Are we civilized

Creations - Nanditha Krishna

On watching news flashes of the Chief Election Commissioner and the President visiting Gujarat, I couldn't help but ask myself a few questions: How could the land of Mahatma Gandhi have been so violent? Why has the land of the Buddha and Mahavira seen so much carnage in recent times? The killings of 1947, the communist insurgencies of Kerala, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the Bombay riots now Gujarat to name a random few. In fact, if you take localised riots such as Vanniyars versus Dalits in Tamil Nadu, communists versus RSS in Kerala and Kannada versus Tamils in Karnataka, the list is endless. The increasing numbers of rape and murder make us wonder whether we are civilised at all.

The common strain is that the weak are attacked - we have not yet grown out of that syndrome. I have been writing about heritage, culture and the environment. But human behaviour can be so uncivilized and crass that I often wonder whether we can really appreciate the finer things in life when we are capable of so much inhumanity. It is ironic that the seed for violence probably took root in the philosophy of a pacifist Mahatma Gandhi.
Dr. Nanditha Krishna is a member of the Governing Body of the Blue Cross of India. She is a well known social commentator and art historian but is best known as the Honorary Director of the C P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and the C P R Environmental Education Centre
Courtesy: Sunday Express

He exhorted Indians towards civil disobedience and non-cooperation. Unfortunately, this resulted in a loss of respect for law and civil society. If we go back to the freedom movement, we will realise that nearly every call for satyagraha and non-cooperation ended in violence, forcing Mahatma Gandhi to break his fast or come out of prison.

Some time ago, on the Chennai-Salem highway, we stopped three lorries, each carrying 35 to 45 buffaloes and cattle jam packed, en route to Kerala to be slaughtered. It was a heart-breaking sight. The animals were tired and sick and could barely stand. One buffalo was so tired that his head was balancing on the rope at the back of the lorry, cutting his neck. Others had tears streaming down their faces. Apart from the illegality of the journey (only six large animals may be permitted on a lorry), I was appalled at man's inhumanity to his fellow beings. When the lorries are stopped, the animals are made to walk. Have you seen cattle transported from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to Kerala? It is awful. They are tied nose to nose, whipped and made to walk with no food or water. Why should we, argue the transporters, waste money to feed animals that are going to be killed anyway? If one falls down, fire is lit beneath the animal to force it, up and make it walk.

Leather has become a fashion statement in India, with designers and glamourous models filling the catwalk. Let us not go into the merits or demerits of wearing leather and eating meat. If you want to eat meat the least you can do is visit a slaughterhouse and then decide whether the pleasure is still worth it. But the transportation of animals and the brutal methods of killing them in our country do concern every thinking individual. Today there is a campaign going on in the USA and Europe against Indian leather, and the industry is crying foul. Why don't they clean up their act instead? Animals are transported in the most cruelest ways to Kerala and West Bengal where slaughter is a free for all. The changes must begin in these states. The 1ocals must refuse to buy the leather or meat of animals that have suffered cruelty in transportation or during slaughter.

Yet another issue is the utilisation of animals for research: I saw three tiny monkeys .whose spines had been broken by a PhD student who was writing a thesis on the effect of dropping weights on them at the A L Mudaliar Institute of Basic Medical Sciences in Chennai. Even after they were rescued and taken away, they were so traumatised and incurable that they refused to move out of their tiny cages, lying huddled in a foetal position day and night. Two lucky ones died soon. The unlucky third lived long and suffered. Scientists have been the greatest thinkers and creators. Surely they are not so bereft of ideas?

Have you seen rabbits used to test beauty products? Have you seen hens transported to hotels in Chennai? After a lifetime of balancing on thin wires that make up the floor of their cages, they are tied together by their legs and hung upside down from the handlebars of bicycles during their final journey to a diner's plate. Their wings get caught in the cycle wheel, which yanks them off piece by piece. Again, the lucky ones die. Then there are the bullock carts, those vehicles with infinite weight that bullocks, foaming at the mouth, strain to pull. The animals are forced up steep slopes, whipped and prodded till they are no longer able to pull and are sent to the slaughterhouse on a final grueling journey leading to death and deliverance.

NO DIGNITY IN DEATH: Buffaloes and hens on a traumatic
journey to the slaughter house

Have you seen children tie and light a cracker on a dogs tail? Have you seen municipal workers beat dogs to death, those faithful friends of man? Have you seen the dhobi whip his donkey to move fast the animal's front legs tied together to prevent movement and its back overloaded with bundles of clothes? But of course you have seen it all. Yet we do nothing, because it does not concern us, or we do not care, or we look. but do not see. And the forms of entertainment we enjoy are even worse. The famous jallikattu of Tamil Nadu is agony for the bulls; chilli powder is rubbed in their anus and they are poked and stoned till they run crazed with pain and fear, all this for our "heroes" to. put a silly garland around their horns. Or a race in Maharashtra, where a horse and bullock are yoked together to a cart, and several such-carts compete in a race. The horse, the steed of the gods, runs fast. Pity the poor bullock.

Do you know what happens to race horses? After a lifetime of making money for their owners, they are suddenly auctioned to the jhutka owner or sold for pleasure rides, where they suffer starvation, endless hours of work, and illnesses. During the annual Carnival in Goa, there is a feast when people run around the streets biting live piglets, who run crazed with fear. How barbaric can we be?

And how many of us have visited circuses and enjoyed them uncaring of the cruelties in the training of the animals. Or visited the zoo to see animals in cages, a life sentence for crimes they never committed?

I mention all these because, I feel, we have become insensitive to violence and cruelty. We do not give a thought or a second glance, although we see it every day around us. Once one becomes inured to cruelty, the form it takes becomes irrelevant - cruelty to animals can easily be replicated towards people. We cannot talk about culture and civilisation if we do not uphold the dignity of life. J Edgar Hoover, former director of the FBI, made a study of people convicted of violent crimes such as assault and murder. He found that, in every case, the convict had a childhood history of cruelty to animals. Nearer home, in a prominent murder incident in Annamalai University, the common refrain against the accused was that he had carved up animals in the hostel, in full view of his friends.

Again, I fault the education system. Fifty years after independence, it has. not taught us values. The bullock, say our textbooks, is a beast of burden. So the weight of this burden and the treatment of the animal cease to trouble us. Hens provide us meat and monkeys entertain us, making young people believe they were born for our gratification. The instances go on. This is the beginning of discrimination, cruelty and violence. When one race or religion or caste or colour considers itself superior to another, can we complain? After all, we perpetuated this myth. There is a Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act. The fine for an act of cruelty is a laughable Rs 50. A proposed amendment to the Act and increase in the fine amount has been stuck in Parliament for ten years, even while our parliamentarians increased their salaries, amenities and freebies.

What; you may ask, can an individual do? Do not forget that the common man has a mighty weapon - his purchasing power. Do not use bullock carts for transportation - and tell the bullock cart owners why not. Do not visit the circus, and refuse to buy leather. If you see an act of cruelty towards animals, stop the person immediately. Go to the nearest police station and hand him over under the PCA Act. The animal must be seized, but make sure that it is fed and watered at the police station (the police are, after all, a part of our heartless society).

This is a small step. Even if the fine is a meagre Rs 50, the sheer harassment and corruption involved in trying to get back his animal from the police station could make the bullock-cart driver more careful in future.. Point out every cruelty you see to your family, friends, maid, and anyone else. We must send out strong messages of disapproval and condemnation. We cannot prevent violence towards human beings if we do not stop violence towards all forms of life.

Nanditha Krishna, is Director,
C P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Chennai

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