The Bhavan's Journal is a highly respected magazine, offering glimpses of the highest thoughts, presented in a manner simple enough to appeal to common people of all ages and backgrounds. We were pleasantly surprised to note that their range of topics, in the January 2004 issue, included a debate upon whether it was cruel to cage animals in Zoos. The February issue has given three letters, all agreeing unequivocally, that it is cruel and unfair to imprison innocent creatures all their life, for the entertainment of humans. Only one letter (by Sudha
Gopinath) spoke of the role Zoos can play, for the sake of conservation. The sad part is that very few Zoos have a proper rehabilitation program. No species contributes to the ecology unless it is free roaming. To introduce an animal born in captivity, into the wild is not only difficult, it can be disastrous, since animals living with humans, can carry infections which will affect the wild creatures. The Zoos use the excuse of conservation to build up their population of exotic species, and hardly anyone realizes that this is nothing but a hoax! The best solution is to convert all zoos into open air safari parks, and stop the enforced breeding of captive animals, and build up forest reserves so that the remaining wild animals can flourish.
The same issue of the Bhavan's Journal has an article by our President, Mr.A.P.J. Abdul
Kalam. The title is, "Religions Are Beautiful Gardens". The article is equally beautiful. Mr.Kalam mentions how, as a child, he heard his devout Father discuss religion with a priest who built Rameshwaram's first Church, and Hindu devotee of the famous Shiva temple which gave the city its name. The three would discuss the Holy
Quran, the Bible and the Bhagvat Gita.
Mr.Kalam also wrote about his visit to the Tawang Buddhist Monastery in Arunachal
Pradesh, and to a Christian Monastery in Bulgaria. Mr.Kalam not only speaks about his goals, he works actively, and publicly for their achievement. "While assuming the office of the President of India, I had made two assurances. One was to work for transforming India into a developed nation; the other was to work for the unity of minds. 260 million of our people live below the poverty line. There are also 300 million youngsters below the age of 20.
These two groups are in need of social and economical development in an atmosphere of peace and harmony."
What an eye opener! Truly, a goal we can all empathize with and work towards!
Those involved with animal welfare can acknowledge with joy that we have shared the goal of our President, and are working for it with all our hearts. Animal welfare work evokes the most humane of all qualities - compassion and altruism. It cuts across all barriers, because animals have no social divides, they play no politics, do not betray, never lack gratitude, and work for their handlers regardless of the status of the beneficiary. Every human being has benefited by animals in countless ways, throughout history. Even today, they will survive very well if the human species is annihilated (as it well may be, the way mankind is going) but we cannot survive without the animal kingdom. The very poor are particularly dependent upon livestock, and are exposed to various zoonotic diseases of which animals are carriers. In fact, everybody is exposed to these, in varying degrees. The recent outbreaks of SARS and Bird Flu, and the earlier Mad Cow and other diseases are grim warnings we ignore at our own peril.
Animal welfare work brings people together, cutting across barriers of cast, creed, sex, wealth, position, and every other factor which makes us forget that we are born as a human being and our first creed is to have humane values. Everything else is imposed upon our minds later on, including dehumanizing, divisive tutoring. In Jesus' words, "There is none so blind as will not see." And, for all the fervor of religious thought down the centuries, even men of God seem to have forgotten the primary tenets of compassion, mercy, goodwill and helpfulness. When speaking of traditions, they care to defend only the traditions which it suits them to follow - like animal sacrifice, subjugation of women, and domination of the weak. If tradition is so dear, why do they abandon the basics of simplicity, truthfulness, mercy and a love for all? Is "sacrifice" supposed to be a forced sacrifice on behalf of an innocent helpless creature? Would God be displeased if a bad habit - like lying, cheating, hoarding, overindulgence - were to be sacrificed, instead?
People say that their religion permits them to eat flesh, but does any religion have a dictate which says that it is mandatory to eat flesh? We prefer to ignore the fact that religious strictures had a relevance for a particular time and place, and the basis was a loftier level of existence. God gave man the ability to use his thinking abilities to help himself and others - not to misuse and harm! He gave us eyes to see, hands to work, and so on and so forth; and He gave clear guidelines (through religious scriptures and through our conscience) about what our sense organs should be used for. We misuse every faculty given to us, and then blame God when the laws of natural return (which I call karma) begin to work.
Animals have contributed to the welfare and progress of the human race from the beginning of time. Is it not a violation of ethical thought, to deny this truth, and return the good with abuse?
Even today, so much of what we enjoy is derived at their cost. It is nothing less than thievery, when we refuse to acknowledge our debt to them.
Those who claim to be humanitarians become less than human when they say, "I'm not interested in animals." Where would the humans they profess to care for be if there were no animals or if zoonotic diseases killed and maimed whole continents?
I am absolutely amazed at the blinkers worn even by educated and intelligent people, and even more amazed at the extent of their prejudice against the cause of animal welfare. It reminds me of a line I read once,
"Ecijuderp spelt backward, is prejudice. Either way it doesn't make sense."
In their zeal to make Athens free of stray dogs before the Olympics, the authorities killed 3000 stray dogs. They now face a frightening increase in large rats, and the prospect of rat borne diseases like plague and
leptospirosis. We went through this at Surat and Thane, just a few years ago. Scientists predict many new types of infections like
SARS, bird flu and mad cow; diseases which do not respond to known drugs and which mutate alarmingly. People will die in thousands, but I suppose the 'clever' will continue to say, "I am not interested in animals."