Paws & Reflect

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated. As you know, the aim of this podcast is to help you lead a happier, healthier, clearer, and more hopeful life. And we do so by giving you approaches, ideas, trends, tools, and techniques from all over the world. This season, we’re focusing on environmental well-being, and this topic is really, really close to my heart. The thing is, what we need to recognize is that our interconnectedness—the interconnectedness of the human being with animals, with nature, and with conservation—is absolutely vital to our leading a harmonious and sustainable life. And we have some very interesting speakers today. We have with us Alokparna Sengupta, who’s director of the Humane Society International- India, and we have Ashraf Hussain, who’s a passionate advocate for animal welfare and conservation and is involved with NGOs and the like. Thank you for taking the time to be here for this chat with us today.

Ashraf Hussain: Thank you so much for having us.

Alokparna Sengupta: Thank you so much Anshu for having us.

AB: You’re welcome. Now. I’ll begin with you, Alokparna. Tell me about the Humane Society International. What does the organisation do and what kind of animal welfare and conservation do you promote?

AS: So firstly, I hate to start by correcting, but I’m the managing director of Humane Society International India. Humane Society International is a large international organisation that itself is the international arm of the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International- India is one of the country affiliates of the international organisation. We are an animal protection organisation, and together with the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, we form the world’s largest animal protection organisation, which works on all issues, be it street dogs, wildlife cruelty, institutionalised cruelty, such as factory farming, farm animal protection issues, animal testing issues, or responding to disasters and crises across the world, including in India. You name it, we work on it. But of course, one of our biggest aims is to make an impact where there is neglect, where there will be more animals who are impacted. And that is why one of our largest, or a few of our largest campaigns are in, of course, the spay and neuter work for street dogs in India, is in the farm animal sector, where billions of animals are affected, and the animal testing sector. So again, for the greater good of mankind, millions and millions of animals are tested. So that is basically our focus area. But we also work on wildlife conservation issues. Again, this is not what you will hear every day, but for example, human snake conflict mitigation and human elephant conflict mitigation are areas where we can have a larger impact with our work.

AB: Lovely and Ashraf, tell me about some of the initiatives that you’ve done with communities and NGOs which have been successful.

AH: Right, I run my own NGO out of Bombay, and one of the things about mine has been a journey. So from helping with street animals around my building and in the community to starting my own NGO, there have been various interventions. I think one of my true successes was when I used to stay in Bombay, in Cuffe Parade. We had a lot of people against animals in the community, and they had a very strong residents welfare organisation. And we said, Why not a subcommittee for animal welfare within the larger organisation? And we started a small animal welfare community over there, and we’ve done a lot of initiatives. And I think if you go into Cuffe Parade now, I think the last count was 160 cats and around 80 dogs. All are being fed, all have been vaccinated, and all have been neutered and sterilised. So it’s a community that came together over there to help. All the dogs have been photographed, and their vaccination records are maintained. And it became part of a larger welfare organisation and a residents welfare organisation. And we didn’t allow the use of [the word] ‘street animals’, we just said now they’re going to be called ‘community pets’; they’re not going to be street animals. So the way we did it was to change the optics. Stray animal: the word stray animal has a lot of negative connotations. And when you say community pets, someone is taking care of them. So now they have a voice, and all our voices will be there to protect them. Since then, we have worked at the veterinary hospital in Bombay, and the BSPCA team worked over there. There were issues that were there, and a lot of the community was unhappy with the things they were doing, and there was a lot of conflict with the community. And we said instead of fighting the organisation, which is doing the work, maybe not at the level we expect, why don’t we get in there and solve it inside out? Because the poorest of the poor go over there and do the work that happens, they’ll get handicapped. So we set up a team inside to help them with their processes, which required a little bit of strategy, and the areas that they couldn’t focus on, we took over. So we became a layer between the veterinary staff, the ward boys, and the animals that were abandoned or street animals. So my team would take care of that. Since then, I’ve moved on. And now that I’ve moved to Goa, I’m trying to work with local NGOs over here and try to help them do a little better and scale up their activities. But at all times, I’ve not believed in, or we’ve not believed in, trying to reinvent the field. We try to identify gaps and what someone can’t plug in, my expertise, or my team’s expertise can come in, plug that gap, and do it better. Everyone’s doing good stuff, but how can we do it better? How can we scale it and create more impact? And that’s only community involvement.

