THE media gave wide publicity recently to an apparently trivial little item. The well-known ‘animal-rights’ activist and Hollywood bimbo of yesteryear, Brigitte Bardot, as a mouthpiece of the militantly extremist animal-rights organisation, PETA, had offered gratuitous advice to a then-union cabinet minister in India to ‘look after’ the animals being used in biomedical research. This happened on the background of a publicised quarrel (or ‘disagreement’, if you prefer euphemisms) between two union ministers, C P Thakur and Maneka Gandhi, on who is to regulate animal experimentation in India, and how this is to be done. Thakur was, then, the cabinet minister for health and family welfare, while Gandhi was in charge of statistics and programme implementation, although both have resigned since then, in the recent famous reshuffle of the union cabinet. It is curious (and amusing) enough that a minister (of state) for statistics and programme implementation should have been arguing about animal experimentation. Upper-class ‘celebrities’ such as actresses turned candle-makers also keep putting in their own two bits on Maneka Gandhi’s behalf from time to time on the matter. But when such notorious international players as PETA and Bardot enter the fray, it is time to sit up and take more serious notice.
MOTIVES OF PETA AND BARDOT
PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is an organisation based in the USA, and with a scattered international presence, such as in India. They are associated with covert and ‘moral’ if not actual support for terrorism by animal liberation activists who attack people thought of as being ‘cruel’ to animals (such as scientists, farmers and the like). In India, they are best known for their campaign to block the international purchase of Indian leather on the charge (quite possibly correct in itself) that cattle being taken to the slaughterhouse are treated inhumanely. The result of their campaign, however, does not seem to have been any great deal of improvement in the conditions of the unfortunate cattle, but a loss of substantial revenue and livelihood to the workers involved in the leather industry.
Bardot is notorious as the famously mysterious recluse who emerges from her self-imposed ‘isolation’ only for making demands such as banning animal experimentation, or getting rid of non-white immigrants from France (where she lives), or blocking holding the Olympics in Seoul because dog meat is eaten in Korea. Thus, neither PETA nor Bardot are exactly benign presences, and their entry into this issue of animal experimentation should in itself constitute cause for a hard look at the issues involved. When this cacophony on behalf of ‘animal rights’ begins to find echoes in the atmosphere of homogeneous Hindutva currently being assertively acclaimed, in which vegetarianism becomes a serious contender for the label of ‘moral ethic’, the issue becomes pressing indeed. So what, exactly is involved in the ongoing brouhaha?
Why do experiments on animals, in the first place? There are a number of reasons. One is in the interests of scientific understanding of ourselves and our world, without which we have no enduring basis on which to improve our own material condition. But not only that, since in fact, without this curiosity about ourselves and the world around us, we would not be quite human. A second reason is experimentation for teaching, in schools and colleges. A third is experimentation for diagnosing some diseases. A fourth is experimentation for checking whether certain products are safe for use or not, quite a bit of which is legally mandatory.
Clearly, there are different justifications for doing animal experimentation. Equally clearly, all forms of animal experimentation, like any other socially sanctioned activity, must be properly supervised and regulated to see that they are done properly. What does ‘properly done’ mean? The basic common rules of ‘humaneness’ are, obviously, the guiding lights of proper experimentation, and what we need to do is have and implement stringent rules for transparency and for minimising pain in animal experimentation.
India did not have such rules until two years ago, while most industrially developed countries have had them for many years. This was a terrible state of affairs, and it is wonderful that it has been rectified two years ago. Unfortunately, the rules made and the way they are being implemented have many biologists in the country both puzzled and upset. So what is their problem?
The body that regulates animal experimentation in India is the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA), under the activist stewardship of Maneka Gandhi. The CPCSEA comes under the so-called Department of Animal Care (more correctly, the Animal Welfare Division (AWD)), which has been an orphan section in the government of India of recent years, following Maneka Gandhi about as she shuttles from ministry to ministry (and from one political ideology to another). It has thus gone from environment and forests to social justice and empowerment to culture and now to statistics and programme implementation. Clearly, Maneka Gandhi is ‘animal rights activist’ enough to demand stewardship of this section each time she gets herself a ministerial berth, leading in the process to an administrative travesty.
