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To Ensure Animal Rights, Marginalised Groups Need To Be Empowered

Animal cruelty is directly associated with the animal agriculture industry. Animal rights activists advocate for a vegan diet. But to ensure animal rights are upheld, intersectionality plays a key role.

Veganism is not just a dietary change but a lifestyle adaptation to avoid animal-derived products from food, clothing, cosmetics, entertainment and personal and household care.

November is celebrated as World Vegan Month, to acknowledge the rights of non-human animals and to put it into practice by abstaining from all animal products and their by-products.

The word vegan was coined in November 1944 by Donald Watson, the founder of The Vegan Society, an organisation that promotes and encourages a vegan lifestyle. However, the values of veganism were noted around 1806 CE, before the word was derived, because of the first Europeans, Dr William Lambe and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who publicly took ethical objection over the consumption of eggs and dairy.

 

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Over the years, veganism has stirred a controversial conversation in other social justice spaces for the vast majority, perceiving veganism as either a passing fad or a sustainable lifestyle choice (only for the privileged class) but not seen as an ethical stance for animal rights.

According to The Economist, 19 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cows, 1 billion sheep and pigs are slaughtered every year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 150 million tonnes of aquatic animals are killed for food every year. This does not count the number of wild fishes accidentally caught during fishing.

If humans were killed at this rate, it would be described as genocide; destruction based on ethnicity, national, religion, racial group. However, the systemic eradication of non-human animals is invisible in a speciesist world.

Why Do We Ignore Animal Rights?

How far have we come to understand the nuances that link animal rights to human rights? The division of people and their commodification for certain jobs —which is the basis of casteism—is also seen in the way we divide animals into groups based on either the work they are put to, or for religious symbolism.

This is how oppression begins—from an assertion of dominance to othering based on caste, class and gender within the human race. This “othering” is also applied to animals, based on arbitrary decisions on who should be praised and who exploited.

This is where intersectionality comes to play. Intersectionality, therefore, is the interconnectedness of social categorisations of caste, class and gender, applied to individuals or groups as interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantages.

How Does Intersectionality Apply To Animal Rights?

dairy farmer
People who work in animal agriculture are often from marginalised communities.

Female non-human animals belong to a different species and different gender, thereby intersecting with multiple forms of discrimination, similar to women from marginalised communities, facing violence and discrimination on their grounds of ethnicity and gender.

The dairy from cows and buffaloes, layered hens for eggs, and goats and sheep for their milk, are exploited repeatedly for years for their reproductive organs profiting from the animal agriculture industry. This is not to say that hens in poultry, pigs, ducks or fish suffer any less.

The quantitative suffering of bovine animals adds weightage to the prolonged practices of artificial insemination (forceful impregnation), emotional, psychological and physical abuse.

By no means we are implicating that the gender atrocities and species atrocities experiences are the same, however, they are parallel on the basis of the fact that gender atrocities directly impacted female non-human animals who are exploited for their reproductive organs and are commodified on the basis of their “gender” and “species”. Just like male calves and male chicks are slaughtered on day 1 of being born because they are of no use to the dairy and egg industry, respectively – The industries thriving on exploiting “non-human female animals”

Human females who face misogyny based on gender, to up-keep the “norm”, defined variously as the integrity of the family, whom to marry and when and how many kids they can have (typically decided by men in their families); eerily intersect on the lines of species and gender discrimination with non-human females, meeting the same fate at the hands of men.

This patriarchal concept extends to non-human animals. So how do we tackle this grave injustice on humans and on animals who are “othered” based on ethnicity and species, respectively?

We first acknowledge that the people who work in animal agriculture are often from the marginalised communities of Dalits, Bahujan, Adivasis (DBA) and Muslim groups who are “outcasted” and forced to work in leather tanneries, slaughterhouses and butcher shops by the upper-class society.

 

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When we fight for human rights, we need to acknowledge that no one deserves to earn a livelihood by partaking in death and violence that puts their mental well-being at great risk. We acknowledge that tribal livelihoods are often dependent on animal-based products, however, they need to be included in providing resources and administrative forces, fair wages to ensure better means for their livelihood and the animals that they herd – requiring to fight for the systemic change for all, not just for a consumerist gain.

When we fight for animal rights, we need to acknowledge that bashing marginalised communities who are forced to inflict pain on non-human animals are also the victims of the society that tries to diminish their existence and desensitise them to not see these animals as sentient beings.

Dr Yamini Narayanan on Cow Protection as ‘Casteised Speciesism’: Sacralisation, Commercialisation and Politicisation, under the Journal of South Asian Studies quotes:

“A focus on vulnerabilities illuminates the violence experienced by all animals in the dairy industry as violence and foregrounds reproductive and emotional trauma as species vulnerabilities rather than uniquely human traumas.

“Crucially, it highlights one of the greatest species vulnerabilities, arguably shared between both oppressed animals and humans, namely ‘the pre-legal moral right’ of animals not to be used.”

This is just the beginning of a conversation that animal rights need to find a way to work in tandem with human rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, women rights, marginalised communities rights, farmer rights and vice versa. We need to work together to abolish these unethical practices of torturing humans and animals for the benefit of a certain section of society.

Some of the ground-level steps that need to be parallelly driven by human and animal rights movements are:

  1. Finding alternative livelihoods for people working in animal agriculture.
  2. Creating systemic change in the food system and making local plant-based foods accessible to all communities for nourishment.
  3. Educating and sensitising farmers on animal rights and working with policymakers to ensure subsidies are provided to farmers transitioning from animal agriculture to other sources of livelihoods.

Only by working towards creating these opportunities for the dignified livelihood of people and ending the suffering of non-human animals can we attain liberation and equity for all humans and non-human animals and value their inherent existence.

The author works with the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), India’s apex animal rights body.

Featured Image for representational purpose via flickr
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