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Why I Think Gau Rakshaks Can Never Be Vegan Or Animal Rights Activists

When we are out in public raising awareness, it’s not uncommon to hear the crowd comparing us to Gau Rakshaks and that their bouts of violence are something that we as animal activists find happiness in. Society’s view is unclear and therefore easily confuses Cow Vigilantes with Vegans even though there is a stark difference between the two. I never thought I would meet a Cow Vigilante, let alone a vegan one, but here is a conversation I had with him.

There I was, sitting in a coffee shop talking to a vegan I had recently met through a few mutual friends. He and I were having a good time, just getting to know each other, when, of course, we naturally drifted to the topic of the vegan movement. It was a run-of-the-mill conversation until it came to the topic of the many US DxE [Direct Action Everywhere] activists being jailed for rescuing farm animals, protesting, as well as causing disruptions. That is when he shared that if vegans in India were backed up by the Hindus we could start similar movements without any opposition. He went on to explain that the police and other authorities would not arrest or trouble vegans out of the fear of violence from the Hindu fanatics and then revealed that he himself was a Gau Rakshak!

I was stunned and couldn’t believe that such an ordinary appearing vegan was, in fact, a cow vigilante. I was hesitant to speak up but I realized I would never get such a unique opportunity again and without thinking for another second I kick-started a conversation to discuss why his thought process is not in line with being a vegan.

Stop Speciesism!

The Gaur Rakshak opinion: We need to come together to save the cow and bring those who hurt them to vigilante justice.

My opinion: There is no grey area in compassion- you either are compassionate or you’re not. Being vegans, we extend our compassion to all living beings as much as we possibly can.

As stated by Encyclopaedia Britannica, speciesism is “the practice of treating members of one species as morally more important than members of other species.” Veganism is against speciesism and doesn’t have a filter by choosing which species to love and defend and which species to ignore. This includes practising non-violence towards other human beings as well. Therefore calling oneself a Vegan and a Gau Rakshak would seem like an oxymoron.

A plant-based meal made without any animal products, traditionally made in South India. Image Source: screaming_monkey/Flickr.

More Than A Diet

The Gaur Rakshak opinion: How can you say it’s okay for animal oppressors to get away with the violence that they do to animals?

My opinion: Veganism is not just a diet. When I became vegan I realised that I had changed not just what I eat or wear but also how I think. I became clearer in my thought process and realised it was my duty to educate myself and take into consideration the discrimination even in the animal agriculture industry.

Priority No. 1: Animals

The Gau Rakshak opinion: But when I see an act of violence on a cow my blood boils and it pains me to see their suffering!
My opinion: Feeling emotional is completely justified but violence like lynching, bombing, criminal intimidation, shooting & more is never the answer. You need to consciously be in control of our emotions and actions.

Veganism is never about us but only about the animals and their freedom. When a self-proclaimed ‘animal lover’ lashes out violently, it paints all animal rights activists as extremists and drives masses away which is literally the exact opposite of what the animals need right now. We need to lead by example, people need to be able to have conversations and ask questions. If we seem like extremists then they will just avoid getting to know about what following cruelty-free lifestyle actually entails.

The cow is considered a sacred animal among those who practice Hinduism in India.

The Core Of Activism

The Gau Rakshak opinion: I’m not the type of person who can just try my best to spread awareness about Veganism and animal cruelty that takes place, I need to take physical action!

My opinion: I understand that and there are different approaches that connect with different people. Therefore there are different ways to spread awareness and do activism: There are the slightly passive street activism, online activism on social digital platforms or political activism and then there is the more aggressive direct action activism. Passive or aggressive, we need to make sure that the core value of compassion is never at stake.

For example, The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is a direct action group. They are an international, leaderless resistance that engages in direct action in pursuit of animal rights, removing animals from laboratories and farms, destroying facilities, arranging safe houses and veterinary care, and operating sanctuaries where the animals subsequently live.

According to the ALF’s code, any act that furthers the cause of animal liberation, where all reasonable precautions are taken not to harm human or non-human life, may be claimed as an ALF action, including acts of vandalism causing economic damage to their victims i.e. they never attack any other human being. American activist Rod Coronado said in 2006: “One thing that I know that separates us from the people we are constantly accused of being—that is, terrorists, violent criminals—is the fact that we have harmed no one.”

Think Long-Term

The Gau Rakshak opinion: In the end, I am only doing it for the animals…

My opinion: Lashing out is selfish of us as it’s just a short term solution to the personal pain we feel when non-human animals are hurt. When we see acts of violence on animals we can’t be blinded by that pain because actually hurting other humans, in turn just hurts the vegan movement. We can’t afford to be impulsive.

When I finished, we both went quiet for a while but I could see him brooding over everything. He then slumped back in his chair and said the words, ”That makes sense…” I could see the realisation dawn on him that all that he believed till now didn’t actually seem reasonable. I was delighted and couldn’t stop grinning!

I don’t know if I made a long-term change in his lifestyle but I was content knowing what I said had gotten through to him because at the end of the day he has to answer to his own conscience.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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