AB: That’s wonderful, actually. So tell me about some of the work you’ve done. Like I know you’ve done some work with dolphins. Tell me a bit about it. 

AH: I’m not directly involved with the dolphins, but I can tell you the background on that. There’s a friend of mine who runs a wonderful organisation called Terra Conscious. She does it, and I’m helping her in a very small way, but it’s quite an inspiring story. If your viewers want to hear about it… 

AB: Please go ahead.

AH: And that’s the true involvement of the community over there. So what she does is, obviously, she realised that in Goa there is a lot of pressure on dolphins through tourism and simultaneously, this pressure on dolphins is because fishing stocks have depleted, forcing the fishermen to double up on their livelihoods. So they’ve resorted to dolphin trips, but the tourists just give 300-400 bucks. The fisherman is going out chasing these dolphins, and they deep dive under the sand; sometimes the calves have drowned. And there’s a lot of stress on the animals, a lot of environmental issues, and diesel boats going out every day harassing these dolphins. But the question is still one of livelihood. What she tried to do was train these fishermen to give a better experience to the customers and charge a premium. So she intervened as a naturalist, as a marine conservation guide, and charged a premium. Initially, I think they had dropped hydrophones where they could inform the tourists on dolphin communication and things like that, and they really charged a premium and went out at sea for longer periods of time and ensured there were safe distances between the dolphins and the fishing boats. That made it more ethical. And the tourists and the consumers went away really understanding these species because she did an entire orientation on them. The fishermen earned more. What you would do in six trips, you’re earning in one trip. So there’s less pressure on it. And it gave a sustainable livelihood to them. And the biggest thing, I think, for this kind of work, this community-owned work, is that the fishermen become the champions of protecting those areas because dolphins now directly impact their livelihood.

AB: And I know that countries like the Maldives are doing an incredible job protecting marine wildlife, as you’re talking about. And we’ve also seen places like Africa, where in the Masai Mara they’ve used sustainable tourism and responsible travel to raise huge amounts of money for conservation purposes and the protection of animals. So, Alokparna, tell me, what more can we do in terms of sustainable tourism? In terms of responsible tourism?

AS: I think we need to pay a little bit of attention to where we are going. What are the CSR or ethical activities of these places where we are staying? So, for example, if you’re booking yourself into a resort, which is just an example, if you’re going to a coffee estate or a tea estate, we for sure know that there are animal movements there, be it the elephants or tigers. What is their take on it? What is their policy on elephants? Do they drive them away? Do they pay something for conservation? Do they donate to it? Those are some of the things that you can look at aside from this. Do not go to places where animals are used for entertainment because we are 100% sure that these animals are not treated well. Animals are taken from their natural habitat and trained. And no animal wants to behave, and no animal should behave like a human being, be it for our entertainment or in any sort of aquarium, circus, or any other form. I think the world’s saddest view is that of an elephant in a circus trying to do ‘Puja’, because an elephant is representative of Ganesha, and they’re doing a Puja tour. I mean, that’s one of the saddest views because elephants are such majestic animals, as are other animals. So it’s important to see what sort of activities you do when you’re travelling. Especially, for example, in India, we ensure that we have a campaign against elephant rides in Amer Fort. And there is a huge amount of campaigning going on in Kedarnath right now for the horses and mules. You need to figure out that if you cannot go via motorbike or on your own feet, then you don’t go to these places, especially in a place like Amer fort. These elephants were not created to climb up steep places, which are actually so full of cement, right? Or rocks. They do climb, but on hills and mountains. So it’s against their natural behaviour and their nature to be doing this. So you must figure out what the practices are, where you want to go, what entertainment options are there, and choose those options that do not exploit animals.

AB: So do you feel like horse riding is also a cruel sport? 

AS: In that case, I have read some research that says horse riding is good for youngsters who want to connect with an animal. But again, horse riding for games and betting, there is bound to be cruelty there. How the relationship between a human and an animal develops is one thing, but how the animal’s future lasts is completely something else. So if my one-year-old, for example, is sent to horse riding classes, I’m going to send him to horse riding classes for a short period of time, maximum a year, maximum three, four, or five years. But the horse’s life is more.

