“THERE IS ONLY ONE ETHIC IN LIFE–DO NOT CAUSE PAIN AND FIGHT AGAINST PEOPLE WHO CAUSE PAIN” MANEKA GANDHI, FOUNDER, PFA
When did you turn vegan and why?
I have been vegan off and on for most of my life. Why I say “off and on”, is because sometimes one gets into a situation when you unknowing you eat something which is not vegan, like the cake in someone’s house. Presently, I am a complete vegan, because I go out of my way to check what I’m eating and what I’m not eating.
But veganism is far more than the not-eating-of-animal-products and not wearing animal-based products. It really means learning about the environmental damage that each product causes, and then taking a call. For instance, white cottons are bleached and bleach is hazardous for fish. Cotton agriculture kills millions of insects, because of the use of highly toxic pesticides. In India, BT Cotton requires the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which are linked to bee deaths. So do you count the animals you kill indirectly as well ?
What changes did you experience after turning a vegan?
I have been propagating veganism for 40 years, so no changes have happened suddenly. I was 90% vegan (because of ice-cream!) but now, I’m 100% vegan. After turning properly vegan, people become more sensitive to the whole ecosystem.
Is becoming vegan like a spiritual journey?
I would like to say that, but one of the criticisms I have about the vegan movement is that veganism, unfortunately, has become another consumer movement. They have simply switched products. Now they are out shopping, saying ‘I want a vegan lipstick or shoes’; so they haven’t stopped being consumers. Veganism needs to transform a person from Having to Being. Veganism is supposed to be a spiritual journey and the evolution of the spirit to another level of consciousness. The purpose of veganism is to optimize and value the resources of the Earth and share even those. Unfortunately, a lot of people have just changed from being consumers of non-veg products to consumers of a vegan products. Now there are supermarket shelves with exactly the same products but vegan–like cheese, clothes and shoes. The amount which is spent is exactly the same. People who become vegan should not be consumers anymore; they should reduce their consumption. Everything hurts the Earth, so why use so much of it? They should plant trees all the time, adopt street animals, save up money and spend it on their food and medicine, become members of animal welfare groups. They should also read about each product and how it is made. That is veganism in action.
Q4: You’re nurturing the society–you are helping everyone–people, the environment and animals. But people just see only one side about you, as an animal lover. What would you say about that?
Well, I’m the longest serving member of the Parliament in India, and I have won 8 times in the row. And you can’t win 8 times in a row if you don’t help everyone. I also run 5 orphanages in Bhadoi (or Bhadohi city in UP). We have helped stopped child labour in the carpet industry about 20 years ago. We have founded institutions like Childline which rescues 4 crore children a year and One Stop Centres for suffering women. So many laws that exist today , for instance the red and green dot on food items, the stopping of dissection in schools–these are just a few things. Even the essential freedoms that each Indian enjoys resulted from a case (Maneka Gandhi vs State) that I did when I was 19 years old,
The heart is a door. When it opens, it opens for all. People who say, “Oh, I do so much for humans” and they come back and eat pork and beef– their hearts are just as closed and they do it only to get their names in the paper or to feel good about themselves.
Are there any backlashes to your vegan outreaches?
Not for me. You have to first decide what is good for you and decide what is good for the world. And once you have done your study–it is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of scientific study. You realize that the less you consume, the less is destroyed, and less harm and suffering you cause. Once you are convinced, why should you bother about what anybody else thinks! I work every minute of the day to lessen the suffering in the world.
In one of your earlier speeches, you have said that illegal animal slaughter houses are funding terrorism. Please elaborate.
There was a study done by a senior policeman, Shailja Kant Mishra in Uttar Pradesh. He was a DG and he found that all the money from illegal slaughterhouses was being channeled to procure weapons to fund the Maoist rule that controlled a large part of our country–the corridor from Nepal, to Chhattisgarh, parts of MP and Bihar. And a lot of this money was going towards the destabilization of India. People who do bad things in one area always do bad things in many areas.
Let me give you an example– Since January 2019, the FBI has put on its list of heinous crimes and people to watch out for, those who beat animals in their homes. They have found that anybody who beats animals in their homes, is going to commit a crime sooner or later. And through many studies they have found a correlation between animal abuse and violence. There is an increased likelihood that somebody who abuses dogs will abuse his family as well, and eventually he will extend the same behaviour towards the neighbours. They observed this type of behaviour in criminals in jail–most of those who have committed heinous crimes have started by harming and molesting animals. It has been found that the largest number of crimes in the world are committed within 1 kilometre of slaughter houses. Also, studies have shown that slaughterhouse workers are more prone to violence. A man who kills animals the whole day in the slaughter house–he has seen blood, entrails, dying animals, heard screams and seen so much suffering–then he may not have a strong conscience at all.
