Perspectives On India’s Animal Advocacy
The relationship between humans and non-human animals can be influenced by different cultural, historical, and religious viewpoints. India is no exception. While many Western advocates may have limited knowledge of India, it is a place where animal welfare has had a long history. This study set out to explore what influences India’s animal debate, in historical and present terms.
To begin, the author notes that treatment of animals has been long debated in religious and philosophical contexts in India, particularly in relation to animal sacrifices. Colonization brought such issues into further focus, and the contact with Western ideas put Indian society in front of the same “dilemma” Western people have had: that of “seeing animals both as resources for human consumption and as objects of compassion.”
The author notes, however, that colonization and religion are only two of the many factors influencing the relationship between the Indian people and non-human animals. India’s complex history, and the coexistence of different philosophies makes the debate even more nuanced.
While not meant to be exhaustive, this study analyzes research done in India between 2016 and 2017, as well as newspapers and legal files, to outline India’s diverse approach to the animal issue.
Particularly, the author focuses on the link between animal activism and identity by investigating how certain groups use the animal cause to reinforce a sense of political or religious belonging. One notable example is Hindu Reformists’ cow protection efforts to reinforce anti-Muslim and anti-colonial feelings.
Another example is the “go vegan” campaign organized by Tibetan refugee settlements around Asia to promote the idea of a “green Tibetan Buddhist cultural identity” — in opposition to what they define as “Chinese’s unethical treatment of animals.”.
This study also focused on how animals are seen by different groups of people. For example, the author found that lawyers have been fighting for the recognition of animals as legal persons. Similarly, animal rights organizations see animals as individuals whose suffering should be prevented and alleviated, both legally and through direct help. Hunters and environmentalists – on the other hand – favor species protection (as opposed to individual protection) as a tool to preserve ecosystems. Animal welfare groups see animals as “speechless” creatures in need of direct protection. Finally, Indian media portray animals as cultural icons, capable of influencing the public debate — one example being a legal case where the black-necked crane, an endangered bird species, was used as a symbol for the fight of a Buddhist monk against the building of a dam in the district where the bird was seen.
Throughout the article, the author introduces some of the main actors driving the Indian debate, past and present: monks, politicians, lawyers, celebrities, and hunters turned conservationists and photographers. The author notes that, despite a similar social background, these actors all present a different approach to the animal issue.
For animal advocates, this study shows how different cultural, religious, and political influences can shape the way people consider non-human animals – or a specific species – and interact with them. When we think of animal advocacy in a global context, we need to keep these varying contexts in mind. Taking these influences into consideration can help advocates tailor their work to the context, and determine which approach is most effective within the community they serve.