AB: Okay. And Ashraf, I was going to ask you, what do you feel about elephants?

AH: Look, elephants, as Alokparna said, are very dear to me, and they’re a majestic animal. And I think across the spectrum, elephants are abused in this country. And it’s really sad. I think what I read somewhere is that there are 36,000 elephants; I think 4000 are captive elephants, 900 are in terrible shape, and maybe a few years ago, I believe we had only saved 40 or 50 captive elephants in the country. Now the number may be a little higher. I think, from temples to service animals to using them for tourist rides, it’s not natural to them. You always see elephants in distress when they are chained or moving. I think we all know what it is, right? They’re swaying from one side to the other. But I think at some point, we just don’t want to question ourselves about whether we’ve gone in a forested area on an elephant ride or we’ve given money for blessings. We don’t question it because these institutions have come from our parents, right? And we don’t want to shake those foundations. It stirs our soul to say, how can a temple or a circus [do this]? How can this be? Because our parents have been part of this journey with us… 

AB: About creating awareness. Ashraf, can you tell me what are some of the most impactful campaigns that you know of?

AH: The one that hit me the most and really got me stirred up was actually quite controversial. It’s an international campaign by an NGO called Sea Shepherd, which is headed by Captain Paul Watson. It was headed by him I think, then they nudged him out also. He’s quite a radical, confrontational guy. I think he was the founder of Greenpeace, and I think he was too radical for them. But I saw an interview with him, and it resonated with me. So basically, he was fighting Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, and there was an international whaling ban. And Japan, under the guise of research, was hunting 999 minke whales every year. They would get factory ships and harpoon ships, and they would harpoon these whales. And under the guise of research, I thought Captain Paul Watson’s intervention was direct and confrontational. He would take his boats and just ram into the whaling boats, try to sink them, use stink bombs, throw them on the boat, and contaminate the whale meat. It had a direct impact. Some countries accused him of being a criminal on the high seas. Some countries gave him safe harbour, but people donated ships and boats, and he had helicopters that would track these whaling vessels. In fact, there was a show on National Geographic/ Animal Planet called Whale Wars. And I think that had people really understand how campaigns are run and how you can intervene and actually make a difference. They would have understood the plight of the whales, 999 whales every year, being harpooned as if you were in the mediaeval ages. And I think that had a big impact. And I think the organisation 2041 Foundation, with Robert Swan, is a conservation organisation that does a lot of work with education. And Robert Swan takes ambassadors, young ambassadors, every year to the Antarctic, and even though it’s the remotest continent in the world, I think people, when they go there, I haven’t been there, I haven’t been lucky enough, but when they go there, what I have heard is they realise our activities back on the populated areas of this planet, how they impact the remotest areas, and those kids come back as ambassadors for conservation.

AB: Alokparna, tell me some of the challenges that you face.

AS: I think the biggest challenges we face are legal policy challenges. Where the government, be it across the world, any country, you make some progress with the policy and then another government comes in and there is just so much inertia there. There’s a policy and regulatory inertia where you don’t want to work on this. Animal welfare is seen as the last of the priorities, if at all. I think the connection between animal welfare and human welfare is still not known to most of our decision-makers. And that’s one of the biggest challenges. As a movement, we’ve isolated ourselves, saying that we only care about the animals, and we are just now sort of getting out and mixing with other social welfare movements and saying, okay, this is how my cause impacts your cause. And I think that intersectionality in India and across the world is also missing. And that’s one of the biggest hurdles—the animal protection movement itself.

AB: Absolutely. And that’s exactly what I said, that it’s about protecting the animal, but say it’s someone’s livelihood, the circus, it’s about working with an organisation which would give them an alternative because otherwise they’re going to think they’re going to lose their jobs, which they are. They’re going to lose their livelihood. So it’s working with both. Sorry, you were saying something.

