Rukmini_Devi

 

 

By Sharon St Joan

 

This is one of a series of stories about the early days of the animal welfare movement in India.

 

In 1965 Blue Cross of India sponsored the first anti-vivisection seminar ever held in India.

 

Diana Hamilton Andrews, a leading British animal advocate at the time, wrote a report on the seminar, which she had flown to India in order to attend. “Even at 9:30 in the morning,” she wrote, “It was almost unbearably hot, and I was grateful for the fans which whirred in the ceiling.” She describes the women wearing brilliant saris and brightly-colored flowers in their hair – all so very different from the snow-covered London airport she had left the day before.

 

The Chief Minister of Madras, the Hon. Sri M. Bhaktavatsalam inaugurated the seminar, and Srimathi Rukmini Devi, the Chairperson of the Animal Welfare Board of India, presided.

 

 

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Captain V. Sundaram, President of the Blue Cross of India, welcomed the delegates. His Organising Secretary, Sri D. Daivasigamony gave the audience an introduction to the topic of vivisection, which many of them were hearing about for the first time. He explained the cruelty involved and presented strong medical evidence that research on animals is scientifically unsound and does not work, as well as being inherently immoral. He reminded those present of “ahimsa,” the Indian tradition of non-violence.

 

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When the Chief Minister spoke he also referred to Indian history, to the great third-century BC emperor Asoka, who set up the first veterinary hospitals in the world, and to Buddha; he made the case that accepting animal research in India would be entirely inconsistent with Indian ideals and ethics.

 

Rukmini Devi thanked Blue Cross for calling the meeting, talked about her efforts to prevent animal experimentation from taking hold in India, and expressed her hope that the conference would lead to recommendations to prevent all forms of cruelty.

 

Diana Hamilton Andrews spoke then, talking about her experiences in England opposing animal research and some of the pitfalls they had encountered, especially that of compromising more than they ought to have done. She cautioned those in India not to repeat that mistake. She also mentioned the ancient Indian system of ethics, and added that “the East has not yet been drawn to such an extent as Europe and the U.S.A. into the sinister cult of science-worship.”

 

In the afternoon the delegates turned their attention to resolutions to be presented to the government and came up with 23 resolutions.

 

Some of the key points in the resolutions were that all experiments should be subject to government supervision and that there should be “no infliction of any kind of suffering on animals.”

 

“That repetition of experiments shall not be permitted.”

 

That no experiments should be done for financial gain; in other words, they should not be conducted by commercial or pharmaceutical companies.

 

No experiments in schools or universities should be performed on live animals.

 

No animals should be experimented on for the purpose of developing surgical or manual skills.

 

That complete anesthesia should be used for all animals being experimented on.

 

That alternative methods of research to the use of animals should be developed.

 

That experiments should only be permitted on premises able to provide adequate care for the animals.

 

That good records should be kept.

 

That animal welfare groups should be allowed access to any laboratory.

 

That animals should no longeer be exported or imported for the purposes of experimentation, and specifically that the export of monkeys from India should be banned.

 

That debarking of dogs should be banned.

 

That further seminars should be held to promote kindness to animals.

 

After listing the resolutions, Diana Hamilton Andrews concluded her report by stating that she was grateful to have attended the seminar and for the chance to have had a conversation with Rukmini Devi, especially about the topic of exporting the wild monkeys of India to American and British laboratories. She had long been surprised that this practice could happen in a country where the monkey was regarded as a sacred animal, and where more than 80% of the population were Hindu. Rukmini Devi assured her that the Animal Welfare Board of India would continue to press the government for a complete ban on the export of monkeys, which in the preceding year had involved around 50,000 monkeys.

 

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The far-sighted resolutions passed at this first seminar held by Blue Cross of India formed the framework of principles on which those fighting against animal research in India have been working over the 50 years since the seminar took place.

 

Progress has been made – banning the export of monkeys to foreign laboratories, banning the use of live animals for experimentation in schools and universities, and banning animal experimentation for the purpose of producing cosmetics, as well as banning the importation of cosmetics tested on animals. This progress, though it may seem, correctly, that much remains to be accomplished, has diminished the suffering of, and saved the lives of, many hundreds of thousands of animals.

 

The principles remain the same, and the struggle to prevent the suffering of animals in laboratories in India is on-going today.

 

Top photo: Rukmini Devi / Wikimedia Commons / “This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired.” / “This work is in the public domain in the United States…” / Rukmini Devi, classical Indian dancer.

 

Second Photo: Courtesy of Blue Cross of India / Captain V. Sundaram

 

Third and fourth photos: Sharon St Joan / Taken at Blue Cross of India.

 

To visit the website of Blue Cross of India, click here