On July 17 2010, at the Animal Rights Conference in Alexandria, Virginia, Eileen Weintraub gave the following address about the abuse of animals in India:
Hello everyone, I am Eileen Weintraub from Seattle and for the past 7 years have volunteered to be an outreach person for India’s animals via the organizations there that serve them — mostly by working online, although I have also made five tours of India’s animal shelters. I chose the VSPCA or Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals located on the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India, as the main group I help as they were doing amazing things and needed the most help – they are off the tourist track and receive few western visitors. In 2008 I formed “Help Animals India”, a nonprofit group to aid and represent VSPCA and other hard working Indian animal groups.
Like many of you here, I have always helped animals with rescue and advocacy. A vegetarian since I was 21, I have also been a practitioner of Eastern religions. It was in India that I was able to find the people who could help me make a difference and make the best use of my passion to help animals.
The title of this presentation uses the word abuse, but it is also animal suffering due to a lack of resources that is the problem. For example, this past January I was in an animal sanctuary in Bodhgaya with a puppy who had been attacked by another dog – there was no vet not only in the animal sanctuary but none was available in the entire impoverished Indian state of Bihar – so I had to frantically make overseas calls to learn what drugs could be given to alleviate his pain. I never felt so alone. Other pups I have rescued in India have died of distemper or other diseases that might have been avoided through proper quarantine, vaccination and animal birth control programs. However, many animal shelters have recently made extraordinary gains. Just about 5 years ago VSPCA instituted training for the shelter vets to learn cat spay/neuter , as this is not taught in Indian vet colleges.
Article 51 of the Indian Constitution says . . .
” It shall be the duty of every citizen . . . to have compassion for all living creatures . ..
There is a heritage of reverence for life in India, yet this is a country where countless animals suffer severe neglect. Overpopulation, poverty, pollution, superstition, apathy and ignorance all contribute to their plight. In a country where human misery and impoverishment remain high, the welfare of destitute animals is a low priority.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was added to the Indian constitution in 1960. Every item of cruelty or abuse I am going to mention now is illegal; however, these laws are not followed or enforced.
1. Animal sacrifice – still prevalent in some traditions of the Hindu and Muslim religions
2. Cow abandonment – Hindus worship the cow as mother, as a provider of labor and milk. The killing of cows not only violates these religious beliefs, but it is outlawed. So when a cow stops giving milk she is often turned out on the street rather than be sent for slaughter. Left on the street, she forages among the garbage. She slurps up everything in sight, including plastic bags that can cause a painful death. There is a conflict in India between mercy killing and traditional religious thought that it is the karma of the being to experience suffering, so too often nothing is done. And until India controls its horrendous santitation problems, there is little hope for controlling the suffering of its street animals.
3. Cruel animal transport - cow slaughter is illegal in all but a few states in India. About 400 million of the over one billion people are vegetarian – but there are few vegans. Although traditionally, Indian vegetarianism does not include eggs. There are countless numbers of cows slaughtered illegally – without any humane standards in place. The others are transported via crude means, or even forcibly marched with torturous means, to “legal” slaughter states, including the unwanted male baby calves torn away very early from their mums.
4. Wildlife poaching and wildlife trade — it is a dangerous business indeed for the anti- poaching forces and nonprofit groups to bust up this trade and nab the perpetrators. I was in Karnataka state when the recent tiger census was done – in all of India, land of the tiger, there are only 1411 tigers left in the wild. Worldwide, the count is 3000.
5. Elephants – there are about 3500 elephants in captivity.
These are those in government owned forest camps and zoos, circuses and temples, as well as privately-owned “Begging elephants.”
In the wild, there are about 24,000 elephants. These are under great threat due to fragmentation of their habitat, conflict with villages and the loss of interlinking corridors. They even roam on the train tracks and get hit.
As to the privately owned elephants, their care is generally very poor, if not horrendous.
Some astounding good news is that as of last year a new law was passed that all elephants are to be released from zoos and circuses – but it is still being worked out where they can go. Unlike Africa, there is much less land in India where elephants can roam. One of the groups I help – Compassion Unlimited Plus Action or CUPA, based in Bangalore – works closely with the government and is attempting to establish India’s first elephant sanctuary.
