On the streets of Charan Singh Colony in Ghaziabad, located in western Uttar Pradesh, an atmosphere of grief, confusion and fear reigns.
In an episode that has shaken the residents, a 14-year-old boy tragically passed away on 4 September after exhibiting symptoms consistent with rabies.
This incident became widely known after a heart-wrenching video surfaced online last week, where the boy is seen in deep distress and pain in the embrace of his father, who is wailing and looks helpless. The video was recorded four hours before the child's death in a hospital.
In seeking to understand the circumstances leading to the demise of the child, named Shahvez, Swarajya visited the locality on 10 September, only to find the family residence locked.
The house is located in ‘masjid wali gali’ in Charan Singh colony that falls under the jurisdiction of the Vijay Nagar police station.
It was apparent that the residents are struggling with a substantial stray dog population.
After inquiring with neighbours, we were directed to a nearby junk shop, owned by a relative of the boy named Matlub Ahmed.
Ahmed, who identified himself as uncle (chacha) of Shahvez's father Yaqoob, disclosed that the aggrieved family had temporarily retreated to their ancestral home in Bulandshahr. Shahvez's grandfather Mehboob, who is elder brother of Ahmed, had suffered a stroke two nights ago.
A day after the child died, Ahmed had lodged a police complaint.
He told the police that about a month ago, Shahvez was attacked by a dog belonging to a resident named Sunita. When the child's family confronted Sunita and her children Aakash and Shivani, they told them that all their dogs were vaccinated and the child's kin had nothing to fear. Nothing would happen to the child, Sunita said.
Hearing this, Shahvez's parents stopped stressing about the dog bite. However, a month later, the child started displaying symptoms of a disease. His mouth drooled, he began to bark like a dog, and began fearing water.
The family immediately took him to a hospital, but doctors told the parents that the child could not be saved and it was best for the family to stay away from him.
After the child's death, the family confronted Sunita again, but the latter dismissed the matter.
Ahmed's statement, recorded in the FIR, further says that Sunita keeps six-seven dogs, that are not vaccinated, and often bark at children for want of food. A woman named Rashi, who introduces himself as an animal welfare worker, opposes any move to remove the dogs from the streets.
Based on Ahmed's statement, a case was registered at Vijay Nagar Police Station under IPC sections 289 (negligent conduct with respect to an animal) and 304-A (causing death by negligence) on 5 September (FIR number 696). Sunita, Aakash, Shivani and Rashi were named as accused.
Ahmed told Swarajya that Sunita lives four streets away, and the child had identified her as "kutte paalne wali aunty" (aunty who keeps pets) to his mother after the dog bite.
He paints a distressing picture of Shahvez’s condition in the week leading to his passing. The child grew increasingly fearful, displaying aversion to both light and water, which are known symptoms of rabies.
He was hospitalised for the first time on 3 September. The family was made to take him to six hospitals in a day. Despite desperate attempts at medical intervention in both Delhi and Bulandshahr, his life could not be saved.
In a disturbing twist to the already tragic tale, allegations of molestation against Shahbaz's grieving family were made by the accused, said Danish Khan, uncle (chacha) of the boy. He said that Sunita and other women in her family gave statements to news channels that men in "masjid wali gali" molest women from other colonies.
Mehboob suffered an instant paralytic attack when he saw the allegations on a news channel two nights ago, said Danish. "The double shock of the child's death and the accusations was too much for our father to bear.”
Mahir, who is also a member of the family, informed that Shahvez's family had moved to Ghaziabad from Sikandrabad town of Bulandshahr only two years ago, seeking better opportunities.
Most of the clan is engaged in the scrap business, operating under the name ‘Chaudhary Scrap’, a reference to their Rajput caste. Shahvez, who is survived by three sisters and a younger brother, was a student of Class VIII.
Following his death, the Ghaziabad Police issued a statement via social media platform X (formerly Twitter), saying that the boy had been bitten around two months ago, and he hid this crucial detail from his parents. By the time symptoms of rabies began to manifest, it proved to be too late for effective medical intervention. Police said the accused were being questioned.
A press note by the Ghaziabad police is attached below:
The family at the heart of the allegations, when approached for comment, declined to talk. Two women who opened the door, refused to give their names, and said that the family had already shown relevant documents of vaccination of their pets to local law authorities and had nothing more to say.
Before shutting the door on us, they said that there were a lot of stray dogs in the area, and there was no evidence that it was their dog that had bitten the boy.
As per news reports, the Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation issued a notice to the accused family after the child’s death to check for vaccination records.
GMC Deputy Chief Veterinary, Anuj Kumar Singh, told Indian Express that a team visited the family and checked the dogs’ vaccination records. They found the family had three pet dogs of Pomeranian breed, for whom they did provide the vaccination proof. However, the family had also kept Indian breed dogs, and were yet to provide details of their registration.
Singh told the newspaper, “It is not clear which dog bit the child. WHO guidelines state that in case of rabies, the victim dies within a few days. However, in this case, the family said that the boy was bitten by the dog around 45 days before. The dogs are physically fine. We can know the actual cause of death after proper probe.”
As investigations continue, one irrefutable truth emerges: Fear has gripped the residents. Several people told us that stray dogs had become a menace in the area.
They blamed certain families who fed stray dogs, for their rising population. Several residents took Sunita's name, saying she keeps "six-seven" dogs.
Most residents we talked to, were not aware of the disease called rabies. They seemed clueless about the term. When asked what they knew of the reasons behind the child's death, they said he died of "infection after dog bite".
As per doctors, rabies is incurable. However, if the infected person gets a dose of PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) within 24 hours, his life can be saved.
Lalu, a local vendor who sells drinking water cans, echoed the prevailing sentiment when he said he was constantly scared of the canine population in the area that "terrorises outsiders".
“The dogs are so scary that their bite alone can cause death,” he said, and added, “The child's death has come to public knowledge. But there are many other dog bite cases that have never been reported in the media.”
He called for immediate administrative intervention.
Indeed, regional reports indicate an alarming uptick in dog-related incidents. According to local Hindi daily Hindustan, just this past Saturday, the city bore witness to a staggering 25 dog bite incidents, with at least two victims in serious condition.
In this tale of loss, contentious allegations and public safety concerns, the city of Ghaziabad yearns for solutions.
As residents mourn Shahvez and demand action, the broader implications of his death reverberate far beyond the district’s boundaries as can be seen by angry reactions on social media users from across the country over stray dog bites and irresponsible pet owners.
(Note: The ground visit was made by Mayur Bhosale and Prabhat Kumar. The report has been written by Swati Goel Sharma based on their inputs)
Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.
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