AS: Yeah, if I can just take from that and say, okay, a circus or dog meat sellers— we have dog meat in India in certain states now, and these people can be provided with livelihoods. And for that, the system needs to change. For example, in the example that Ashraf provided about the dolphins, we’ve worked with fishermen who were banned from going to the sea for Olive Ridley conservation. And in fact, we turned them into conservationists and said, okay, instead of hating on these animals, how can they become conservation experts? And right now, on the coast of the Kendrapara district of Orissa, our on-the-ground people are the fishermen who actually conserve these animals. And that’s a big win for many of, for example, elephant mahouts. I don’t think there is expectation that the mahouts will go away from these elephants because these elephants who have been with the mahouts know nobody else but the mahouts. But the owners of these elephants are mighty rich and influential people who need to be taken away from these elephants. They have no connection with these animals. The mahouts, the people who need these livelihoods, are actually going to have these livelihoods going forward too. Especially, for example, for a dog meat seller, they can go and sell, and they can have other livelihoods too. Selling some I wouldn’t say an animal because I work for farm animals also, but for some other fruits, vegetables, textile, anything else? And I think if there are more organisations that are experts, come together, work with the government, then there is a need for stronger collaboration across sectors which has been missing. We don’t realise we come first and say, oh my God, slaughter is bad. And who is the community? Who is slaughtering animals? But who’s the community? Who’s paying for the slaughter? Who wants to slaughter an animal? I don’t think generations of people want to slaughter animals, right? Everybody wants to move on to another level of financial independence and financial betterment in life. But the fact is the industries and companies benefit in marginalising people.

AB: Absolutely.

AS: And we need to move away from blaming the humans and saying, oh my God, these animals. We need to work together. And I’m sure the minute we understand intersectionality, we’ll be able to do better for animals and humans.

AB: So we see that in some countries, like Spain, bull fighting is actually considered, given the status of cultural heritage. So how does one get round this and how does one tackle something which is so deeply emotional to so many people?

AH: That’s an interesting one. It’s always complex when you have religion and welfare. I think at that intersection, where it comes from, you have to go to the root, right? Where it comes from. It comes from the religious leaders. And you can’t be confrontational about this. You’ll never win it. So you have to be very collaborative, like everything. And I think you should go to the leaders, the religious leaders of the religion, and talk to them and see if you can eliminate it. I don’t know if you can eliminate it, but can it be reduced instead of every individual slaughtering? It has to be, I think, a word. I love the word reductionism. Even while you’re eating meat. If you didn’t reduce, that’s also a step towards something positive. So I think if we look at solutions where communities, if they have to slaughter, it’s a community slaughter rather than every house in that building is doing it, or every house, every visitor to that institution is doing it. So I think taking in all the stakeholders involved in this into confidence and not making it politically, not getting people polarised, but understanding this is how the world is moving and to be part of this new world. And that’s what the community needs—a little bit of reform. It’s easy for me to sit on this and preach; it’s a huge task, but it also needs a lot of political will. And as we’ve seen in this country, when the will is there, certain animals can be protected. And now this needs to go across all species. With great power comes great responsibility, and we, as top-of the chain human beings, have a lot of responsibility to protect, whether they are for religious uses, or circus entertainment. It is all our duty, and we are linked to that. Our existence is linked to them.

AB: And Alokparna, will you address this from an international point of view? How do you tackle these challenges internationally? 

AS: I think the strategy is similar. It’s just that different cultures have different reactions. So I can actually take the example of a slaughter festival that Nepal has, which is very close to the border and very close to India. So it’s a festival called Gadhimai, which happens once every five years. And we try to do it from a top-down approach, where you go to the court and say: how can you slaughter animals? 5 lakh animals were slaughtered at one point. But what we realised through the years is that the core of it is superstition, ill information, and the belief that something is the exploitation of the most marginalised and needy people. And if you go to Gadhimai, it’s the saddest view ever because there are people who are slaughtered, and it’s not only animals who are slaughtered. People are dancing. Dancing girls are there to entertain men. People with leprosy are there, begging on the streets. And I’ve had interviews with many people, many devotees, who’ve come there. And it starts from a pigeon to a buffalo. That’s the range of animals that are slaughtered there. And some of them are because we’ve not had rain. We’ve not had rain. So I’m going to slaughter an animal and hope that there are good rains this season in my village so that my fields are fine. I have five girls; I want a boy. That’s why I’m slaughtering a buffalo. These are the actual answers that I have come across. And this comes from a lack of scientific temper and exploitation for Vote Bank; nobody wants to educate these people because how will they earn money? And in fact, this Gadhimai, for example, is said to be 300 years old, et cetera, et cetera. It came from one village head who was arrested for theft, and he apparently dreamt that a goddess came to him and said that if you sacrifice five men, you will be free and your life will be fine. So it was actually a human sacrificial event, which then turned into an animal one. And now, instead of five, there are seven types of animals. So I think the root causes are superstitions and lack of scientific temper. When you’re talking about bull fighting, we’re also talking about bull taming in India and the unfortunate Supreme Court order that said they removed the constitution bench, then removed the sentence that the 2014 Nagaraja judgement had, which says: customs and culture cannot be an excuse for cruelty. And that’s very unfortunate because, as you move with the times, your practices should move to show masculinity or entertainment, for that matter. Cockfighting in the state that I stay in, I stay in Hyderabad, so erstwhile, Andhra Pradesh and now, Telangana, they do a lot of cockfighting, and it’s mostly for celebration, for entertainment. But do we need such cruel entertainment in this day and age? That’s a question we must ask ourselves, and a lot of politicians are involved in it. During the pandemic, and I’m sorry I’m going on, but during the pandemic, we thought that cockfighting might decrease. But did you know that there were techies who lived in the US who created apps for people to be able to bet? So if people are using their education for such purposes and are completely brainwashed, what can we expect of other people who are marginalised, and don’t have access to anything? So there’s a full force, like will— and will of commoners, will of the system, which includes the government. And like Ashraf said, where there is a will, there is a way. But the lack of will is the predominant prevent.

