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Thursday, July 11, 2013

“Saving Life or the Environment... What Do We Need?” by Ankita Mukhopadhyay

Saving Life or the Environment... What Do We Need?, an article by Ankita Mukhopadhyay

Ankita Mukhopadhyay is a former Delhi University (DU) student who has recently completed her Under Graduation in History (Honours) from Lady Shri Ram College. While at college, Ankita has been a correspondent for DU Beat, an independent Delhi University student newspaper, where she has written articles highlighting the need for animal activism. She has also helped organize a session with renowned animal rights activist, Smt. Maneka Gandhi, in her college. 

Ankita has been brought up mostly in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, with a gap of two years when she lived in Toronto, Canada. According to Ankita, these two years were the turning point of her life when she became part of a petition campaign for PETA to protest the loss of habitat of the Giant Whale. This campaign made her realize the need for humans to be compassionate towards animals and work to secure their rights. Ankita has been a regular supporter of animal rights activities in her locality in Mumbai, especially in protecting the habitat of stray dogs. This young warrior believes in reaching out to people and educating them about issues they are not aware of.

Ankita wishes to help create a world in the future where equality will not be restricted to humans, but will also extend to nature and its original residents – the animals!

The blog heartily welcomes the new young champion for animals, Ankita Mukhopadhyay to voice her opinions on this space.

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With the growing awareness of animal rights issues in today’s world, thanks to significant organizations, there has begun a spate of protests, online and offline, in regard to animal cruelty, over the exploitation of animals for meat, fur, etc. We all want to do ‘something’ for animals and other living creatures, something productive for the society. But a lot of us do not realize that with the way things work today, incessant protests, agitations, and petitions are useless unless things on the natural front are worked out. All our actions center round the growing question of ecological awareness, which has not gained much of a hold in our country despite historians, sociologists, and other scholars trying to prove otherwise.

A case study

Despite all sorts of awareness campaigns, I feel that there has been little done to integrate the environment with animal rights causes. While protecting animals, we do not realize that without protecting their habitat, there is little or no use of our compassion towards them. I will give you a small example. I am a self professed lover of dogs, going to the extent of loving every stray on the road, as if it were my own child. I live in Kharghar, a small area in Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, and beside my house there was a CIDCO (community development corporation of my area) plot, which was a mini jungle with only trees and different kinds of bushes. It looked weird that in the middle of an urbanized area, there was a plot of land, on which no one, but only the government, laid any claim! Recently, the land was given away to the Metro Rail Corporation, which began constructing a metro station on that plot that entailed ‘clearing’ the jungle plot. Now, you may ask me, what is the relation of that plot with the stray dogs? I really didn’t care much when bulldozers came and ripped apart the soil, loggers chopped off the trees. But my lack of awareness impacted the dogs of my area in a major way.

The CIDCO plot was the home of all the strays in my area. At night, they had their daily congregations there; the jungle was a respite for them from the roads that threatened their very existence. When it rained, clean water accumulated in the burrows between the trees, where the dogs got fresh water. Now, all they have are puddles on the roads, from where they drink water and a nearby tandoor store. The strays have no place where they can bring up their families in peace and I have seen desperate females crying in anguish when one of their little ones dies under the wheels of a car or a truck. The plot that I earlier considered just another part of my life now became a cause of concern for me.

It is fascinating to see how people become compassionate towards a cause because something of their interest gets involved in it. I, like any other materialistic human being, decided to not protest against the destruction of the forest plot next to my house. But when I began to see how it affected the dogs in my area, I began to treat this issue as my own. But on further thought, I realized how much that plot meant to other creatures too. Every monsoon, I used to see a particular breed of bird migrate to that small plot of land. Now, I don’t even spot pigeons on my window sill. My neighbors say, “Thank God, finally the metro is here”. But what the government has sanctioned is an underground metro in Kharghar. Then why is the entire plot being ‘cleaned’? Is it because that after the underground construction, some big-shot wealthy real estate owner will build a multi-storey building on that plot, and sell the flats for crores of rupees, just because it is right beside the metro station?

Integrating animal activism with environmental ethics

I am a self-professed animal rights supporter. But in my animal activism, I forgot that what animals need protection the most from are human beings themselves. I save a monkey from a man using it for entertainment purposes, but where will I send it after I save it? Where will it go? It will maybe roam around on the streets and one fine day get trampled by a car. Or maybe some laboratory will take pity on it and make more ‘productive’ use of the poor soul. I am not trying to present an exaggerated view point, I am just highlighting the need to integrate animal activism with environmental ethics. There is a kind of chauvinism in every kind of viewpoint presented to us and animal activism has become more of an elite, high society kind of a hobby. But this ‘elite activism’ will lead us nowhere unless we can create a society worth living for other creatures.

How much should a person consume?

It is completely wrong to assume, however, that environmentalism was never present in Indian society. Ramachandra Guha, in his work, How much should a person consume? highlights how in the Puranas and Vedas, there is an emphasis on protecting forests. But we seem to have simply forgotten what we have done in the past, forgotten about the Chipko movements, and other ‘andolans’ that people at the grass roots level fought to save the environment. We have become so blinded by the need to rush towards a ‘developed’ nation status that we have forgotten some things in India can’t be dealt with in the ‘western’ way. Radhakamal Mukherjee, one of India’s pioneers in ecological sociology, too postulated the theory that the natural environment sets certain limits to human action, boundary conditions that humans must learn to respect. Thus, the “ecological process is constantly thwarted and modified by the [human] cultural process, but again and again reasserts itself”. After all, we all know that the Dodo died because of two factors: hunting and environment destruction. There is a need to learn from the past to understand and analyze the present circumstances.

Animal rights activism, like feminism, is a movement that spread towards India from the west and people in India took towards it like a moth towards a flame. In a country where only 31% of the population is of vegetarian individuals(1), the fact that animal activism is on the rise is a matter of achievement. But we need to understand that environmental education should not be restricted only in the school syllabus. I studied Environmental Education in the CISCE board till my class 12, and the topic of environmental management, protection of animals from exploitation, lab testing, poaching, etc., did create a theoretical awareness in me and my classmates; however none of us really understood the gravity of the situation, as we weren’t exposed to the real-world problems.

Success through a multi-pronged approach

What we also need to realize is that multiple perspectives and theories need to be taken into account in the way we view issues. One particular way of thinking cannot survive on its own. I used to think that simply feeding the stray dogs in my area and stopping speeding cars on the street to protect them was enough to protect them, but there are numerous things we need to do to achieve success in animal activism.

There is a need to petition to the government highlighting the different ways in which urbanization can be achieved without affecting the environment and destroying the scenic beauty around us. I agree there are people who are continually doing this, but we need to do it more. Again and again. We need to rise and realize to save the environment that sustains the animals we love so much. I do hope that we all act at the right time to see some positive change. And I am sure that one day we will see some change. In some way or the other, we will see change.

(1) The Hindu, Food habits of a nation, Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar, 

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