Thursday, February 09, 2006
Violence and Vegetarianism
When I decided to watch a Rajnikanth movie tonight, it was because I wanted something light and funny and entertaining to watch - a movie where i could leave my brains safely snuggled down to sleep inside my skull. But less than an hour into the movie, a fight sequence made me start with horror. This sequence involved the hero being chased by hundreds of villagers, all in horse-drawn carriages. What made me scream while watching the sequence was that every two or three seconds, a horse goes down with its chariot. The movie is fiction. But the horses are real. The trauma is real. The anguished neighs are real.
My decision to turn vegetarian was taken nearly nine years ago. It's not usually an in-thing to be religious, but I have always believed in God. If God created every creature on earth, right from the shapeless amoeba to what is hailed as the highest form of creation, the human being, surely He didn't equip each with defence mechanisms and bodily functions for the purpose of serving as food for the "most intelligent" of these forms, the human being! Why does the amoeba have its pseudopodia? Why do hens incubate their eggs with so much love and care? If anyone's heard a hen laying an egg, the pain it goes through is very, very similar to the pain a woman in labour goes through. How many women would surrender their babies to be skinned and eaten and made tikka or curry of? An elephant's term of pregnancy is longer than a woman's. Nothing is more maternal than a cow nuzzling its calf and feeding it, eyes shining with love. The excuse I hear all the time is "ecological balance". And the question I ask is this - the world is overpopulated; my own country houses a sixth of its population and has much, much, much less than a sixth of its area. Should we turn to cannibalism in the name of ecological balance? Is ecological balance our God-given right? The response I usually get is "it's different". How is it different? When you take an animal's life, you take it. When that animal happens to be human, why does it make a difference? Then I am told that plants have life too, and scientists have supposedly proven that plants have feelings too. But if you were to cut off the branch of a tree, it would grow back. If you were to pluck a fruit from it, the fruit would be replaced. A limb of an animal does not grow back. The heart of the animal does not beat again.
Even worse is the use of animals and the indiscriminate claiming of their lives for the most trivial needs of ours - entertainment, for instance; why should horses fall down repeatedly for a fight sequence in a movie? Game-hunting for another. I watched a documentary very recently, on the shooting of elephants in South Africa. It's a rich man's game, and an elephant can supposedly fetch $13,000-19,000. The elephant that was shot was skinned alive and eaten and his tusks torn off as he moaned. Another elephant was transported from a jungle to the game hunting area, where he would be shot to death. The magnificent creature struggled with his delighted captors, as they pranced about, tying ropes to him, shooting darts at him from a helicopter, and then loading him on to a truck which was hardly big enough for him. When the elephant staggered out of the truck in a drunken stupor, his ears were torn to shreds, and huge sores were slashed across his great sides. He would be nursed back to health only to be shot.
Weddings in India are synonymous with silk sarees. Silk worms are boiled alive, and the thread that painfully peels off the skin is treated as auspicious during weddings. Out of about Rs. 6,00,00 (approximately £8000) spent on an Indian wedding, about a third is spent on silk sarees for the bride and miscellaneous relatives. The PETA website has visuals of foxes being skinned alive for fresh, high quality fur in China. Why would anyone think s/he looks classy wearing dead animals on himself or herself?
Crocodile farms breed crocodiles to be killed when they are about two years old, in limited numbers, to avoid indiscriminate killing of crocodiles. These two-year-old crocodiles are used to make handbags and belts. The life expectancy of a crocodile is thirteen years. Snakes shed their skin often enough. And yet, they are killed to make high quality snakeskin shoes.
Animal testing is the cruellest practice of all these - if a grading system is necessary. Every medicine, every antibiotic is tested on animals. Innocent little animals are infected with the most ravaging diseases, dissected, cut and killed, operated on for no reason and then thrown away. While testing cosmetics, rabbits' eyes are clipped open and then tthe cosmetic is poured into them a few drops at a time, at regular intervals for three days. If the rabbit goes blind or dies, you find this notice:
"WARNING: Very harmful to the eyes. In case of contact, rinse immediately with water."
Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out that cosmetics are dangerous to the eyes? The patch test involves repeatedly peeling off the subcutaneous layers of a guinea pig's or rabbit's skin to see whether the chemical causes irritation there. Several other tests of cosmetics involve burning holes into the animals, imprisoned in laboratories, their timid eyes appealing for help.
We speak of racism when the subject of wars in Asia and the Middle East comes up. What -ism is it that makes us think it is all right to inflict such a degree of torture on animals?