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Animal Cruelty Does Not Look Pretty On Your Face: Here’s A Responsible Shopping Guide

By Shambhavi Saxena:

Trying to purchase ethically and responsibly can be a huge, huge pain in the kiester considering today’s hyper-consumer lifestyle, for a number of reasons. First, information about the ways in which the product has been manufactured is not readily available to consumers, or for that matter, may not be disclosed by the parent company (and that’s when you know something’s up). While the ads get glossier and glossier with ever generation of products, everything from the ethics of sourcing primary ingredients to the treatment of workers involved in the manufacturing and delivery process is a mystery, and one that consumers aren’t supposed to concern themselves with. At the centre of the production process is the heart-breaking practice of chemical testing on animal subjects. Animal subjects including most rodents, fish, frogs, dogs, cats and even sheep are chosen for their biological systems, immunological responses and genetic structures, which are similar to ours, the humans who use these cosmetic products. Indirectly, the cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies of the world have caused animals by the millions to be burned, poisoned, blinded, drowned and drugged.

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Vivisection is a horribly popular medical practice used among pharmaceutical testers which involves the cutting up of a live animal, infecting it with a disease, and observing its agony to record data. There are also instancing of intended brutalizing of animal subjects (in order to subdue them). Animal subjects are also known to be degraded, like this young vivisection subject of the Royal College of Surgeons Laboratory in Enlgand, UK.

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Yes. It has the word “Crap” tattooed onto its forehead. And this was as recently as the seventies.

However, hope shines bright. Since October, India has become the first country in Asia to be a cruelty-free cosmetics zone as per Rule 135-B, which states, “Prohibition of import of cosmetics tested on animals. – No cosmetic that has been tested on animals after the commencement of Drugs and Cosmetics (Fifth Amendment) Rules, 2014 shall be imported into the country”. (HSI)

The Indian branch of the Humane Society International’s campaign manager Ms. Alokparna Sengupta called it “a defining moment in the modernization of India’s safety science, with potentially hundreds of thousands more animals spared pain and suffering”. (The Hindu)

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Civil society members, who take to expressing their opinions in the comment sections of varied online dailies and blogs, are divided on the matter. There are some who value ‘scientific progress at whatever cost’ over the lives of living beings and humane action. One such commenter argues that doing away with the cruel, invasive testing, done against the animal’s will and more often than not fatal to the animal, is the only safeguard for human skin.

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However, the move has not been regressive in the least. Earlier this year, on 23rd May 2014 to be precise, “animal testing for cosmetic products and ingredients [was] outlawed throughout India,” and Rule 135-B, as a much needed follow-up, will mark the end of a nightmarish existence for laboratory test subjects.

For doubters this article attempts to explain why this is a good thing and how you can roll with it.

Why Buy Cruelty-Free?

If the word ‘cruelty’ wasn’t enough to convince you, well then, here are some cold, hard facts instead:

• Testing on animal subjects is done to determine the safety of ingredients that make up a cosmetic product.
• There are already thousands of ingredients and chemical compositions that are deemed safe and don’t need testing.
• Animal testing includes, in addition to eye-irritation, toxicity and allergy tests, what is called alethal dose test, that is force-feeding the animal the test ingredient to determine the amount which must be ingested before it can be considered lethal.
• Director of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Professor M. C. Sharma, has stated that approximately 20 million animals are being used for testing and are killed annually; about 15 million of them are used to test for medication and five million for products”.
• There are numerous alternatives to these cruel practices, such as using donated blood, stem cells, In Vitro research (within the controlled environment of a test tube) and artificial human skin for tests, that should eliminate the need for live animal test subjects altogether.

Have I been Buying Animal Tested Products?

Unwittingly, yes. We all have. It can be a nasty shock as a conscious consumer when you realize that even those tiny, seemingly innocuous little bottles and tubes of your favourite products are manufactured by companies that have a history of animal testing and abuse. The following is an inexhaustive list of those very companies:

Procter & Gamble (Vicks vaporubs and cough drops? Even your favourite sanitary napkin brand? Yes. Click the link for a full list of their products)
Unilever
• L’Oréal (surprise, surprise! Cosmetics giants don’t get where they are without killing a few bunnies, apparently).
Reckitt Benckiser
Johnson & Johnson

For more information on what brands you might want to avoid, a quick visit to Go Cruelty Free is a great help.

Animal testing is mandatory for approving products in China, and, to a large extent in Brazil as well, but the EU and Israel have categorically prohibited testing and imports, with India following suit. A lot of the companies listed below began selling outside of the EU and Israel, especially to developing nations. Of course, India’s new stance certainly does change things, and is without doubt a step in the right direction.

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Cruelty-Free Shopping*

If you’re looking to make that change as soon as possible, There are plenty of healthier, greener, cruelty-free products that you can choose from when restocking your home supplies, and before you know it, you would have weaned yourself off those old companies:

Nirvaaha (New Delhi and Bangalore; Online Store)
Shehnaz Hussain
VICCO
Krya (Chennai; Online Store)
Splurge (Mumbai; Online Store)
Aroma Magic
The Body Shop
Body Essence
Forest Essentials
Herbal Strategi
Fabindia

(*When purchasing, be sure to look out for the Leaping Bunny logo, which is PETA’s stamp of approval of a cruelty-free product.)

Most, if not all, of the brands included in this non-exhaustive list are Indian businesses, so you can be cruelty-free and support local while you’re at it! Now it’s not likely that you, as a consumer, are going to be able to go cold-turkey on the products you’ve come to depend upon. But the effort is appreciated and invaluable. We could be looking at phasing out animal-tested products completely in a few years, and there are already more than enough businesses that have shown us the way.

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I want to end with a popular phrase I used to hear while growing up, and if you were a fan of Animal Planet in the early 2000s, you might recognize it as well – “When the buying stops, the killing can too”.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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