There has been an alarming rise in animal cruelty videos, where animals are cruelly beaten or killed for more followers on social media. What is your take on that?
We are going to have TikTok banned sooner or later. Everyone who has tried to be a hero on the social media by showing himself doing something horrible to animals, has been arrested. If people think they can get away with it, they can’t.
Can you tell us about PFA (People For Animals)? What does it do and how does it work?
PFA (People For Animals) is an organization that does many different things. At base level, it rescues animals and treats them. We have 35 hospitals to date, and we want to expand. The second thing we do is that we have about 200 units across India, and my aim is to have about 800 units–one in each district. Now these units are trained by us. They are meant to do many things such as one, Rescues and Work with the administration to see that animal cruelty is stopped, like abandoning animals on the terrace for months, beating them and so on. The third, is to close down pet shops, as all pet shops and breeders are illegal in India. So PFA is working with the government to close them. The fourth initiative is to work with their own districts in policy changing. We need PFA to be strong enough to work with the administration to change policies. The fifth initiative is that our team takes charge of the sterilization and vaccination of dogs, and are in the committee that oversees it.
PFA should be a strong movement for good, and I would encourage more people to join it, through your platform. Also, there is an organization in Pune called Animal Volunteers Of India (animalvolunteersofindia.in) and I want all animal feeders and volunteers to enlist themselves on this site. There are already 12,000 people, but judging by the response of COVID19, where I have to help over 50,000 people, and so if all of them put their names on list, then we know that we have a standing army.
You look after so many issues from humans to animals. How do you cope up with all the stress?
There is no stress. When I feel overburdened and want to quit, I realize that I’m doing it because I want to, nobody is forcing me. I’m not interested in power and politics as much as I am in helping people and the world–so nobody is forcing me. The day I want to stop, I will stop. So why should I be stressed over something for which I have been put on this Earth to do.
Animal lovers suffer from mental trauma when we come across cruelty cases or accident cases. Any suggestions about how can we can cope better?
You can feel sad and angry and this should propel you to do more. I suggest a few things: (1) Learn the laws. (2) Always stand your ground as the police will say–we don’t know anything; it is just a dog. You should stand your ground and tell them the law and make sure the work is done. (3) Make a list in the morning, and prioritize it. In a single day, I take up between 300-400 cases and I can do that because I don’t stop for a minute. I solve problems as quickly as I can for everybody–nothing should be left till tomorrow. This one day is your entire life. Whatever good you are going to do, you will do it today and not tomorrow or next week. Organize your mind and don’t take holidays!
Veganism is growing slowly in India, when compared with western countries. According to you, what can be the reason?
Because in India, the majority are already vegetarian and many people are vegan without even realizing they are vegan. Also there has been a strong government push for people to drink milk. This is almost a political issue in places like Gujarat where Amul is based. As a result of the sustained campaign, very few people realize that milk is poison and that it could actually kill you. Very few vegetarians who drink milk realize that by consuming dairy, you are doing the same thing as people who consume meat, because as soon as the cow stops giving milk she will be turned into meat. And that milk comes from an animal’s body, so it has the same cellular structure as meat. This is why vegetarians get the same issues as meat eaters–from acne to cancer.
If I were to ask you a question, “What should I eat in place of cyanide?” So use the same logic for milk. Do not look for replacements for something that is bad for you. Don’t eat anything! Do not give them options like almond milk, coconut milk and others. It is too complicated. Eat fruits, have saag and green vegetables, 2 rotis and potatoes. Everything will give you more nutrition and sustenance than milk. Just don’t drink milk.
There are many vegan celebrities and athletics who are vegan but they don’t disclose it publically. Do you have any message for them?
According to me, celebrities do speak about it openly, for example, Adele. She has become a vegan and look how beautiful she has become. Even Mike Tyson has become vegan and just look at him now. He looks 100 years younger than he used to, and he has restarted boxing. Bill Clinton also became a vegan when he started having health issues, and look how healthy he is now. So everyone does talk about becoming vegan. In India, we don’t feel the need to say it because we have got so used to it–dal roti toh sab log hi khate hai.
