Varda Mehrotra on India’s Animal Protection Movement

From 1990 to 2007 I (Christine Townend) was living in India, as managing trustee of an animal protection organisation in Jaipur, and during this time I started two more animal shelters in Kalimpong and Darjeeling in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. During this time I saw how  much a Federation of animal shelters was needed in India – a powerful voice which could speak on behalf of animals. There was soon an opportunity to start such an organisation. In January 2007 there was a meeting in Chennai which Asia For Animals (a Hong Kong-based organisation) had arranged. There were so many Indian organisations attending, that I suggested (in an email)  that they could form a Federation, similar to that in Australia, which Peter Singer and I had founded in 1980  (now called Animals Australia Federation). Following my email, a meeting of all Indian Animal Protection groups was planned to be held after the conference. The Federation, called FIAPO (Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations) was organised by Erika Abrams, an American running an animal shelter in Udaipur (Rajasthan). At my suggestion she drew up a Constitution, and thus FIAPO was formed. And here are the current Executive Director’s – Varda Mehrotra –  views on where things stand today.

HOW IS INDIA GOING AS REGARDS ANIMAL PROTECTION?

Founded in 2010, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) is India’s apex animal rights organisation. FIAPO consists of a Federation of animal societies which function in India. As the collective voice of the animal rights movement in India, FIAPO is the catalyst that protects the interests and rights of animals on local and national levels – through education, research , mobilisation, networking, training and direct action. Created for the movement, by the movement, FIAPO is India’s only national federation. It has over 100 members and over 200 supporter organisations across the country.

FIAPO’s key priority areas is farmed animals advocacy through investigations, policy change, implementation of existing laws with an empowered grassroots network, behaviour change for vegan advocacy, mass media advertising, engaging with corporates and institutions and movement building.

India is a large country, and the recent years have seen a steep surge in the consumption of animal products in India, leading to an exponential increment in the number of animals reared. Owing to the sheer magnanimity of the scale of factory farming in India and the lack of regulations to control the malpractices common to factory farming, the welfare and protection of rights of farmed animals is an important area of focus for FIAPO.

For this purpose several nation-wide campaigns were launched to mitigate and regulate animal cruelty in the industry, inspire people to adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle, and minimise the escalation in consumption of animal products across the country.

There are many campaigns that work under the larger ambit for farmed animals, including Stop Slaughter Cruelty, which provides immediate respite to farm animals by addressing the illegal slaughter practices prevalent across the country. Animals are confined, subject to injury and disease, and often crammed without food or water. Furthermore, they are illegally slaughtered and sold at establishments that do not even have licenses to operate as commercial establishments, let alone as slaughter houses. With this campaign, FIAPO’s long term vision is not just to address the widespread illegal and cruel practices prevalent in slaughter, but also to bring in legislative reforms and create awareness by engaging with local organisations and activists.

Another campaign that works for farmed animals is End Exploitative Dairies, which focuses on bringing legislative reforms, for the welfare of dairy cattle. In a country that has a huge dairy industry, FIAPO decided to take an active approach to tacking the issues that plague the bovine population of the country—including facing atrocities like artificial insemination, isolation, and ultimately abandonment.

In what is possibly the largest undercover investigation of dairies in India, FIAPO laid bare the complete absence of regulation that permits the dairy industry to be an ongoing tragedy – on animals, consumers and civic order. The investigations, conducted across 10 states and 451 dairies, unveiled the horrors and gross violations rampant in the ever-growing and grossly commercialised dairy industry. This initiative has brought about a lot of change in all the states that it has targeted, through community building, legal intersection, and activism.

The Living Free campaign aspires for a vegan world in which animals are not killed for food. An organisation that firmly believes in the power of doing rather than waiting and hoping the world will become a better place, FIAPO has a network of over 1000 volunteers and activists that regularly undertake outreach in over 70 cities in India.

