When we consider the total animal kingdom, we can divide it into human and non-human animals. The animal rights movement aims for total animal liberation and this includes both human animals and non-human animals.
Human oppression is now being fought under various other movements like anti caste movement, BLM, feminism etc. So the animal rights movement is primarily for non-human animals and veganism is one component of it. It's about making conscious choices so as to not cause any harm. Not harming someone is, well, the most basic thing one can and should do. I wouldn’t be grateful to someone if they simply did not cause any harm to my person. That’s not what liberation is, it simply is the right to safety. Liberty has to come with equality and fraternity.
In my previous blog, I had left you with Dr. Ambedkar's quote - “Equality may be a fiction, nonetheless one must accept it as a governing principle”
Does this apply to non-human animals? Why must one care about these creatures who are supposedly driven by their most base instincts? Why must one go to the trouble of removing animal products from their life, especially when most lives are already burdened with soul crushing deadlines, innumerable responsibilities, pending work projects, bills that are way overdue. We are now becoming aware of multiple systemic oppressions that we ourselves face and humanitarian crises all over the world. How can we help animals when we ourselves are not safe? We don’t even have the time or resources to take care of ‘our own’, jaanwaro ke baare me kaha se aur kyu soche? That is the ultimate question.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that our society isn’t empathetic or that we don’t ‘acknowledge’ animal cruelty at all. We have “animal welfare laws'' after all. Every time an animal cruelty video of a ‘domesticated pet’ surfaces, the internet is the quickest to condemn that t kind of violence. And yet, as shocking as those videos may be, it hasn’t brought about a significant shift in the way we treat other non-human animals. Why is that? If we do agree that animal cruelty is wrong, why do we unsee it? It's because we are taught to accept the violence inflicted on them to be a necessary evil.
Millions of people in India are dependent on animal husbandry. Hundreds of thousands of people from the marginalized communities, out of desperate circumstances, are forced to do slaughter work. And as I had mentioned last time, if we were to completely stop using animals for our gazillion needs, our world would come to a standstill. So, when it comes to non-human animals, irrespective of which section of people we belong to- animal farmers, slaughter workers, consumers – as we grow up, we become desensitized. As long as we are unaware, we have no option to correct an injustice. But once we do realize, we ought to make those few practical changes in our consumption .
It would be too simplistic to say that the onus of bringing the change lies on consumers. It would also be a great error in judgment to put the blame on the man who wields the knife for or because of us. It’s the oppressive systemic structures that force us to conform to the necessary evil sentiment. Underprivileged people whose entire livelihood depends on an animal-based occupation, have little to no choice in the matter but to work according to and within the system. Most of us have to conform to the system.
I used to work in a bank and I had to promote, process and approve loans for animal farming and I had no choice in the matter. The “necessary evil” sentiment is not without its merits. However, we don’t have to take it lying down. We can challenge it in whatever ways we can. The teenager who worked as a butcher may only be able to do little. I can do more though and so can many of us. As I keep saying, we won't bring a revolution individually but we do need the individuals to create a revolution.. Which brings me back to the original question of Why we should accord equal consideration to non-human animals.
One, there is no morally relevant difference between human beings and non-human beings. Caste, class, color, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, abilities, intelligence, neurotype and every other difference you can think of is irrelevant when it comes to the inherent moral worth we hold. All human beings hold equal moral value. What we need to ask ourselves is, if belonging to a certain species is good enough reason to look down on other animals? To make use of them, exploit them as we please, as if they were mere objects? The line that we have drawn, at humans because we happen to be the members of that species, beyond which our advocacy doesn’t extend is done very deliberately. We don’t even have the time or resources to take care of ‘our own’, jaanwaro ke baare me kaha se aur kyu soche? Interesting thing about what constitutes as ‘our own’ is that it changes depending on the speaker’s convenience and selfish interests. Think caste, class, color, race, gender, religion etc. With this, try and think of a difference that would justify the way we treat non-human animals. Opposable thumbs? Bigger brains? Ability to drive a car? Skyscrapers? Technology? Those reasons will never be enough to justify taking a life. The only reason that justifies it is survival. We now know that we don’t need to use animals at the scale that we do.
The second reason is that all oppression is connected. Once we see other animals as equally worthy, only then can we challenge animal-welfarism approach with the animal-rights approach. Animal welfarism justifies animal cruelty in the name of being necessary, however animal rights approach challenges the whole system itself. Angela Davis, an intersectional feminist and a civil rights activist says, “I think there is a connection between the way we treat animals and the way we treat people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy.” Another esteemed sociologist, Patricia Hills Collins argues that, “cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society.”
All forms of oppression feed each other, and so we need to fight against them simultaneously. Like a team. Total animal liberation is a team game with players from the most diverse backgrounds. And we are a part of that team. We may only think of ourselves and instead of passing the ball try and score the goal ourselves. However the score never mattered, the goals never mattered. We have been only losing, the criteria for winning was never scoring goals. It was always about passing the ball. Because the oppressive system wants us fighting and competing with each other. Winning the fight against oppression was always about recognizing one another's values. Helping one another fight back and having that sense of solidarity with every single person who is oppressed. Be it human persons or non-human persons.
All opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their own.