6. Street performing animals - ignorant people watch performing monkeys, rabbits, elephants, birds and other animals – who are abused and often kept drugged. If you hear of anyone visiting India, ask them not to support this by giving money. Better yet, they can take action by protesting and making a scene, as foreigners in India are generally respected. This is an illegal act which uninformed tourists often support.
7. Street dogs –VSPCA’s major project - the ABC or animal birth control program in India is legendary in the major cities; VSPCA has have helped over 70,000 street dogs with spay/neuter/vaccination, but still street dogs are being cruelly killed in many parts of India.
8. The pet business – I became alarmed about this during my first visit 7 years ago. There are now 500 million middle class people, many of them just starting to buy pets with little understanding of how to take care of them.
Can India avoid the problems that animal shelters in more developed countries have just begun to get a handle on – overpopulation, poor care, and abandonment? We even have problems of animal hoarding and it is hard to blame these people for wanting to take in the suffering street animals when there are no other alternatives for them. Right now, the future looks extremely challenging as the pet throwaway culture is the norm. As soon as the darling white puppy , most likely bought already unwell from a substandard pet store has any health problems – she might be left on the street. Pomeranians are popular, but how well could she do in the Indian heat that her coat is unsuited for? Is it shocking to see so many former pet dogs wandering the street? Not in a country where entire generations of beggars live on the street. A well- off person might be used to leaving their front door in the morning and ignoring hungry human beggars. So would they stop and help an abandoned dog or a suffering cat?
The community or street dogs serve as guard dogs and as companions and many, certainly not all, enjoy their presence. If you watch a street dog cross the terrifying and frenetic traffic, they will wait with a group of pedestrians to cross safely with the people. They are really street smart! However, the former pet dogs abandoned to the street do not have much of a chance.
With little infrastructure for adoption, fostering and awareness built up, the animal shelters cannot keep up. Because of the culture of ahimsa, the animal shelters are loath to euthanize unwanted but healthy animals.
9. Factory farming – it is just starting up in India, mainly with chickens. The latest figures include 200 million held in battery cages. Pork and beef are eaten much less, as Muslims do not eat pigs and Hindus do not eat cows.
It is common to see goats or chickens outside to be shortly turned into dinner. Is this abuse really different than it is here? – the only difference is that it is outside for all to see, while in the west it is hidden behind locked doors.
What do we as activists and sensitive people do when we encounter a suffering animal? Do we stop our travels and try to rescue the one animal? Do we try to do even more to make a difference and help the many by filing a court case, starting an animal shelter, or advocating vegan diets? These are decisions all of us must face. When I travel overseas, I like to travel with friends who are local activists – if they say we can stop and help, I trust their judgment. If they say there is nothing that can be done, I will try and find the acceptance within my own heart – after all beings have been living and dying since the world began. I do not wish to be afraid to witness these realities.
These are all the challenges. The good news, again, is India’s animal welfare laws and an underlying culture of respect for all life. If you are an Indian nonprofit group with time and resources, you can file cases in court to stop these abuses. In a country where caste is still an issue and women and children suffer many injustices, what we can do to help animals is just a drop in the bucket, but the bucket is getting filled.
With a fundamental and deep understanding of ahimsa, the majority of India’s population does not want to be cruel. There is little culture of hunting. Poor people traditionally see their livestock as their companions and part of their family – and yes that did mean keeping the cow and bullock for life - but those days are long past.
India’s history is fascinating and includes Asoka’s enlightened kingdom, where all hunting was prohibited and peace and harmony for all beings prevailed. Most Indians pray daily – religion is interwoven into their lives — but a popular saying with my Indian animal advocate friends is:
“Hands that help are holier than lips that pray”
Nonetheless, I would like to end with a Buddhist prayer which reflects the fervent wishes for nonhuman animals as well as human ones!
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May all beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering
May all beings have the happiness that is free of all sorrow
~ Eileen Weintraub, Seattle, WA USA.
Help Animals India, Founder and President
Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals, Volunteer for Global Outreach.