Animals Aren’t Food, Sport or Clothing: A Vegan’s Lament
“When one person dies, it’s a tragedy, but when a million people die, it’s a statistic.”
The above quote, attributed to Joseph Stalin, is unfortunately the way we view death and tragedy. How would this quote hold up when applied to animals, you wonder? If one dog’s death catches the attention of popular media, it is undoubtedly tragic; when millions of chickens, pigs, cows and other animals are killed on a daily basis, it is not only just a statistic, but a statistic that does not even warrant consideration, no matter how vast.
As per the Sample Registration System Baseline Survey 2014 , 29 percent of Indians over the age of 15 were vegetarians. The remaining 71 percent identified themselves as non-vegetarians.
What of the people who abstain completely from animal and animal-derived products i.e. vegans? Where do vegans come into the picture? In a country where almost 350 million people identify themselves as vegetarians, presumably due to a combination of religious beliefs and their perceived sense of wrong in killing animals, the percentage of vegans isn’t even sufficient enough to merit a place in the survey.
This shortage is partly due to people’s lack of awareness regarding the horrors in the dairy industry and their disconnect from the abuse and exploitation of animals, largely due to society’s conditioning where certain animals are viewed as sport, food, their hides and fur used as clothing, etc. while other animals are viewed as man’s best friend or simply too cute to kill.
Unlike many other countries, including the United States which has among the largest vegan population in the world, in India you will get a variety of vegetarian options almost everywhere you go.
What is unfortunate, however, is that the dairy component in a lot of these vegetarian foods is also ultimately the product of a lot of suffering – emotional and physical – as well as the inevitable premature death of cows. In fact, if we are to refer to the framework regulating food products in India, the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulation, 2011 explicitly defines ‘non-vegetarian food’ as “an article of food which contains whole or part of any animal including birds, fresh water or marine animals or eggs or products of any animal origin, but excluding milk or milk products, as an ingredient” (emphasis added).
Why has dairy been afforded this privileged position of exclusion from the category of non-vegetarian food? Before a glass of milk is set on your table every morning, the following, as documented by PETA’s investigation into the horrors in the Indian dairy industry, occurs:
Cows are beaten into submission and artificially inseminated so that they will keep producing milk. Although this practice should be performed by trained professionals, most cows are repeatedly inseminated by “barefoot healers” who ignore the most basic hygienic standards and use equipment that has not been sterilised, exposing cows to infections and diseases. Most of a cow’s day is spent confined to a narrow, filthy stall. Cows are injected with Oxytocin, an illegal drug that causes them to produce unnaturally large quantities of milk and suffer severe stomach cramps as though they were in labour. Cows are impregnated repeatedly. They grieve for every calf they deliver who is ripped away a few days after birth. Cows often develop mastitis – an infection of the udders – from rough handling and rumen acidosis from unwholesome food.
While this may not be the case in all dairy farms, and there would exist certain ‘happy farms’ where cows are treated ‘humanely’ before being artificially inseminated to get them pregnant and having their calves taken away in order to ensure a greater quantity of milk for their human overlords, this misses the point entirely. While animal abuse is a big problem, the real problem is animal use itself.
The real problem is that animals, largely, are not viewed as ends in themselves, but rather as instruments i.e. a means to an end. Animal welfare activists have certainly achieved a lot, in India and around the world, in reducing the level of abuse and exploitation suffered by animals by, among other things, granting chickens larger cages and regulating the manner of slaughter of animals in order to make it more humane. Think about that for a second. We give animals such little regard that we celebrate and pat ourselves on the back for making their institutionalised of mass murder less painful.
Not only do welfare causes do little to help the cause of animals, but they in fact reinforce their position as property, as objects; as resources to be used in fulfilling the ever-increasing selfish needs of humankind. In order to really bring about and effect change for the animals, we must abstain from any participation in this industry.
We must boycott all animal products used as food (yes, including dairy) and as clothing; we must not support companies which test on animals; and we must not support the enslavement and abuse of animals in any manner whatsoever. It is our treatment of animals for millions of years that has us viewing them not as sentient beings with rights, but rather as either property or as objects for usage as one pleases.
How have we, as a people contrived to reach a stage where the mass murder of sentient beings on a daily basis has become acceptable to all and sundry? Almost all of us have while walking through particular alleys in India seen chickens crammed wing to wing in cages in evident discomfort. This sight almost always inevitably leads to the person cringing, before quickening their steps to get out of sight. After all, out of sight, out of mind.
Almost all of us have also at one point or the other refused to watch a video showcasing the suffering of animals because it is much too disturbing and even, in some cases, because it may make us stop eating meat. This begs the question: why must they endure with their bodies what we cannot withstand with our eyes?
It has also been widely recognised that animals can think, develop relationships, and in some cases have such advanced cognitive capacity that some animals can even foresee and mind their own deaths. These questions and this research is often carried out in order to humanise animals to afford them some sort of equality and as a consequence, a greater shot at attaining rights. The concern, however, is not about the answers; it is that the wrong questions are being asked. Why are we judging animals against arbitrary human standards in order to be afforded the simple right to not suffer, to not be killed, to be let alone, or the even more basic right to just have their existence count? Why do we love for, care for, and treat some animals as part of our family while not granting others a similar privilege? Bhadra, the dog recently thrown off a terrace by two medical students, evoked a lot of sympathy from people all around the country while the two men stirred up outrage, and rightfully so. Luckily, Bhadra survived the fall. Billions of animals, however, are not so lucky so as to survive the abuse they must so regularly undergo. Our cognitive dissonance when it comes to treatment of different animals is, sadly, at an alarming high.
However, while it is disheartening that the understanding and compassion shown for Bhadra isn’t replicated for the billions of other animals suffering on a daily basis, the collective empathy shown to right an obvious wrong gives me immense hope that one day as a nation we will unite for the cause of all the other animals suffering a far worse fate.
Harshdeep Singh is a lawyer working out of Delhi, who is a strong believer in animal rights.
(This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. FIT neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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