|JAN 2009||» Articles Index|
The Service Link: Dr. Agarwal, with all the responsibilities and duties you have carried in your life, you have always made time for animal welfare. What inspired you to take on this work?
Dr. Agarwal: If I were asked to put in one word the goal toward which the Theosophical Society and the Theosophical Order of Service are working, it would be Unity. The idea can be expressed in many ways. One Principle dwells in all that is manifested and unmanifested. More correctly, there is nothing but One. The First Truth that the Buddha gave was the Truth of misery (dukkha). He spoke of the totality of misery. He did not compartmentalize misery into yours and mine. The Theosophical Society brings this fact of Oneness to the notice of all.
TSL: Why did you choose animal welfare work rather than another cause through which to alleviate the world’s misery?
Dr. Agarwal: When I first encountered the theosophical teaching of the Unity of all life, it set me on fire. It’s as simple as that. From deep within me sprang the realization that the other kingdoms of nature are an essential part of that Unity. From as early as I can remember, I have held the conviction that animals deserve tenderness and respect. Those of us who choose to work for animals do not ignore human suffering, but try to bring to the notice of human beings that their suffering increases by letting animals suffer. There are a number of well publicised human rights organisations in existence but it seems that more attention is needed for our helpless younger brethren, the animals. None of us has the time and energy to take up all causes.
TSL: What is the Beauty Without Cruelty movement (BWC)?
Dr. Agarwal: BWC was started half a century ago by an Englishwoman, Lady Muriel Dowding, who wanted to draw attention to the pain inflicted on animals in the production of cosmetics. BWC is international in its work and has enlarged its original scope nowadays to promote a way of life that causes no creature of land, sea or air, terror, torture or death. Lady Dowding achieved some remarkable feats in her time, at a period when people saw little wrong with the exploitation of animals for human vanity. She managed, for example, to convince one of India’s Prime Ministers, Sri Morarji Desai, to stop the export of monkeys from India for experimentation.
TSL: Why have you done most of your campaigning through the Beauty Without Cruelty movement?
Dr. Agarwal: Some of us working under the banner of the TOS have chosen not to form separate organizations for our campaigns but rather to associate with national and international societies already in existence, supporting them and giving them a depth that an understanding of the Unity of all life affords.
TSL: Yes, many TOS members choose to work this way. The TOS in England has a long tradition of donating to different service organisations, in latter years principally to those where Theosophists are actively involved. The TOS in America, on the other hand, had until recently its own animal welfare department with a skilled director.
Dr. Agarwal: In India, TOS members donate to other organisations also, such as for flood, drought, epidemic or earthquake relief, in addition to supporting the TOS’s own work running charitable dispensaries, supplying artificial limbs, wheel chairs, etc.
TSL: What has been achieved in India through BWC since Lady Dowding’s time?
Dr. Agarwal: BWC has played an important role in banning the export of frog legs. Also, in 1995 a nation-wide petition was launched against the Indian government policy of encouraging the construction of slaughter houses. Because of the large segment of the Indian population who are vegetarian, the meat industry is relatively under-developed compared with the West.
TSL: What proportion of the population is vegetarian now? Is it falling?
Dr. Agarwal: Statistics are not available. It seems obvious, though, that vegetarianism is slipping amongst the so-called educated and fashionable strata of society, where many imitate the Western lifestyle. These people are victims of improper dietetic information. Foreign investment in the slaughter business and the invasive advertising that accompanies the drive for profit are very hard to resist. In recent times, organised efforts by vegetarian movements have been made to inform people about the nutritional value of a vegetarian diet and the ill-effects of meat consumption. Unfortunately lack of funds prevents widespread distribution of our literature.
TSL: It would seem that the philosophy underpinning the widespread vegetarianism in India is being undermined. . . ?
