These keepers make sure that stray dogs don't sleep empty stomach
A new feature documentary puts the spotlight on India's feeders, who won't allow stray animals to go hungry even a single day
Ten years ago, when Mriidu Khosla, filmmaker and co-founder of Versova's Cat Café Studio, began engaging in rescue operations of stray animals, she stumbled upon the concept of feeders.
"I had lost a pet cat at the time, and my sister and I were frantically looking for her. That's when somebody asked us to connect with a certain Suman Suttar, because there were chances that she may have spotted our cat," recalls Khosla. Sawant was a feeder, who had voluntarily taken up the task of safeguarding the lives of stray animals in her vicinity by offering food and medicines on a daily basis. "She would feed over 100 stray cats and dogs in Andheri," she says. One night, Khosla accompanied her on a round that began at 8 pm and ended at 1.30 am.
Cut to present, Khosla is working on a new feature documentary titled Feeders, that puts the spotlight on ordinary citizens across the country who have dedicated their lives to the cause of stray animals. Understandably, the film starts with Suttar because "it all began with her". She is one of the eight women who form the Mumbai chapter of the film.
Suman Suttar, a housemaid, feeds stray animals in Andheri
"Sawant works as a housemaid and has been a feeder for the last 25 years. Come rain, come shine, she never misses a day because there's nobody who will do the job for her," she says. Her dedication to the cause has incurred collateral damage. Her family no longer lives with her because "she smells of fish". But that hasn't stopped her from continuing feeding the animals.
"There's a peculiar sound she makes that serves as a 'call' for the animals. The moment she makes the sound, they appear out of nowhere. They know her schedule," laughs Khosla. But Suttar's job involves not just feeding, but also conducting first aid when an animal is in distress, and sterilising them by coordinating with NGOs or vets in the vicinity, thereby controlling their population.
The community of feeders is largely self-funded, self-organised and self-driven, although some do receive assistance from NGOs and donors. Curiously though, the film focuses only on women. "In our eight years of research around the country, we have primarily encountered women who have taken the initiative to become mass feeders over several years, and continue to do so," she says. What she found disturbing was that most of them would feed in hiding.
"They can't do it in the day time because it will invite stares, sniggers and even physical harassment from bystanders. So, they take up the activity in the night, which puts them in a vulnerable position," she explains. She also observed that the women were often blamed for the litter on the street, while "the fact remains that they always feed in paper plates and clean up after the dog or cat is done eating." But it's not all grim. The film begins and ends on a positive note. "These women don't see this as 'work'.
They love what they do and would have it no other way." For now, the team has wrapped up the Mumbai chapter, and will soon head to other cities like Punjab and Haryana to shoot. This means more money, for which the team is raising funds on the Wishberry crowdfunding platform. They need R19 lakh for the project. "It's difficult to get a production house to invest in it because it's not commercially profitable. But it's a story that needs to be told. It's high time we gave feeders the respect and recognition they deserve."
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