“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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Activism remains a much debated term in all circles; social sciences, media and political. This is because activism of all kinds; feminist movements, dalit and tribal rights, child rights, land rights and the rights movements of all indigenous and marginalized people have changed the face of human history. Activism for human rights has been inevitable and has followed the growth trajectory of the species homo sapiens. Animal activism on the other hand has not followed the ‘inevitable’ path simply because the concept of activism is more difficult and complex; after all it was dependent on the awakening of realization of homo sapiens, that species other than their own have rights.
To that extent, I maintain and insist that unlike what some anti-animal rights people have to say; that fighting for animal rights is a pathetic indulgence of immature or thoughtless people, it is in fact a sign of tremendous growth and evolving of thought; that one can think of going beyond one’s own rights and start thinking of the rights of those who will never be able to articulate, fight or stand up for their own rights in a very unequal world of living beings. From the protectionist to the abolitionist to the religious; philosophers and religious leaders have spanned centuries of sporadic to continuous; theorizing and preaching about the rights of ‘lesser’ beings, right up to the last few decades in modern history where animal rights activism has finally found its permanent place in the world created by humans. Slowly and steadily it has grown and is maturing and becoming part of the daily life of us humans. We have many to thank for this; the unknown and reclusive yet strong and committed feeder and carer of street animals to the fearless fighter for endangered species; to those who fought modern legal wars on their behalf; to the staunch advocates and lobbyists of animal rights; all have fought against great odds and fought continuously across the globe for those who could not fight for themselves but were mere mute witnesses to their own lives.
Another important aspect of my discussion here is the understanding I have gained over the last two decades and more, working with abused women and children and also working as a counselor for disturbed individuals or individuals facing problems. I have seen an eerie similarity in what vulnerable humans face and what is faced by non-human living beings. Whether it be neglect or gross abuse or indifference, pain and suffering cuts across all species. The more vulnerable the individual more is the suffering. Without going into the discussion of which species suffers more, as the topic here is the understanding of activism not its analysis, nevertheless, it is important to gain insights into the root cause of unnecessary suffering.
It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The use and misuse of power has greatly changed and got more complex over the centuries. From the more simple to understand power structures of kingdoms and dynasties to the present day democracies where all are supposed to have power but in actuality most do not, power in its overall impact on lives of all beings has to be understood. I present here an outline of the understanding of power and it is left to the reader to reflect, observe and survey the power structures in and around their lives. Observations and grasp of power structure is a lifelong quest, as one of the important principles of power is that it is fluid and ever changing, not unlike a kaleidoscope. Why do we need to understand power? Because the root of all that we fight against, want to change, and whatever insults our soul, stems from power. Not knowing whom or what you are up against is like going blindly into war.
Power exists in all areas of life, given that we are a democracy:
- People mandated to wield power- police, judiciary, the executive and the bureaucracy. At the present time in our lives, they control the maximum power. The ordinary citizen in India has found only two ways as yet of dealing with them. Either you fear and avoid them like the plague, or one embraces them to get personal work done. Since they are mandated to hold a lot of power over the system, it is important to understand their functioning, their internal power struggles, their restrictions and what one can do to have them to some extent at least, on the side of the cause you believe in. Avoidance is not the solution nor is embracing blindly the answer. A fine balance has to be sought and maintained.
- Power of institutional hierarchies- boards and committees.
- Social power-caste, patriarchy, and traditionally powerful families and communities.
- Inheritance- business houses.
- Middle class- power of the educated and settled population. As yet this section is largely unaware of the power it has in hand to change systems for the better.
- Individual- every individual too has power; over self, over the lives of dependents and over what he/she can do as an individual to contribute to society. Again, not all of us are aware of our potential; both mandated in a democracy and the potential of the skills and abilities in each one of us.
- Democracy- We take our democratic system very much for granted. A look around the world will tell us how many nations suffer due to undemocratic rule. It is only a democracy that gives one the freedom to explore avenues of seeking justice for the vulnerable (thus empowering).We take our system for granted and we weaken it each passing day that we do not work on it and use it for strengthening us and consequently, strengthening the lives of our vulnerable non-human beings. From a voting democracy, we have to move on to making it a working democracy. We can do this by actively using all the resources available to us.
Interestingly, all of the above sources of power, can be saviors as well as tormentors; protectors as well as abusers. Knowing to use the sources of power means that these can be recharged to remain protectors and saviors only. As foot soldiers on the forefront of fighting for the rights of animals, we need to move the system to work in favor of our non-human beings. We look at two ways of doing this.
If we use the analogy of construction, then we see that like a building is never constructed without using tools, so too one needs several tools at hand, and the skills of using them in cooperation, coordination and when need be; against the seats of power, at all times understanding that one needs to strategies interventions into long term, short and immediate at any point of time. The tools one can use are:
- Knowledge of human psychology. Why do people do what they do? What is the motivation? What does power do to people? What happens in powerless situations? Etc
- Intervention by groups
- Use of the media at the right times
- The Constitution
- The P.C.A. Act
- The I.P.C.
- Influencing any of the power centers as and when needed with the use of advocacy and lobbying
- Influencing and developing ties with local groups
- Judicious use of the R.T.I. Act
- Use of the Internet
- International networking
- It is also very important to be street smart, observant, confident and have the will to survive and strengthen by experience. A few important points here for you to consider:
To work for animals one has to work with humans. Interestingly, several people in the field do not realize this. The only time when you are interacting directly with the animal is when you are doing rescues, managing shelters and hospitals and documenting their lives on the streets or in the forests and jungles. Note here that even as you do this, you will have to interact, coordinate and solicit the cooperation of humans either directly or at the second level of the intervention. Working for human rights is that much easier because it is work with your own species, also that a human can communicate in a language which is yours, can point out to the abuser and oppressor and more importantly with various levels of information/intervention, can start at some point or the other to help himself/herself. Further, this process is helped greatly as there are many more supporters of helping your own species than support for helping animals as people can directly identify with the suffering of one’s own. Understanding the suffering of non-humans demands a greater level of maturity, mental and spiritual involvement and unselfishness to a far greater extent, then what one needs to understand human suffering. All the more reason to make working with humans a priority in our intervention. Creating awareness and networking and lobbying are two important tools we have to achieve this.
- Try not to work alone, even if you do only feeding of street living animals. Working alone is isolating and can weaken and add pressure to your resolve. Instead, try and network with like minded people doing similar work. Meet once in a while, talk over the phones, share experiences and strengthen each other, so that in a crisis you have help at hand.
- Whatever work you do, read books and use the internet whenever you can. Upgrade your knowledge of laws, animal work and lives and any connecting information.
- Do not isolate yourself socially. Like I said before, to work with animals, you have to work with people as well, and one cannot afford to do away with people skills.
- Source out AWO’s in your locality, see if you can help out and be part of any activity that will strengthen the animal rights movement.
- If strategies are working for you, stick to them, until they prove to be ineffective or insufficient.
To end, it would be wonderful and brilliant if each one of us can be part of a continuous movement to strengthen the animal rights movement around the world. Across the world, welfare for any vulnerable section of the human population has moved away to a large extent from welfare mode to the rights mode, therefore it is about time we also move from animal welfare to animal rights (without underplaying the importance of welfare). Rights are always more difficult to attain as compared to welfare, therefore the more of us who believe in it and are willing to be part of this movement, the better. Animals do not need your pity anymore; they need your empathy and enthusiastic support to find their rightful place on this planet as equal beings.
– Naina Athale