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A helping hand to animals, just to help the people who own them

Jul 24, 2014

M L Sharma, a former armyman, who retired as a major general from the Indian army, says in an interview to OneWorld South Asia that Brooke India, in partnership with a local NGO in Chamoli and Rudraprayag, is currently providing coverage to 7,000 working equines.

M L Sharma Brooke India

OWSA: Animal charities give an impression that they would care less for people. The ban on tongas during the Commonwealth Games, for instance, has raised pertinent issues concerning livelihoods of people. What is your take on this view?

M L Sharma: Brooke India is an equine welfare charity dedicated to mitigate sufferings of working equines i.e. horses, mules, ponies and donkeys. Our endeavour is to help the “poorest of the poor” equine owners who use equines as their main source of livelihood by providing free treatment to their animals and enhancing their knowledge on improving the health care of their animals; thereby, helping them to earn more. Thus, we do care for people.

OWSA: Why is it so important to help the working horses, donkeys and mules in a situation where the development needs in India remain huge?

M L Sharma: Welfare of animals is directly related with the welfare of those families dependent on them for their livelihood. Brooke's own research on dependency estimates that each working animal supports on an average a family of six people. We believe that helping the animals is in turn helping the owners. If these animals are not taken care of properly, not only will they suffer (from exhaustion, pain or illness) – they will also not be able to work for long. This means that they will not bring in a daily income to the families that own them. Thus, Brooke India’s intervention is directly contributing to the developmental needs of the marginalized equine owning community in India.

OWSA: Livelihoods and families have traditionally centered around animals. What does Brooke do for people who depend on animals but, for some reason, have had to be separated from animals?

M L Sharma: In the livestock sector, production animals like cattle, buffaloes, and poultry get priority over equines (i.e. horses, donkeys and mules). The communities surviving mainly on equines as source of livelihood face a lack of veterinary facilities. Therefore, Brooke’s efforts are focused on alleviating sufferings of working horses, donkeys and mules – a class of animals that really need help. These animals are owned by marginalized equine-owning communities who are working in the most challenging conditions at brick kilns, tonga stands, villages and high altitude pilgrim sites. As a consequence, these animals suffer malnutrition, exhaustion, disease and injury in the course of their working lives. To overcome this situation, our trained veterinarians and animal health teams provide treatment to working animals, empower and train animal owners and local service providers to improve the lives of working equines.

The equine owning families are initiated into organizing themselves into equine welfare groups (self-help groups) and second tier community based organisations to empower them to link with mainstream development schemes and facilities including government services etc. Besides this, we help them access to institutional credit so that they become self-reliant. This is in line with the mainstream human development projects and programmes. So, there is no question of excluding people in the process of animal welfare. We also work with local NGOs and state veterinary departments for the further improvement of access to veterinary services for equines.

OWSA: Was Brooke involved in the big disasters in the recent past – particularly, flash floods and landslides of Uttarakhand?

M L Sharma: Yes, Brooke India undertook a massive disaster relief operation in Uttarakhand. It is estimated that a large population of working horses and mules perished and thousands were stranded without feed and water for weeks during the disaster. As a leading equine welfare charity, we were quick to assess the situation and we arranged 5,000 kilograms feed for stranded equids. We also deployed two disaster assessment teams to provide emergency treatment to the injured equines and to carry rapid assessment of equine needs in the state.

One of our teams at Bijnor identified working horses and mules that had survived the nature’s fury and provided emergency treatment to more than 700 horses and mules. In addition to that, 3500 kilograms of feed was provided to the weak and injured equines.

Based on the need assessment report, we realized that there was ample scope for long term intervention. In this regard, we, in partnership with a local NGO in Chamoli and Rudraprayag and through them, we are currently providing coverage to 7000 working equines.

OWSA: What are Brooke’s plans for the coming years in India?

M L Sharma: Brooke India plans to reach out to more than 3.79 lakhs working equines through 32 teams in 10 states (i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Maharasthtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand) of India. This year, we have expanded our work to Rudrapragay and Chamoli district of Uttarkhand, Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh, Bidar in Karnataka and Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.

India holds a large of horse fairs. These fairs provide good opportunity to equine owners and traders to buy and sell equines. With an aim to sensitize fair organizers – government and private organizations alike –, equine owners and traders on animal welfare provisions and to provide emergency treatment in remote areas, Brooke India has been participating in these fairs. This year, we plan to attend more than 60 horse fairs in Bihar, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.  In future, we intended to reach to ‘Equine Fairs ‘in other states as well.

We have also been working with ‘Qalandars’, a neglected nomadic community associated with the breeding of equines for foal production. They usually camp along the banks of River Yamuna and Ganges. We discovered that animal mortality rate was quite high due to endemicity of Trypanosomiasis, a blood protozoan disease, and that they had no access to veterinary care in these remote locations. With an aim to cater to their needs, we opened veterinary centres near their settlements and our mobile clinics provided services at their doorsteps. Brooke’s efforts have significantly brought down the mortality rate among equines. We also plan to cover more Qalandar settlements in Muzaffarnagar district this year.

OWSA: Please tell us more about your work and what keeps you motivated?

M L Sharma: Having served for more than 36 years in Remount and Veterinary Corps of the Indian Army, my passion for horses and to help poor people, who use equines as source of their livelihood, prompted me to join the Brooke Organization. I feel privileged and proud to be the Chief Executive of Brooke India.

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