Philosophy   > A Passage to india


Editorial from "ANIMAL PEOPLE" Jan/Feb 1998


We had a rare chance for three representatives of ANIMAL PEOPLE to visit India for the price of one. Almost directly opposite to us on the earth, scarcely anywhere could have proved more relevant or enlightening relative to the state of humane work and wildlife conservation in North America.


We knew already that India has the oldest recorded humane tradition, is the only nation which constitutionally recognizes a human obligation to treat animals kindly, has more than half the world's vegetarians, has more native mammals and birds than any other, and is deeply involved in the struggle to protect endangered species.


Next to Japan and China, we recognized as well that India may be pivotal in determining the cultural, social, and moral direction of all Asia. India has accomplished a perhaps unparalleled synthesis of western-style democratic government and technological transition, still underway, with social stability, lifting a growing percentage of her people out of dire poverty and illiteracy despite rapid population growth that has only just begun to slow.


A big part of the Indian success may be the strength of the indigenous humane tradition, encapsulated in the Jain notion of Ahimsa, meaning "doing no harm."


We wanted to see how philosophical and political lip service to Ahimsa translates into real-life animal control work, in a nation of ubiquitous need. We wanted to see how the Indian tiger poaching problem compares to the killing of North American predators by poachers, sport hunters, and USDA Wildlife Services, formerly Animal Damage Control.


We accordingly spent two hectic weeks inspecting nature reserves, humane societies, and gaushalas (cow shelters) from Bombay to Delhi and back, speaking at schools, meeting with Jain religious groups, meeting privately with Indian humane movement leaders, and attending and addressing the Animal Welfare Board of India's National Seminar as the sole representatives from outside India.


Our primary host among many, pediatrician and Jain vegetarian activist Dr. Pramod Mehta, saw to it that we had little or no "down time." If there was an open moment during the days he traveled with us, no matter how early or late, he arranged discussions and briefings. Even time waiting for trains was never idle, as we studied the dogs, monkeys, birds, bats, and even cattle and goats who inhabit Indian train station environs.


...and through the looking glass


We expected to see starving dogs and cats, communities struggling with rabies control, overloaded beasts of burden scarred by flogging and ill-fitting harnesses, and butcher shops killing animals in the street. Indeed we did see all of that in various places.


But we also saw that none of this was the unchallenged rule. We saw plentiful stray dogs even in cities with active and successful Animal Birth Control programs, yet few in those cities were puppies, pregnant, or nursing, and they looked as well-fed and happy as most North American pet dogs -- far more so than the millions of North American dogs who spend their lives tethered and neglected.


We saw that many roving cattle and work animals who at first glance appear to be "starving," because their ribs show, are actually far older than cows and horses usually get before being slaughtered in North America, and that one must look twice, closely, to distinguish actual suffering from the normal ravages of age.


We saw much abuse of the water buffalo used to draw carts, whose status is markedly less than that of cows and oxen, yet we also saw water buffalo dairy herds led through city streets to spend their afternoon recreationally bathing in a river -- a consideration with little or no parallel in modern U.S. or Canadian agriculture.


For every person we saw who acted harshly toward animals, we met someone who had dedicated significant personal resources to preventing animal suffering -- like Ratanlal Bafna, our host in Jalgaon, who funds a gaushala from his own pocket and hires teachers to discourage animal sacrifice in remote villages.


The North American animal care-and-control community typically blames shelter killing on a lack of resources and an ignorant public. We know as much about public ignorance and lack of resources as anyone in the humane field. But when we saw first-hand what institutions such as the Bombay SPCA are doing on budgets of less than the personal salaries of many U.S. humane group executives, it was clear that the real problem here is not the public nor tight resources, but rather a lack of heartfelt moral commitment at the leadership level, infecting the whole animal care-and--control infrastructure with attitudes of learned helplessness and abject confusion.


Gandhi was willing to go half-naked, if necessary, to inspire a more kindly India. No one here needs go half-naked. The North American humane community already has adequate access to resources to catch up -- yes, catch up -- with the progress already made in India, where half the people can't read or write. What we need here is Gandhian courage.


Oprah Winfrey: "Mad Cow Trial"


April 16, 1996: During the national broadcast of her show featuring Howard Lyman, Lyman warned about the possibility of a British-style mad cow epidemic in the United States. Oprah told her audience, "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!"


Several ranchers in Texas, led by a multimillionaire Paul Engler, filed suit against both Winfrey and Lyman, for twelve million dollars, in Amarillo, Texas.


January, 1998: Oprah Winfrey won her case against the Texas ranchers. She beat the ranchers on their home turf, and got to keep her $ 12,000,000.


However, it would have been still better, if the trial also had tested the veggie libel laws, that in some states seem threatening First Amendment (free speech) right.