What we should do is make it embarrassing for people to eat meat–as it is just a low class thing. For instance, say it’s so dirty to have dead bodies on your plate. So when you are wanting to turn people vegan, you have to bring on the health and cleanliness issues, which are very important too. And what are eggs? They are just period blood of a hen! Now, who wants to eat the period of a hen, so we need to emphasize more on that.
Unfortunately, veganism does two things: first, there is focus on recipes which are useless and usually it’s raw food recipes, which nobody wants. Now, speaking for myself, if I would to be a raw food person then I would not be a vegan–I eat well, I eat cooked food and with that, I eat salad. But I don’t just eat raw fruits. Second, I don’t take substitutes like soyabean curds and vegan cheese. I just don’t have it. Either you eat cheese or you don’t eat cheese. Finally, we have to stop advocating consumerism.
As the majority of pandemic attacks have originated from animal food, how crucial is it for us to close down animal agriculture?
Yes, it is very important for each country to stop. Not just for pandemic attacks but also for climate change. You know how dangerous methane is? It is 24 times more–and not in percentage–20 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide. And India, China and Brazil are the three main producers of methane in the world, because methane is produced from coal, rice and animals and we produce all three. Now, we can’t stop rice because that’s a staple; we can’t stop coal at the moment, but we can stop animal agriculture. We are the largest meat exporters in the world. Due to this, we are losing our forests and our wildlife because the cattle graze there. And the cattle create conflict in villages, and also, our weather patterns have changed. Also, it takes more than 6,000 litres of water per cow. Do we have that much water? So what we are exporting is not just meat, we are exporting water and forests. We are letting our people starve while we feed the rich people of the Middle East. It is not good economics.
In India, where cows are sacred and known as “Gau Mata”, still India is one of the top countries in beef export. Please comment.
It’s madness. Our opinion of ourselves as a country clashes with reality. We say we are very gentle, yet we have such high levels of violence. We say we respect women but during the current Covid situation, the number of times women have been attacked is unbelievable. We need to sort ourselves out and first way to start is to stop exporting meat. I have been advocating that now for 40 years.
Veganism has so many benefits with respect to health, environment and other aspects. According to you, what can be the benefits if the majority of us decide to go Vegan?
The benefits if the majority, or even if 30% go vegan, would be that:
1. There would be a major positive change in the climate
2. You would have much more clean water to drink
3. Our rivers will come back to normal
4. The heating would stop so you would have much better climate, I repeat, not weather, but the totality of the climate itself.
5. You would have new forests because presently, cattle raised for meat are sent to the forests to forage the shrubs, and because of this, no new forests are coming up.
- You would have many more elephants
It would be a general sum of happiness. You would have better weather, water and with good food, your body cannot help but be happy. If your body is happy then your mind is happy and there would even be fewer instances of cancer, so reduced hospitalization and fewer cases of diabetes. Not forgetting one of the leading causes of tuberculosis is from eating meat, because most of the animals and cattle have got TB. So you would have fewer diseases. It is not just with the COVID19 pandemic, but even all other diseases would start retreating. You would need fewer antibiotics. Every situation is a win-win and finally, the money which you spend on food would also be reduced.
What does India have to learn from the current pandemic?
Well, the first thing they should learn is not to eat meat, milk, eggs as these make your body unhealthy and more susceptible to any disease.
What is your take on Economic Development Vs Ecological Conservation?
Good ecology is good economy.
Many of the world’s pandemic attacks have come from animal food, yet, scientists and authorities do not consider animal food as the key factors. Why aren’t they willing to make any changes?
Well, for one thing, most of the scientific establishments all over the world are owned by meat and milk industries. So they are corrupted and may not be speaking the truth. Second, they have got people into the habit of consuming unhealthy foods. To give you an example, in medical colleges, they do not teach you about diet in the first five years but they just teach you how to repair a body. Also, they teach very little about how to prevent an illness, because there is no money in that. So it is in their interest that you become ill. If they follow the GIGO (Garbage In & Garbage Out) principle in medicine, they will teach diet before they teach anything else. Because what you put into your body, gives you the illnesses you have.
