapped a death by negligence rap on the dog owner, who has become fair game for social media guilt riders, and the gig workers’ union is demanding a Rs 21 lakh compensation package for the victim’s family. But beyond the news cycle, these cases vanish into the gloam of the gig economy, where companies play in the grey zone between work and employment, the rules are in the book but not quite out there. With the central government’s much-touted labour codes still to be operationalised, we only have company comms-speak to go by. Aggregator companies say they have all their workers insured up to Rs 10 lakh, but a recent report by ciie.co, an IIM Ahmedabad-incubated start-up platform, found that 47 per cent of gig workers had no insurance of any kind, and only 7 per cent had health insurance.
While gig worker safety and compensation rules are still evolving, there’s no reason why we should not have simple, sensible and tighter rules for dog ownership. To start with, delivery app companies should require customers to state whether they have a dog on the premises, and to promise to keep it leashed when the executive knocks. Penalties for negligence leading to dog attacks should be much stiffer than the Rs 1,000 mandated by IPC Section 289. The onus of compensating victims should be higher on the dog owner, if proven negligent. The ban on some ferocious breeds, recently imposed by the Ghaziabad municipality after a pitbull attack, should be adopted by town halls nationwide. Further, the Animal Welfare Board must make more room for safety concerns in its guidelines.
Considering that a majority of dog attack victims are children, it would not be unreasonable if civic authorities made dog ownership subject to no-objection certificates from neighbours. While the problem of unowned strays remains, the municipalities must scale up high mandated penalties for registered dogs left loose, unvaccinated or abandoned.