‘Animal Rights’ Concerns and Campaigns Need to Be Wary of Islamophobia, Brahmanism and Racism
Courtesy Kavita Krishnan
I’m rather disturbed by the campaign against Eid qurbani in the name of animal rights – and I say this as someone who struggles with concerns about the ethics of human relationships with non-human animals.
When images of Dhaka post-Eid ‘rivers of blood’ are shared by committed secularists with tweets or comments on animal rights, there is something very wrong with the picture. For one thing, the news about Dhaka ‘rivers of blood’ in Bangladesh papers has mostly been about the civic mess and lack of proper sanitary arrangements during floods and resultant water-logging, much as is the case in India – not about animal rights. Yet, in India, this news gets framed as an ‘animal rights’ issue. And in the process, quite subtly, we end up contributing to the Islamophobic propaganda of Muslims and Islam as exceptionally ‘cruel.’ I’ve expressed similar unease when Wildlife groups on social media share images of adivasi youth selling monitor lizards and endangered species of wildlife, with outraged comments about ‘cruelty.’ How easy to profile adivasis as ‘cruel’ while ignoring the systematic violence against forest and forest-dwelling humans and animals wreaked by corporate greed masquerading as ‘development’?
We human beings – all of us, including vegetarians and vegans are implicated in cruelty to and violence against animals. The dairy industry, for instance, inflicts enormous suffering on cattle. Likewise, the poultry industry – whether in the production of eggs or chicken – involves much cruelty and suffering. And what about agricultural production of plant-based food? Well, millions of animals are killed in that process too – in the very process of farming.
Does that mean we should give up concerns about the ethics of our treatment of animals? I believe not. But we need to shed all self-righteousness in our discussion of that problem. In India and South Asia more generally, we also have to be extra careful and conscious that concerns about animal rights are not serving the projects of Islamophobia and Brahminism.
In this region, India especially, where ‘gau rakshak’ violence against Muslims and Dalits in the name of ‘protecting cows’ has assumed frightening proportions, the matrix of ‘animal rights’ campaigns cannot pretend innocence from or indifference to violence done in their name. Any campaign on the question of ethical treatment of animals must think long and deep about how to make a very clear break from the agendas of Islamophobia and Brahminism. And even internationally animal rights activists are having to grapple with the problem of their concerns being hijacked by racist and Islamophobic forces.
Why exceptionalise Eid? Why exceptionalise beef? How come even people who eat meat or chicken regularly express shock at people slaughtering goats at goat slaughter during Eid or at cow slaughter?
Just because the cruelty in the meat, poultry, dairy and pharmaceutical industries that gives us our tasty butter chicken, eggs, meat or even our glass of milk or cup of dahi, and even the medicines we use, is less visible, that does not mean it does not exist. Consciousness of that larger matrix of violence against animals should make us think several times before righteously castigating the dietary cultures of others.
To me, it is important not to give up thinking about the ethics of human treatment of animals, not out of ‘kindness to animals’ but out of concern for how our own species conducts itself in this world we live in. Humans have justified oppression of other humans by dehumanizing their victims – the histories of racism and fascism tell us this. Those histories should make us thoughtful and concerned about processes by which we close off empathy to non-humans and learn then to close off empathy to ‘other’ human beings we oppress.
Our species enjoys a unique kind of power over other species (power we wield whether we produce or eat meat or whether we are ‘animal lovers’ who keep, feed and neuter pets and strays) – and surely any kind of power must be tempered by ethical considerations and introspection. But we need to be able to think through these issues and concerns without passing righteous judgement on the dietary choices and cultures of others.