Creatures and things we don't see, revisited
Date: 7/29/2012 6:32:00 PM
The author Vandana Singh left a comment on this post about human apathy towards other life-forms, and I thought it worthwhile to put it up here separately. Here it is - do take the time to read it.
My deepest condolences, and thanks for connecting to my essay.
I don't think the problem is specifically to do with Indians. One thing I've noticed from living in the US for a while is that often the same sort of attitudes or practices persist, but they are not out in the open. In India, everything is out in the open, such as animal abuse. In the US there are plenty of shelters filled with abandoned animals, some of them horribly abused (one dog I saw had been shot by his owner). My own dog is a rescue from some abused past that still haunts him.
I think, though, that the possibility that Indian attitudes toward animals has worsened over the years deserves deeper analysis. I can only present a hypothesis or two for what they're worth: consider the fact that my mother and many people from her generation who were raised in small towns or villages, still regard animals as ensouled beings who also have to live. Consider old practices that my mother still follows, of giving rice grains and so on to the birds or ants after you sort the grains. Consider that once India didn't have factory farms for meat, that once that would have been unthinkable, to line up animals in tiny cages so they couldn't even turn around, and subject them to unbelievable terror and cruelty – this is common practice in the US on a scale of millions of animals every single day, and is considered scientific farming.
Consider also the observation that the less educated, less westernized chowkidars actually are able to treat the dogs like fellow beings.
My suspicion is that we in India are in the middle of a cultural transformation, likely brought about by a) a colonised mind-set that compels us to blindly accept Western notions and paradigms without examining them, b) increasingly globalized consumerist culture that emphasizes I over we and therefore one's individual status and power and wealth over social good and environmental health. I've mentioned in my article naturalist Valmik Thapar's conjecture that the only reason why so many animals survived in India despite the population explosion was because of the Hindu attitude toward animals, one also reflected in other religions of the subcontinent – but in particular the idea that animals and humans are not essentially different and via reincarnation one can get to be various life-forms, so they are kin to us. One does not have to take this literally, or even be a Hindu to recognize our kinship with all beings, but one can see how this kinship might still exist among poor people who haven't had an expensive Western education/ cultural brainwashing beat it out of them.
Think about this: India's natural resources have taken more hits in the last two decades than in the 200 years of British rule. Think about how it makes certain corporations drool to see "their" coal and oil under all those forests. Isn't it easier to rape and pillage a land if the attitude toward animals and trees and forests can be undermined? And how much easier it is to do that when people are disconnected from each other and plugged into a global urban culture that is all about feeding the insatiable appetite for things, things, things? Undermining a love for nature and animals paves the way for mass scale destruction of the world habitat.
This might sound unduly portentous and melodramatic but sadly, it is true.
I suggest that likeminded people of all backgrounds rally together to make kinship with our street dogs, the local trees, the local patches of nature not swallowed up by our endless greed. I also have a lot of hope in children, who can make their families change their attitudes. Start a nature club! When I was growing up in Delhi, we did this with great success in many schools but it should work just as well in various colonies and apartment complexes.
[Note: in a small way, this discussion ties in with the Mr Colpeper character in A Canterbury Tale – a lonesome crusader who has a strong connection with the natural world and is concerned about the relentless march of "progress" (though he is incapable of discerning between the good and bad aspects of a modern world). Perhaps one reason why I've been thinking so much lately about that very moving film]