Veganism – A Motivation For My Continued Existence | Compassion Story by Shikhar Ahuja

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I am a 30-year-old married man, raised in an upper-middle-class, north Indian family. We didn’t eat meat too often because it wasn’t an affordable choice. Moreover, since my dad loved to focus on his health and my mom was the perennial cook, we usually ate vegetarian food (with dairy being a common feature).

Looking back, a lot of my upbringing represented a regular Indian middle-class’s upbringing: a father who had a secure job, a mother who took on the mantle of running the house by herself, and children who were raised with the mindset, “do what the society expects you to do, don’t be a rebel.”

This kind of upbringing made me believe that society always knew better and did what was morally right.

PLANTING THE VEGAN SEED

I mostly grew up in Chandigarh – the “City Beautiful”, and my first confrontation with witnessing pain-filled deaths was in 2007. With life becoming more internet-friendly, I watched some movies on animals’ slaughter on the video-hosting platform – Dailymotion. Akin to what a movie like Dominion would do to people today, that video shocked me, and I became purely vegetarian for the next three years. I relapsed only when I had forgotten what made me leave animal meat in the first place.

My second confrontation with the plight of animals was when I was in China – almost 7 years later. This was not when I was eating the meat of different, innocent animals; but when I saw a live ram placed in the middle of some street with his legs tied to each other. I could see his expression of resignation, his deep sigh alluding to what was coming next.

Despite my hope, I also knew what was coming next. The men who had tied down the ram took out their sharp knives from behind and proceeded to halaal him. I stood there and saw that scene by telling myself, “this is what a brave person would do”.

A week from that incident, I fell into an existential crisis, questioning the worth of my own life and harbouring suicidal thoughts. But, even that didn’t stop me from consuming meat or dairy.

 

What I had seen had completely shaken me, but I still didn’t realise that the site that caused me trauma was much more traumatic to the animal whose throat was actually slit, and I was contributing to their pain.

Moving to Metro cities in India (for job purposes) was not a very delightful experience. I was no more residing in a green city, but rather in a concrete jungle surrounded by constant hustle and bustle. A place like Mumbai has a capitalism-driven economy, where profit is prioritised over ethics. Combined with its shortage of space, tiny neighbourhood butcher shops used to be crammed with chickens kept in inhumane conditions. On the contrary, butcher shops in places like Chandigarh or Delhi were bigger, and the butchers slaughtered the chickens behind closed walls. Hence, I saw the suffering of chickens in Mumbai more easily. I wasn’t mentally prepared to listen to the wails and struggles of the chickens who were just about to have their necks twisted and throats slit, so I stopped eating them.

However, these instances only stopped me from consuming land animals’ meat, but I continued with the consumption of sea animals, eggs, and dairy. I was living by the philosophy “Out of sight, out of mind.” Moreover, I liked to believe that if you can’t see their tears or hear their cries, then they are most likely not feeling any pain. Even with sufficient awareness about the cruelty in the meat and dairy industry, I chose to stay ignorant.

THE EFFECT OF THE PANDEMIC

After being confronted with death repeatedly, it was time to be pushed towards veganism. With the onset of Covid – I lost my job. That was the first trigger towards veganism, as I was now free from the more trivial worries of being in a rat race. Then in a few months, the second wave of Covid set in, taking away many human lives with it. This was the second trigger, as it made me realise the fragility of life, again. At around the same time, a lot of natural disasters started afflicting different places around the world, including Mumbai. This realisation about climate change was the third trigger towards veganism. Hence, 7 years since I had fallen into my first existential crisis, I went into one again and finally became vegan for the environment.

I became a vegan for more selfish reasons before less-selfish reasons convinced me to stay forever committed to veganism

After becoming vegan, I started searching for more information on veganism, to see how I could do more for the environment. Hence, I began to follow more vegan channels and activists on social media. With this, I kept getting more exposed to the core philosophy of veganism – that it is a pledge to minimize harm to animals. 14 years since the first time, I again started seeing various pictures and videos of the ways humans breed, exploit, skin, and kill chickens, goats, cows, pigs, crocodiles, dogs, whales, etc. You can name whichever animal you want to mention, and you will realise that humans systemically exploit them all.

It started messing with my mind. I recognised that I wasn’t a vegan for the environment anymore, but rather for the animals. The more this realisation hit me, the more I became determined to not cooperate with people while they were reveling in the consumption of animal products. Despite that, I still don’t feel that I have become completely consistent with the vegan philosophy in my personal space, so I am still pushing and my personal relations are also accordingly changing.

The next step of my journey will be to become a content creator with a skillful team that runs the Ubuntu Eat Cafe. I will carry forward the message of veganism as effectively as some of the best activists, while also ensuring that I enable non-vegans to stay open-minded when they are being provided information about animal exploitation.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF VEGANISM

I have been hale and hearty ever since I turned vegan. I enjoy the simplicity of my food, and I have also become much more explorative with different, delicious alternatives to meat and dairy. The lifestyle switch has been easy for me since there are innumerable dishes of the vegan kind that do not make me miss any animal product. The bonus is that I feel no cognitive dissonance while eating what I eat or wearing what I wear.

However, during my journey of becoming a vegan for the animals, I did face a mental health crisis again. This was because of the empathy overload, guilt over my past lifestyle choices, and increased awareness about the unimaginable extent to which we exploit animals. No horror movie is scary enough to make the horrific lives of farmed animals look any less terrifying. I can forgive myself for my past mistakes, but I find it difficult to forget the lives that were taken because of me. My existential crisis persists, and I hope that this time it will make me a better person for the planet.

OTHER BENEFITS OF VEGANISM

Despite my tribulations, veganism has drastically changed my perspective on life, society and health:

  1. I have found a cause to live for while serving society and other living beings.
  2. I am less bothered about monetary gains or losses as there are far greater things to achieve in life.
  3. I have become significantly more organised with my life – and also exponentially more capable of leaving any ill habits.
  4. I have become more entrepreneurial and less fearful about exploring new paths
  5. I recognise that society can be wrong, and is usually wrong. It’s easier for a large number of humans to gather together and establish wrong practices as the norm. Maybe it’s because doing wrong is more profitable than doing right, and humans love to squeeze profits out of anything. But, due to that, I am much lesser influenced by what society expects me to do – because I won’t easily do something that I don’t consider as right.
  6. I have become a bigger appreciator of nature, due to which I am now residing in South Goa.
  7. I learned much more about health, nutrition, etc. in the past year than I did earlier (after completing high school). As opposed to what conventional wisdom tells us, meat and dairy are much worse for a person’s health, and there is barely any nutrition that one can’t get due to the combination of a plant-based diet and healthy, vegan supplements.
  8. I respect animals more than I have ever before. I am becoming even more non-violent towards animals like cockroaches and mosquitoes.

   My passion for photography may have also spurred my interest in recognising every animal as a unique creature

In my opinion, veganism is an important step in regaining our peace, hopefulness and the impetus to find out the purpose of our existence. To become greater beings, we must accept that this earth runs on the Ubuntu principle – we are because all the animals are. When vegans fight for their cause, they do it out of concern for nature, empathy towards innocent lives, and the focus on the survival of humanity. There are still not enough vegans to slow down our species’ acceleration towards this planet’s deterioration, but we keep raising our voices so that history remembers that there were at least a few who wanted to fight and stop this.

 

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Compassion India Magazine

Compassion India Magazine

Compassion India is India’s official first ever vegan print publication. It aims is to bring the vegan community closer and create awareness about the ethical and health advantages of following this lifestyle. The magazine was launched on 1t November 2019, which was World Vegan Day.

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