NEW DELHI — Victims of the surprise attacks limp into one of this city’s biggest public hospitals. Among the hundreds on a recent day were children cornered in their homes, students ambushed on their way to class and old men ambling back from work.
All told the same frightening story: stray dogs had bitten them.
Deepak Kumar, 6, had an angry slash across his back from a dog that charged into his family’s shack.
“We finally closed the gates to our colony and beat the dog to death,” said Deepak’s father, Rajinder.
No country has as many stray dogs as India, and no country suffers as much from them. Free-roaming dogs number in the tens of millions and bite millions of people annually, including vast numbers of children. An estimated 20,000 people die every year from rabies infections — more than a third of the global rabies toll.
Packs of strays lurk in public parks, guard alleyways and street corners and howl nightly in neighborhoods and villages. Joggers carry bamboo rods to beat them away, and bicyclists fill their pockets with stones to throw at chasers. Walking a pet dog here can be akin to swimming with sharks.
A 2001 law forbade the killing of dogs, and the stray population has increased so much that officials across the country have expressed alarm.
In Mumbai, where more than 80,000 people reported being bitten last year, the government plans to conduct a census of the strays by using motorcycles to chase down dogs and squirt their fur with ink. A member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly proposed in June sending strays to China — where dogs are sometimes eaten — after more than 15,000 people in the state reported being bitten last year. In New Delhi, officials recently announced an intensified sterilization campaign