As Chairperson of the CPCSEA, Maneka Gandhi wields a great deal of clout in the matter. This is notwithstanding the large group of both scientists and non-scientists that comprises the CPCSEA, since the pliancy of bureaucrats and technocrats in the face of ministers is a well known phenomenon.
It is nobody’s case that there should be no regulation of laboratory animal experimentation, nor that poor conditions of animal facilities should be condoned. But the AWD/CPCSEA, under Maneka Gandhi’s leadership, have repeatedly revealed their covert anti-science, anti-vivisectionist agenda in the process of establishing and implementing the rules and regulations for animal experimentation. The original draft rules prepared by these bodies would have completely blocked all animal experimentation (as PETA and Bardot have repeatedly demanded). After an outcry, modifications were introduced to bring them in line with international practices. Nonetheless, demands for unreasonable paperwork and prejudiced evaluation of animal facilities of research centres continue under the guise of implementation of these rules. Maneka Gandhi herself is on record as saying that she will create so much paperwork that scientists cannot do any experimentation. The AWD/CPCSEA looks fair set to do precisely this.
Recent events have reinforced the notion that the AWD/CPCSEA is treating scientists as de facto criminals who need to be restrained, in addition to displaying a profound ignorance and arrogance about the purpose of the CPCSEA in the regulation of animal experimentation. In all these cases, the AWD/CPCSEA attitude lacks professionalism, takes recourse to vague and unsubstantiated claims and is cavalier about fairness and due process; – generating the suspicion that they are primarily interested in halting all animal experimentation and not in any genuine welfare of experimental animals or in facilitating their appropriate usage.
COVERT ANTI-SCIENCE AGENDA
The covert anti-science ‘animal liberation’ agenda of these involved activists is also shown by the newspaper advertisement that the CPCSEA placed last year on the occasion of a spurious ‘world day for lab animals’. This advertisment effectively called all scientific experimenters evil monsters. The AWD proposed extraordinarily draconian legislative modifications to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA), which have currently been shelved only because of the outcry over them within the government. Again, these modifications are inconsistent, view experimenters and other animal users with contempt as ‘non-humanitarians’, and clearly have the agenda of altering the spirit and tenor of the PCAA so as to make it antagonistic to any animal usage.
The covert agenda that is being pushed under the guise of legitimate ‘regulation’ is one that sees the issue in terms of ‘animal rights’ rather than ‘animal welfare’. It is a mindset that would like to stop all animal usage (although even among their ranks there are dissensions about which species are to be included in this protected category of ‘animals’). This usage is to be banned not only in experimentation, but also as food or for labour, – both productive labour such as for draught or milk, and other labour such as entertainment. The only ‘use’ of animals permitted, in many of these ‘animal rights’ (or ‘animal liberation’, as these activists put it) theologies, is as pets, and it is not quite clear why such ‘animal labour for entertainment’ is to be ‘allowed’ in their books. In any event, arguing this stance in an open, transparent democratic debate is one thing, and a fascist trick of trying to achieve the goals of ‘animal rights’ movements under the guise of rules for animal welfare is another matter altogether.
This animosity of the AWD, under Maneka Gandhi’s leadership, extends to the traditional usage of animals for draught and for entertainment purposes by large sections of India’s poorest citizens such as the Madaris, as well as to the use of animals for food, which finds echoes in the brahminical, vegetarian and xenophobic Hindutva that is current these days. It is curious that this xenophobia of the Hindutva kind should come together with xenophobia of the White kind that Bardot frequently appears to espouse.
There is, thus, ground for extreme concern about the current status regarding the regulation of animal usage in the country. Both the livelihood of the poorest, and the freedom of cultural choice in matters of food are at stake, in addition to the fact that the prejudiced activities of the AWD have led to either a withdrawal of the Indian biotech and pharma sector industry from animal system-based drug trials, or an exodus of such centres to overseas sites, auguring ill both for India’s industrial strength in biotechnology and for its ability to generate (relatively) cheaper drugs for its own citizens. It is no wonder that anti-poor, anti-third world interests such as transnational corporations anxiously eyeing their emerging Indian competitors and their tools such as PETA and Bardot are playing a major role in the inimical way regulation of animal usage is developing in India.