AB: So, Ashraf, what are some of the key challenges that you face towards building more animal friendly communities?

AH: I think the lack of awareness policy is, as Alokparna addresses, because I think we have a wonderful set of people working on the ground. The research is done. I think there’s no grace in black and white; this is the way forward. But I don’t think the will of the government and the politicians is there. That is a huge hurdle. And the other things are with people. Awareness. I think even when we decide on what we buy, there’s no awareness. If you’re eating fish. Are we eating fish from factory farms? This is the right month. Are we eating fish? Because there are NGOs who are marking it out and saying: look, you can eat XYZ fish this month and XYZ in the next month, so their stocks are allowed to regenerate. I don’t think we have the awareness. And I think NGOs cannot do that either, to some extent, because of a lack of funds. So the hurdles are multifold, right? Lack of funding, lack of awareness—if those things are there, the government doesn’t want to move on. I think the most important thing would be awareness, because I think, to an extent, our generation is a lot, at fault over there. So we need to now focus on the generation and the schools right now, and curriculums must include a welfare environment. And we are training our children to face every challenge in the world when it comes to a job. There is no topic on the climate crisis that is coming up. I think it has to be a subject, and it has to be a serious attempt to change these children’s minds.

AB: What policy changes would you like to see in place?

AS: I mean, that’s a very good point at this given time, because we are pushing for an amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. We’ve been in the works for more than a decade, but we’ve been fully focused on it for the last six years. So there has been a bill that has been put in place, but it has not been tabled yet. So currently we’re in the campaigning mode of asking the government, including the Prime Minister, to table it in the monsoon session of Parliament, which started on July 20. That’s the first thing, I think. An act that is supposed to prevent cruelty and protect animals and which puts the onus of protection on human beings. And the caretaker needs an amendment. It’s been 63 years now, and the penalties, for example, are as low as Rs 50. And if I could have a laundry list of policy changes, we’d be talking for the next few days. The first priority right now is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. But of course, more space for hens, no battery cages, no gestational crates, and more funding for alternatives to animal testing would better the Wildlife Protection Act. I think the new Wildlife Protection Act has a lot to hope for, but it has been a disappointment. So there are a lot more amendments there too.

AH: Sorry, just to add to that, I would also say that enforcement, even some of the laws which are stringent, is very weak. And I don’t think law enforcement looks at this as a priority.

AB: Is there an animal protection department in India? Is there a ministry that looks after this?

AH: It comes under Animal Husbandry or it comes under the Ministry of Environment. 

AB: Environment.

AH: Well, there is also the Animal Welfare Board of India, I think?