Dr Agarwal: We animal activists deplore the erosion of the spiritual value of ahimsa and are doing our best to stop the growth of the meat industry. Our BWC group in Varanasi obtained a record number of 15,870 signatures for the petition to the government against slaughterhouses in 2005. We wrote to Theosophists around the world encouraging them to collect signatures and to send them to the Prime Minister of India. All told, around 200,000 signatures were collected by the efforts of Theosophists. A delegation met the Minister of Agriculture, who said that he believed that if people do not eat meat, there will be a food shortage. This is a common misconception, needless to say, and must be dispelled. Dr. Rock of Harvard University has written that to obtain one kilo of beef protein, 21.4 kilos of vegetable protein has to be fed to cattle. The production of meat needs something like two and a half times more land and three times more water than that of cereals. Anyway, as a result of our petition, the Ministry of Agriculture backed down in its policy – only to be replaced by the Ministry of Industry which has since taken the matter up again.
TSL: Have you opposed any specific cases of slaughterhouse construction through picketing or whatever?
Dr Agarwal: In October 1999, BWC members residing in the TS campus in Varanasi, collected money to fight a case in the Supreme Court against the granting of a piece of land in Calcutta for a slaughter house. We have not succeeded in stopping slaughterhouses completely, but in several places our protests have forced the government to shift locations.
A few years ago, our BWC workers engaged in signature campaigns against the Calcutta slaughterhouse, against an unprecedented slaughter of an animal at the opening ceremony of one of the Legislative Assembly sessions and also against an advertisement by a big group of hotels inviting guests to witness (enjoy!) animal shows. We once organised a petition against an elephant show in a South Indian national park. This show was backed by the government to promote tourism, but the show was stopped.
TSL: You mentioned some educational material that funds don’t permit you to distribute as widely as you would like. . .
Dr Agarwal: We have published several leaflets. We have provided some eminent doctors sympathetic to our cause with drafts of articles that have been published in their names in popular papers and journals. This carries greater weight with the public. The BWC Chennai Centre also organized a poster exhibition during the December 1999 International Convention of the TS at Adyar. A number of issues were highlighted, including vegetarianism, the use of animals in sport, experimentation, vivisection, dissection and genetic engineering. The BWC Chennai Centre has visited schools and colleges, suggesting humane alternatives to the use of animals, screening the BWC video documentaries and inviting audience participation. We brought out an excellent resource book, A Vegetarian Lifestyle, and distributed thousands of copies free to members. Following legal battles, dissection has ceased to be compulsory in Indian high schools. The BWC Centre in Varanasi entered this field in 1999, providing sets of compact discs to three theosophical schools. These give all the knowledge that dissection provides. Only lack of funds prevents us from distributing additional equipment.
TSL: BWC India has been very active indeed. Have you tackled any other areas of animal welfare in India?
Dr Agarwal: In July 2000, the BWC Chennai Centre, working from the TS Adyar, launched a big campaign against ostrich farming with a public protest meeting, holding placards and distributing leaflets against ostrich farming. This was followed by a public meeting addressed by Mrs Radha Burnier, among others from the city. This was widely reported in the newspapers and was on the TV news in English as well as in Tamil.
TSL: Although a vegetarian diet is not necessary for membership of the Theosophical Society, many members adopt one. Do you think that some non-vegetarian members feel an unspoken pressure to ‘convert’ to vegetarianism?
Dr. Agarwal: Quite possibly. We must guard against this by being careful not to preach to each other. On the other hand, there seems to be a certain inertia regarding animal welfare once a vegetarian diet has been adopted. Members would do well, perhaps, to consider the inconsistency of shunning meat and yet purchasing battery farmed eggs. And what about articles made out of feathers, animal skin, horn, ivory, shell, etc? Please do not be shocked if I point out that silk is also produced by killing. When members buy exotic birds to keep as pets, are they aware of the number of birds that die in transit for every one that reaches a pet shop abroad? When they want to buy a dog or cat, do they avoid pet shops and go instead to their local animal shelter? Do they boycott circuses?
TSL: There seems cause for pride and even satisfaction at all you have achieved so far in India.
Dr Agarwal: Not at all. To be satisfied is to become lethargic. There will be no rest or peace of mind until our less fortunate brethren live alongside us free from torture and terror.
May I say to readers of this web posting that we members of the TOS in India would be delighted to share with them information and material for adaptation and use in their own countries. We would also welcome any support they care to give the Animal Welfare Fund at Adyar. The need is great and the will to work is there.
Top | Articles-index | Homepage