But this will change in the future when you bring in cellular meat and cellular milk. That is where everybody should put their time and expertise. We have about 35 companies working to create meat with cellular multiplication of meat cells or milk cells. And if we can achieve that, then I would be happy to let meat eaters have their meat and drink their milk, because then, only they will get sick, and it will not create a world crisis. At the moment, meat and milk are creating a world crisis, through water mismanagement, methane and energy and resource utilization. For instance, to make 1kg of meat, it takes 11kg of grain. Now 11kg of grain, can feed a family for 1 month. But 1kg of meat cannot feed anyone for even a day, and they want their vegetables and rotis with it. So I am looking for a future where there is clean milk and clean meat.
Do you want to change any policies regarding slaughterhouses?
Yes, I want to shut them all–that policy I want to bring about. You should not be a meat-eater.
Do you have pets?
I have co-sharers in my world. I have 28 dogs and 15 monkeys who sit on top of my roof and come and go. I have made a forest round my forest and we have birds like grey hornbills, parakeets and owls. This is in the middle of Delhi. It’s the only house forest in Delhi. I don’t have pets. I have beings with whom I share my life and they stay if they want to stay.
Can you share your diet with us?
For breakfast, I have fruit in the morning, turmeric and nimbu pani. I have 2 chapatis, which are made of mixed grains like millets and oats, 2 vegetables, a curry and pickle. And I don’t have dinner.
What is your favourite vegan junk food?
I love samosas (laughs)!
According to you, when will the penalty and punishment for animal cruelty become more serious?
I have been trying to expand this and speaking about it in the Parliament for the last 30 years. Even when I’m in the government it doesn’t change and neither will it when I’m out. Nobody is interested in changing this, so what we do is that we use other sections to fight animal cruelty and that is Sections 428 and 429, which is 3 years in jail for being mean to an animal. And we make use of other acts as well.
How do we give justice to any animal who has been murdered or has suffered from human assault? Especially when the laws are weak?
By getting the assaulter arrested, so when he gets arrested, he remembers for the rest of his life what he did. Go to the police and use Sections 428 and 429.
How can all animal lovers support to make animal laws stronger?
I would suggest, instead of making many small groups, join People For Animals. I want 1,000 people per district as a team and be part of PFA. They should be trained with laws and how to rescue, so that when they raise their voice, local district people listen to them. I want lawyers, doctors, journalists, even want senior company people, even students–I just want everyone in this. But instead of making small groups, I want this to be a big movement in every district. If anyone wants to become member of People For Animals they can logon to https://peopleforanimalsindia.org.
Do you have any message to those animal lovers who rescues dogs and cats but eat non-veg and consume dairy?
I have two messages for them: (1) You cannot love one animal and eat another–it’s not possible–it is as wicked as anything else.
2) You should not be feeding one animal to another, it’s different for a cat but why are animal feeders now feeding chicken to dogs? Are dogs more important than chicken, not at all! Chicken are the most intelligent of all–they make excellent pets. They talk, have a language, become jealous, they have girlfriends and a family, they love their children, so why do we have to kill them for a dog who is happy eating soybeans! So we should really look at what we are doing. Unfortunately, animal welfare is not just about dogs, it’s about all animals. There are around 170 animals on my list from whale sharks to elephants. What are we doing to protect them all? And that is what I want my people to do–all of you are my people.
To sum up, any message or suggestions for our readers?
First, I would suggest for everyone to become vegan. Second, learn about laws. Third, get into any group, and be very tough. Four, do not put up with cruelty of any kind, just keep fighting–you may lose a few battles, but you will win the war. Stand up even against buildings if they want to relocate dogs. What I learnt from the Coronavirus crisis is that every person who is foolish, wicked with a small mind and mean, has become the president of a society–they have nothing to do and have no power so they have made themselves the president of the society and they use this authority to be mean with everyone, especially to women and to animal feeders. So, the way around this is to stand up for society elections. I want all the vegans and even non-vegans who love animals to stand for the society elections–they might lose but just stand–that is much more important than being an MLA, an MP or a minister–I want all our people to be in the residents’ welfare association.
What is your take on empathy and ethics in life?
Are all beings the same? Yes, the human, the hammerhead worm, oyster, chicken and the shark: all of us have the same emotions, fears, lusts and intelligence. Yet, we humans eat some, kill some for sport, use some to wear as accessories, destroy some as pests. The human is the ultimate cannibal: eating his own kind, humans, in another form, again and again.
There is only one ethic in life, do not create pain, do not cause pain, do not tolerate pain and fight against those who cause pain–this should be our guiding ethic.