AS: That’s also a weird thing, right? Between looking at husbandry and productivity and then being tasked with welfare, which do you choose? Which one has more profit? And we know that welfare is definitely compromised. But the Wildlife Protection Act, for example, sits with the Environment Ministry, and everything else, so the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, sits with the Animal Husbandry Ministry. Having said that, I think, with respect to Ashraf’s comment on implementation, there is definitely a need. And organisations like ours and other organisations like People for Animals are constantly focused on sensitising the entire gamut of law enforcement agencies. So currently we are in West Bengal, Karnataka, Telangana— HSI- India, specifically to train all law enforcement agencies, animal husbandry, police, the public prosecutors, judges, and the Forest Department, 100% of them in the next five years.

AB: Right. And from what I’m hearing from both of you, it seems like working with the policymakers has not been an easy job.

AS: Yeah, it’s not going to be easy, but I don’t think working with the community is easy either.

AB: Yes, you’re right.

AS: So many different personalities and that the same community is a smaller version of the government, or vice versa, I think.

AB: So. Could you tell me about some of the key partnerships and collaborations that you feel have been helpful and instrumental— in conservation and in animal welfare. 

AH: I think I’ve seen in Bangalore a government partnership that worked well with elephants, where I think the government came in as the provider of land and temple elephants that needed to be rescued. They had an organisation who professionally ran the operations for them, and they looked at the elephant and the mahouts as one unit. So just because they have the elephant, they didn’t disband the mahout. So they said that that’s one unit. So the government, the elephant mahouts, and the organisation came into a good partnership. And I think that is the way to create models that can be replicated across the country. The other one I thought was good in Bombay was when horse carriages were banned. And I think there were alternative livelihoods that were given over there. And now we see that on the streets of Bombay, we have open-air buggies that are running, and there are no horses over there. And the horse owners and the people who operated the horse carriages got alternative employment. So that was a strong partnership with the NGOs, the government, and law enforcement; they all came together to make changes. So there are obviously examples of these partnerships.

AB: Thank you. Alokparna, would you like to add to that?

AS: Yeah, I think the Karnataka Forest Department has been a great ally for us, too, because we’ve recently, along with our partner organisation, the Liana Trust, actually published, drafted and published snake relocation and rescue guidelines, which is also a big topic where people go around saying, “Oh, I’m going to rescue a snake.” But are you actually rescuing it or putting it in more danger? And we are actually working on the behaviour and ecology of snakes in the districts of Mysore and Hunsur to see if rescuing and relocating snakes works or how we can promote coexistence between humans and animals while promoting the ecology. Also, I think another key partnership has happened with it. We have a model district programme where we are trying to say, If all the legal infrastructure that is required by law were there in a district, how would it look, and how could that be scaled up? So we were the first organisations to start that in Hubli-Dharwad in Karnataka, and be it the SPCA or the municipality in Hubli-Dharwad, they’ve been a key partner in ensuring that all the law is also enforced. People are sensitised. They also benefit from it, right? Lesser complaints, more awareness of animal welfare, and so on and so forth, and we are also trying to replicate that in West Bengal because West Bengal is an ignored state. East India, for example, is an ignored area in terms of animal welfare. So the new State Animal Welfare Board is turning out to be very useful for our West Bengal and Calcutta mortal district programmes. So I think those partnerships have really worked. One of the partnerships that I really treasure is with the CCMB, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, which is a CSIR research institute. And with them, we’ve been able to establish a centre that only works to promote and develop non-animal methodologies in research. And it’s celebrating its fourth year now. And it’s been able to gain that reputation, that respect, and the scientific temper to be somebody in the non-animal methodology sphere…

AB: When you say non animal methodology, what do you mean?

AS: Non animal here, is alternatives to animal experimentation methodologies that do not use animals.

AB: So I think it’s a matter of sort of more options being available to people and also more economical options.

AH: The moment there’s an option, you can transition into an alternative. Be it with leather, be it with food, or cosmetics in every sphere. We have the power now because those choices are there for us.

AB: Yes. I mean, there’s also, I don’t know if you’ve heard about: there’s a company called Beyond Burger which is making vegetarian burgers, which are very close to the taste of meat. And I believe even the likes of Bill Gates are supposed to have invested in it.

AS: And we have a tonne of companies in India, too, I think. In fact, if I may just talk about HSI India’s programmes, we have a humane entrepreneurship programme that helps entrepreneurs sort of scale up their businesses. Whether it’s in animal testing—I mean, non-animal testing alternatives—whether they want to have a company that does not test on animals or provides alternatives in the material space, in the food space, and Beyond Burger is just one example, but there are many others.

