Animals, and dogs in particular fascinate us,” says Raja Narasimhan, who, along with his wife Priti, recently launched an app called Indies. It is a hyper-local connect and care system that helps stray dog volunteers to work in a more systematic way using technology. Indies is a flagship project of Sare Jahan Se Acha Socio-Eco-Pol Foundation, a registered not-for-profit company under Ministry of Corporate Affairs, India.
Narasimhan, founder director of Indies, says, “Stray dogs in
India are often referred to as Indies by many animal lovers. Across India, there is a large community of good doers who take care of Indies by way of feeding, vaccination, medical attention and even sterilising them. However, there’s also another section of the population showing serious signs of hatred. As a result, there is a growing conflict between humans and animals (in this case Indies). Studies are being conducted to reduce this conflict. As per BBC report (May 2016), India has approximately 30 million Indies and more than 20,000 people die of rabies every year.”
Despite government bodies coming out with various guidelines to tackle the issue of growing Indies’ population, increasing awareness of cruelty towards animals and vaccination programmes, a lot more needs to be done to make life better for the strays. “Through the app, we wish to achieve three main objectives — reduce human and animal conflict through various educative and awareness drives, speed up sterilisation drives to scientifically and systematically control the Indies’ population and implement various vaccination programmes including anti-rabies through the existing channels,” he says.
When asked about the idea behind coming up with the app, Narasimhan says that the idea stemmed from the discussions on multiple WhatsApp groups dedicated to strays. “There are several WhatsApp groups where the problem of strays and related solutions are discussed. There could be one or more groups for each area. In each of these groups, there are just a few volunteers who actually work at the ground level, and just too many who only give advice. Similar types of queries are repeatedly asked. As I was added in one of the groups in our area, I kept wondering why do people always discuss problems and why don’t they think of solutions. For me and my wife, this kept the ball rolling,” says Narasimhan who then created a small group from their locality and started doing research at ground level and collected information.
The couple started meeting more people to get information on a wider spectrum. “We did a lot of brainstorming and debated over the lack of a platform where those genuinely willing to do good work can come together. Then we built a proper team to put up a technical and functional requirement document. We initially thought we can do it for our area but slowly expanded it to our city and now we see a whole system for the country. As my wife and I already run a registered not-for-profit company, it was easier for us to approach corporates to get their support,” adds Narasimhan.
As of now, Indies has created a core team which will be responsible for its strategic execution. And it is in the process of creating sub-committees for day-to-day functioning.
The app is free and has been designed in such a way that it first identifies senior volunteers in a particular ward in a city who are called ‘Buddy Head’. “Buddy Heads are responsible people who have been doing stray dog welfare work for a few years now. For a particular ward once a Buddy Head starts using the app, s/he can invite his juniors called Buddy to join him/ her on the system. However, anybody can download the app and go through the tutorials,” he says.
The system in the app is designed to monitor, track and manage a life cycle of a stray dog through the app — right from birth to death, locality details, regular vaccination and anti-rabies vaccination schedule, sterilisation, de-worming, medication history if required, GPS-based rescue, missing and found, adoption and foster.
Says Narasimhan, “The app is built with notifications so that alerts are sent when it is required. To make sure the Buddies and Buddy Heads are well connected, we have introduced Forum (replacement for WhatsApp groups) so that serious discussions take place.”
While discussing the challenges involved in raising funds for the platform Narasimhan says that it was difficult to convince donors and sponsors. “The journey has been challenging — I was ridiculed and laughed at. But at times you move ahead with some internal belief that many conspire with you for doing good. We got Abzooba Infotech, an analytics company, which agreed to sponsor the entire backend development. After a bit of struggle, we met Tata Trust and got a go ahead to develop the app and web portal,” he says.
The 5 Cs
Through this project, Narasimhan hopes to achieve the 5 Cs:
Collar: Indies will be collared with inbuilt near-field communication (NFC) chip to store details of an Indie.
Census, get proper census areawise.
Control by sterilisation and vaccination drives through the Animal Welfare Board of India’s Animal Birth Control (Dogs) / Anti-Rabies programmes.
Co-exist by spreading awareness about the importance of human and animal co-existence.
Collaborate by connecting with the good doers including the medical fraternity and other related service providers.