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Ferocious packs of wild dogs have been mangling and eating up children in this little-known Uttar Pradesh town over the past few months. Over 18 kids have been killed and fear is ruling the area. Namita Bajpai talks to distraught parents as the administration struggles to check the menace
Till recently, Khairabad, a non-descript town in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district, 80 km from Lucknow, had few claims to fame, one being that it is the ancestral place of writer-lyricist-poet Javed Akhtar. Since May 1, however, it has been hitting the headlines with chilling regularity for being a virtual killing field for kids. The perpetrators on the prowl: feral dogs.
No less than 18 (officially 12) children between 7 and 13 years have lost their lives in Khairabad since January this year, six in the first week of May itself.
The lanes are silent and the schools almost deserted with less than 50 per cent attendance in villages in the Khairabad town area limits -- Gulpuria, Tiakria, Talgaon, Kholia, Malauhi Sariya, Dasauli. Parents are not allowing their children to go anywhere alone. Either they escort them after arming themselves with canes and rods -- some even carry guns and rifles -- or the children are confined to their homes.
Mango orchards with trees heavy with fruit, frequented by frolicking children at this time of the year, are completely deserted in Khairabad and adjoining areas. The fear of dogs is top of everyone’s mind.
Khalid, 13, was brutally mauled last Monday in Gulpuria, bitten on his head, face, neck, abdomen and legs. His father, Abid Ali, is distraught. His weeping wife by his side, Ali shares how Khalid had tea with him that fateful morning and was called out by friends to go with them to a nearby mango orchard.
“I stopped him and asked him to go to school. He was wearing leggings and a T-shirt over which he put on his uniform, took his bag and left home for school. But the orchard falls on the way. He stopped to pick a few raw mangoes and was attacked by a pack of seven dogs,” recounted Abid.
“The dogs together had dragged his body to some distance. A passer-by tried to save him but they attacked him also,” Abid said, adding he later chased the dogs on his motorcycle and fired at them but to no avail.
While around 18 children have died in the dog attacks, over 24 have been injured. “They have killed hundreds of goats in different villages,” said one of Abid’s neighbours.
With relief from the district administration hardly adequate, the villagers have formed their own combing teams. Equipped with canes, rods and rifles, these groups can be seen hunting for the canines.
“This is a different breed of dog. They hardly bark. They target their prey silently and don’t give them a chance to escape as they charge in packs of 8-10,” said Ram Narain of Gulpuria village, who is part of the combing team.
“Even after receiving bullet injuries, they race at a speed of 120 km per hour. It is not easy to chase them,” he said.
It was in November 2017 that six children were first attacked by the wild dogs. One died but five were saved by medical intervention. Everybody thought it was a one-off incident. But there were repeat attacks in January and March this year.
Mobeen, the father of a 15-year-old boy killed in January said, “The dogs had eaten up his entire body leaving very little for us to identify him.” Then Ayub Khan of Gulpuria village lost his son in March in the same way.
“Initially, we thought it was the doing of some tiger or leopard. But after learning that the dogs were the killers, we have stopped our children from venturing out alone in the village,” said Khan, adding that the people guarded villages with lathis but didn’t inform the police.
However, the frequency and ferocity of the attacks have stunned everyone, from villagers to cops to wildlife activists to the chief minister’s office. The ground zero of the attacks is within a 15km radius in the Khairabad municipal board limits.
The father of Shivani is inconsolable. “She was the light of my life. Every moment of the rest of my life is meaningless without her. She was my brightest child,” he said. “I stopped sending her to school after a spurt in attacks during the last week, but on Wednesday she ventured into a mango orchard never to return.”
Sushil Kumar Jaiswal of Gurpulia village said, “These ‘maneater’ dogs usually attack children. They strike on the neck and then chew the prey from head to toe. They even attack adults.”
The cases of Virendra, 10, and Geeta, 7, are equally horrifying. The kids, from different villages, were attacked and killed while relieving themselves on Friday last week. Then Vinkal, 7, and Rinki, 11, of the adjoining Peerpur and Chaubeypur villages, were attacked and badly injured.
Some villagers feel there is a reason for this menace. “Till the slaughterhouses were working in Khairabad, these feral dogs used to get adequate food. But since the present government closed them down, they don’t get flesh, so they have turned ‘maneaters’ and are attacking children,” said Abid Ali’s elderly neighbour, adding he was witnessing such a thing for the first time in his life.
The fear of the canine packs is so overriding that village combing teams killed 8-10 dogs on a single day last week. They intend to comb thickets and kill the dogs on prowl too.