AH: GFI is doing a fabulous job, and I think it’s a good food institute. And they incubate several companies that want to get into this sector. And with their market research, consumer research, and technical know-how, which is open source for any entrepreneur who wants to go there, they consult, and there are no fees.

AB: Then people are also working, and I mean, again, this is a controversial droplet, but people are working with plants. Not plant, but with stem cell meat as well as cultivated, to make meat. So I cultivated meat in the lab.

AS: And in fact, in 2018, it was 2018 and 19, In fact, it was the Good Food Institute, Humane Society, and CCMB that got the first public grant from the government of India to start working on cultivated mutton. So it was stem cells from lamb. But again, it won’t be a cruelty-free meal because you have animals involved. And there is going to be the ultimate slaughter, but it is not going to be the slaughter of each and every animal for one family or one individual. And once we are able to scale up, no, from what I understood, there is not going to be slaughter. There is not going to be slaughter, but there is going to be use of this animal. And then where is this animal going to go? Probably to a sanctuary, maybe. But there is more science, and there is scaling up required right now, I think in the US, the FDA has just approved the sale of cultivated meat. A few years ago, Singapore approved it. But in India, we have a couple of companies, and the government is also looking at it like CCMB is looking at it. So we still have to make that progress in India. 

AB: And finally, what sort of relationship do you believe we should aspire to with the natural world? And is that really a possibility? And please share resources, websites that you’d like to point our listeners towards.

AH: Look, I think our relationships, as I said before, are all choices we make, right? And if you see this conversation as well, a lot has been said about factory farm animals, right? Because the numbers are staggering over there. The numbers are staggering when cruelty is involved. And I think the way we transport these animals and the way we slaughter them are all based on economics. It’s cheap for us, but the animal pays the price. You cannot be saying that: it’s my choice. It’s my choice, and it’s too small. Every choice has a huge impact. And I think everyone needs to get educated. There is a crisis. Food animal slaughter is a big part of this crisis—the climate crisis that’s looming over us. And if we don’t recognise this ourselves, we are spelling our own names and cutting our own feet over here.

AB: Thank you for that. Alokparna? 

AS: I think the core of it is the human-animal bond, right? So when we are children and we connect with animals much more symbiotically than we do as adults, I think just to keep hold of that and just to add what Ashraf said, I think one thing we keep saying is that the best way to stand up for animals is when you sit down to eat. And if you love animals, it shouldn’t matter if it’s a dog, a cow, a goat, or a hen; you can raise your voice and your practises. So research whatever small step you can take and keep practising it. And it is up to us to be able to choose wisely and compassionately.

AB: At the end of every session, we do a rapid fire round to summarise the chat. So, Ashraf, one surprising way in which an individual or small group has affected change.

AH: I mean, I would give an example of the horse carriages in Bombay. It was a few of my friends and they actually made a fantastic change.

AB: Fabulous. Alokparna one area that you believe requires urgent public attention right Now,

AS: No doubt, farm animal protection. Nobody’s looking at it. People are politicising it. Animals don’t care if you’re a Hindu, Muslim or another religion. They are suffering nonetheless. 

AB: Ashraf, could you share the name of an NGO or group that people or communities can connect with to make a positive change. One for India, one international.

AH: I think in India I would reach out to the Humane Society for sure. So I’ve taken that out of you. And the international one. I think 2041 is a great organisation. It gives you a chance to travel where no one goes, for education. It’s a great resource. 

AB: Wonderful. And Alokparna, one request to our viewers today on behalf of the Humane Society International, what would you have them do to play their part?

AS: Write to the Prime Minister today to table the Cruelty to Animals bill this monsoon session of Parliament.

AB: Thank you. What a great chat we’ve had. Thank you. Alokparna. Thank you, Ashraf, for your time.

AS: Thank you so much for having us.

AH: Thank you so much for having us. Thank you. Alokparna, thank you for all your insights.

AB: Thank you for listening. And I hope you learned something new today and we hope we brought you a little closer to leading a happier, healthier life. If you enjoyed the chat, please press like and please invite your friends, family, loved ones to subscribe to my channel and I would absolutely love to hear from you. So if you have any questions or topic suggestions, please send me an email at: Anshu@wellnesscurated.life. Thank you again and see you next week. Thank you.