When we say ‘One India One People’, we think of the Homo sapiens inhabiting the country. That would then be ‘One India, One Anthroposphere’ or something on those lines. We conveniently forget that India is also home to many different animals (and birds, insects and reptiles) – fauna in other words.
Just as there is diversity among Homo Sapien Indians when it comes to food, attire, language, religion etc. – a diversity which we value, respect and attempt to harness in a good way – there is plurality in the animal life which calls India its home. And every species of animal, bird, insect and reptile made its debut on Mother Earth much before we bipeds made our appearance.
Sudnya Patkar Founder, Defence of Animals had in her foreword to my book of poems – ‘We came before you and other poems’- published in 2019 had written: “As per Indian tradition and culture, animals have held a special place in society. Every Hindu God or Goddess is associated with an animal. The foundation of Buddhism and Jainism is ‘Ahimsa’ or ‘non-violence’, not only towards fellow humans and animals, but also insects. A wonderful setting for co-existence of animals and humans! But something went wrong somewhere. Animals and birds became soft targets for anyone trying to make a quick buck, and are today prime candidates for exploitation. It is a painful sight to see a majestic animal like the elephant begging on our streets, the lion performing in a circus, and the agile tigers and leopards that when free cover numerous miles a day in the wild, confined to cages.”
There have been instances of inspiring wildlife conservation efforts and animal welfare activism, just as there have been shameful incidents of misdemeanor by poachers and celebrities alike. The good and the bad, when brought to light, serve to generate awareness about the right way forward. In this backdrop, I decided to speak to friends and people involved in animal welfare and elicit their viewpoints on the need for building an awareness in the young and old of the fact that ‘They came before us and this earth belongs to them more than it belongs to us Homo Sapiens.’
Man or animal, pain is pain
Babita Lochab, a lawyer based in Delhi was fond of feeding strays, playing with and building little homes for female dogs which had given birth to young ones, ever since she was a little girl. Homo Sapiens, she says, have become very self-obsessed over time, and most of them are not aware of the responsibility we shoulder towards our mute brethren. Sadly, it has not dawned on a vast majority of us that we must all learn to co-exist in harmony, she rues.
Manali Chowdhury is an English teacher from Jamshedpur who was inspired to be philanthropic (literally ‘having compassion for needy humans) and by extension, caring towards animals, from her childhood days by her mother. Preksha Doshi Mehta, a management post-graduate, homemaker and culinarist from Mumbai, gives credit to her 11-year-old son Niket, who by demonstrating care for stray cats and dogs, right from when he was a 6-year-old boy, inspired her to do likewise. Mohsina Sakriwala, a class XI student from New Mumbai, was drawn into realising that there was something wrong with the way humans were carrying on their lives, when as part of a school project, she observed that the sparrow population in and around the area she lived in, had conspicuously decreased. Sagar Sangani, an active animal welfare supporter from Mumbai, decided to care for stray dogs and cats when his own pet passed away, in his late pet’s honour and memory.
Manali labels urbanisation as perhaps a boon for us Homo Sapiens, but a bane for animals. She points out that animal welfare is rarely a priority on the agenda of governments – local, state and national – as human dominance has somehow been mistaken for something which was destined to be.
And when asked how easy or difficult it is to value animals on par with humans, Babita says, it will be easy when one understands that both animals and humans are flesh-and-blood creatures and the former feel pain in the same way as we do – only that they endure it more than we humans do! They suffer in silence, gracefully. Sagar points out that during the lockdowns, animal feeders were disliked by people. It was a case of ‘let the dogs to the dogs while we protect ourselves.’
Comfort in loneliness
Ashish Chalapuram, this author’s schoolmate from the 1970s and 80s, is an avid wildlife/Nature photographer among other things. His posts on Facebook for one, serve the purpose of reminding viewers of Mother Nature and her wonderful glory. He has similar views as Babita and Manali about ‘self-obsessed humans in urbanised settings of the post-modern world’. Mohsina talks about Nature being exploited by modern-day humans out of greed, rather than being harnessed with respect for their needs. She refers to horse racing, zoos, circuses and aquariums, the drastic rise in meat consumption, exploitation of animals in the fashion industry for their fur for example and their use in laboratories for tests of different kinds, as examples.
Preksha believes that people these days are able to combat loneliness by seeking comfort in the company of quadrupeds which are more loyal, friendlier and emotionally more responsive to humans. Sagar refers to autistic kids responding well to dog therapy. Mohsina does point out to the beacons of hope which have emerged over the years – more so in this century – animal welfare centres, adoption societies and numerous volunteers who use social media to good effect.
Being charitable to human beings may come easily to many people. But as Preksha observes, the same compassion towards animals is more difficult to come by. However, philanthropists are more likely to also evolve into animal welfare promoters, as it is the ‘caring for others’ attitude that determines how easily a person can be motivated to start caring for animals.
Seeing is understanding
Manali observes that the problem lies in the reluctance of human beings to get their hands ‘soiled’ with the blood of an injured animal they see on the streets, and thereby their unwillingness to volunteer their time to help it. Ashish believes that more thought must go into designing school curricula in order to sensitise kids and ‘catch them young’, as school kids go on to educate their parents at home. Unfortunately, many city-bred kids have not visited sanctuaries or seen animals and birds in the wild. This curbs the development of their ability to appreciate and respect Mother Nature.
If each one of us could have a soft corner for animals and birds in our heart, together, we could achieve a great deal and make this world a better place. Wishful thinking? I hope not. We depict demigods with the faces of elephant (Ganesha), bull (Nandi), monkey (Hanuman), lion and horse (Narasimha and Hayagriva incarnations of Lord Vishnu respectively). We portray them as riding on a tiger, eagle (Garuda), buffalo, and as cowherds (Krishna). Aren’t we all a bunch of hypocrites then – to different degrees?
Sagar, however, is hopeful that the generations to come will care more for animals than we do. He is of the view that humankind will soon realise that animals are superior to it, and play a key role in making this world a better place to live in.
It is One India, One People, One Biosphere, One Earth, after all!