The Don’t Get Milked campaign creates mass awareness about the ill-treatment of animals in the dairy industry through the smart use of digital and conventional advertising. Today, milk is a common household consumable. This has caused a shift from backyard dairies to commercial factory farms, where animals are treated as mere commodities. The actual condition of bovines in these factory farms is invisible to the consumer since there is a major disconnect between the finished product and its source. By the use of mass media – print, digital and outdoor advertising avenues, over 2 crore people have learned the importance of compassionate food, and compassionate living because of FIAPO and its incessant activities highlighting the importance of veganism and animal-friendly lifestyles.

FIAPO believes that no animal should be used for consumption and the only real way to achieve that is to bring about a change in the perception of where milk comes from.

FIAPO also works in Corporate Outreach, and engages with institutions to bring down, and ultimately end the commercial consumption of animal products. FIAPO has collaborated with many high standing organisations that have now introduced vegan menus and vegan food.

FIAPO is also working for the freedom of Animals in Captivity, animals have been used for human entertainment for years, and that is one practice that needs to stop soon, not only because the animals are used for economic gain under captivity, but also because it normalises the idea that animals are mere commodities. Animals, undoubtedly suffer when they are confined to small restrictive spaces for the sake of ‘human’ entertainment. Not only are they removed from their natural habitats and social structures, but also forced to live in artificial, stressful, and downright painful conditions, thus depriving them of mental and physical stimulation.

FIAPO has been actively working on projects to bring respite to these suffering animals by fighting for stronger laws to ban some of the most archaic definitions of entertainment—through lobbying, raising awareness, generating public opinion and initiating direct action.

 

End Circus Suffering is FIAPO’s call for the liberation of all animals from the clutches of circus cruelty, by implementing a complete ban on their use and captivity. FIAPO has, through the years, rescued 167 circus animals and rehabilitated them so that they are not used for human entertainment.

In 2013, FIAPO achieved a historic victory for all cetaceans, particularly dolphins, through its Ban Captive Dolphins campaign, where the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoFECC) recognised all cetaceans as nonhuman persons deeming them “extremely intelligent” with “highly developed social structures.” The campaign was launched in partnership with Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, Global Greengrants Fund, and the Born Free Foundation. FIAPO recognised the urgency to launch a campaign, when proposals arose to establish captive cetacean facilities in India for commercial entertainment in the states of Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andaman, Delhi, and Goa.

Rabies Free India is a holistic national campaign that seeks to educate people to mitigate rabies and create a dog-bite free society through a multidimensional approach. Misinformation about rabies, a general lack of proper resources and education about the subject and poorly managed Animal Birth Control (ABC) programmes, have acted as catalysts to bring about an irrational fear that often surfaces as violence against companion animals. FIAPO, along with state government and local bodies, has started a nation-wide dog-bite and rabies prevention campaign called ‘Rabies Free India,’ to address and mitigate escalating conflicts between humans and street dogs.

FIAPO is also petitioning for favourable laws to stop the mindless killing of street dogs in India.  Legal Companion Action campaign seeks to fight against any inimical developments against street dogs by providing critical information to the court, ensuring their well-being and protection.

FIAPO is also campaigning for Personhood for Animals. In the Indian law, the animals are seen as property. The law gives no recognition to the animal’s inherent value and any animal protection offered in the legal system caters to human interest instead of the animals independent interests. In an effort to bring a definite shift in the way our law and society views animals, FIAPO is working on personhood for animals. After months of research and consultations with campaigners and lawyers in India and internationally, FIAPO is now campaigning to depart from the status quo and classify animals with legal personhood.

FIAPO also strongly believes in Movement Building.

The Indian Animal Rights community is at its nascent stage in India, and there are a lot of things that are still taking shape to make the movement a success. Though India has a long standing history of compassion and animal welfare, two of the major concerns for any growing movement are isolation and disconnection. While individuals and local organisations have been working towards the cause, but when major events and issues concerning animals arise in India, local activists and NGOs almost always have limited knowledge and few opportunities to participate. This is where a national organisation comes into play.

The need of the hour is to improve the animal protection framework in India through collaborative and collective work, and that is why the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) is working, joining hands with other NGOs and independent activists. FIAPO has changed the landscape of animal protection in India and has spearheaded a different way of thinking  about social change – one that is people-powered.

Varda Mehrotra,

Executive Director,

Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.

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