Maneka Gandhi faces showdown with idols of science & religion
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2002:
NEW DELHI–“I am again, in a battle for my life!” Indian
minister of state for animal welfare Maneka Gandhi e-mailed to ANIMAL
PEOPLE on May 24.
“We raided the premier AIDs research lab in India last week
and found a chamber of horrors, rescued the animals, and took them
away. We found starving monkeys with no fingers and teeth, bleeding
from their bottoms, with maggots in any food they had. Now Health
Minister C.P. Thakur and many scientists and journalists are
denouncing me all over the place,” Mrs. Gandhi elaborated.
“In this country, as in all the Third World,” Mrs. Gandhi
added, “‘research’ and ‘scientist’ are divine words. The fact that
we have never filed a patent on any medicine, depending only on
making cheaper versions of foreign medicines, is now all my fault,
since I have purportedly stopped ‘research.’
“There is a cabinet reshuffle coming up, and this is
perfectly timed for that,” Mrs. Gandhi noted, contemplating the
possibility that she might be politically sacrificed–in part because
of her open opposition to animal sacrifice in the name of religion,
as well as in the name of science.
Most Hindu religious scholars agree that animal sacrifice “is
forbidden in the Hindu scriptures for the modern age,” as Brahmin
teacher Vasu Murti explained in a recent Internet denunciation of the
practice. Yet sacrifices are still routinely performed by members of
the relatively large and influential Kali cult, and by scattered
“My next big battle, if I survive this one,” Mrs. Gandhi
pledged, “is to get animal sacrifices stopped all over India.
Hindus alone hold more than 50,000 sacrificial events per year, and
at each of them hundreds of animals are killed. If we can stop this,
we can fairly criticise and restrain the Muslim slaughter of animals
at the Feast of Atonement,” the celebration of which often touches
off riots in India, when rumors circulate that cows have been killed.
Mrs. Gandhi lost a round against animal sacrifice on March
29, asserted Azizur Rahman, Calcutta correspondent for the South
China Morning Post and the Washington Times, in their editions of
April 15. In a report replete with details apparently obtained only
second or third hand, Rahman asserted that 10 horses were sacrificed
16 days earlier at a remote village in Orissa state.
Rahman alleged that Orissa chief minister Naveen Paitnak
allowed the horse sacrifice to occur because his political party,
Biju Janata Dal, “is a member of the ruling coalition in New Delhi,
led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.”
But as the May edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out while
quoting Rahman, Mrs. Gandhi, elected as an independent, is also a
member of the ruling coalition.
“There was no sacrifice,” Mrs. Gandhi told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“Naveen Paitnak intervened, the district magistrate took quick
action, and the horses were taken away. Some were singed by
standing too close to the fire,” in which Rahman had said their blood
was sprinkled, “but all of them are all right now. This is a case
of story building on story,” explained Mrs. Gandhi, who is herself
a former newspaper reporter, “because each paper was pinching from
the other. The original report,” Mrs. Gandhi said, “was filed by a
Calcutta newspaper, and everyone took liberally from it.”
Mrs. Gandhi faxed to ANIMAL PEOPLE the April 17 report of
Naveen Patnaik that “No such sacrifice has taken place,” and an
account by Kendrapara district collector K.C. Mohanty of what did
“The Dasaswamedha Yagna,” as the event was called, “was
organized by Girisyrya Sai Baba and Mata Swadi Pragnya Saraswati of
Podana village,” Mohanty wrote. “This kind of religious ritual is a
common social feature in Orissa. It is a fact that 10 beach horses
were hired and displayed as a ritual during the Yagna. I discussed
this matter with Nirmala Ku Ratha, one of the organizers, and some
of the local people. The suspicion that these animals were brought
for sacrifice is not at all the fact. After the Yagna, the owner of
the animals took them back. All of the animals were returned safely,
and there were no casualties nor any sacrifice whatever.”
Rahman quoted Hindu priest Bishwanath Acharya as stating
that, “The horses were only burned a bit. Considering the immense
luck the sacrifice will bring to all of us, we should not complain
over such trifles.”
This statement apparently involved a mistranslation of a word
meaning “ritual” as a word meaning “sacrifice.”
Rahman also quoted World Hindu Council leader Maharshi
Girisurya Swami as saying that, “Some anti-Hindu elements tried
their best to stop this whole ritual, but the god was on our side.”
“The ritual went on,” said Mrs. Gandhi, “but without the horses.”
Horses may be at greater risk in connection with the resumed
manufacture of snake antivenin at the Bengal Chemical complex in
Calcutta. Authorization to start the process by injecting venom into
20 horses was issued in late May by the federal health department,
three months after the facility was closed by order of the Supreme
Court of India.
Horses, because of their great body mass, have a far higher
tolerance than humans for absorbing snake venom into their
bloodstreams, where the venom is neutralized by the production of
antibodies. Blood drawn from a horse who has had a venom injection
is used to make antivenin for the emergency treatment of human
Horses who are healthy, fed and exercised properly, not
overdosed, and not overbled may produce antivenin serum for many
years without suffering serious effects.
The Supreme Court of India closed the Bengal Chemical
facility and seven others in February 2002, on recommendation of a
six-member investigative committee, which found violations of horse
care requirements so severe as to jeopardize the quality of the
“We found that of 85 horses owned by Bengal Chemical, 21
were not even fit for drawing blood. Some had difficulty standing,”
Compassionate Crusaders Trust founder Debasis Chakrabarty told
Kaushik Ghosh of The Statesman.
Compassionate Crusaders took custody of the sick and injured
horses, and was directed by the federal Committee for the Purpose of
Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals to continue to
monitor the conditons at Bengal Chemical.
The resumption of antivenin production after animal welfare
and sanitation standards were met was anticipated by the Supreme
Court order, and by Mrs. Gandhi in seeking it, but was nonetheless
portrayed by some opposition newspapers as a defeat for Mrs. Gandhi
in the increasingly heated national battle over laboratory
The Indian biomedical research industry was supervised until
February 1996 by the national Institutional Animal Ethics Committee,
appointed by the health minister. The director-general of the IAEC
traditionally also chaired the CPCSEA, appointed by the Animal
Welfare Board of India.
In February 1996, however, Mrs. Gandhi became chair of the
CPCSEA , and began claiming independent regulatory authority.
Experiments approved by the IAEC no longer win automatic CPCSEA
The Times of India, aligned with the opposition Congress
Party, in March 2002 amplified the complaints of researchers.
“Pharmaceutical companies have started looking for a more
conducive environment in neighboring countries, say ministry
sources. Federal health and family welfare minister C.P. Thakur says
he says already mentioned the matter to the Prime Minister and will
be taking it up at a formal meeting soon,” the Times of India said.
Elaborated Times of India reporters Roli Srivastava and
Manjari Mahajan, a few days later, “Research on monkeys at the
Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the All India Institute of
Medical Sciences in Delhi, and the National Centre for Laboratory
Animal Sciences in Hyderabad was stopped by the CPCSEA. The
Institute for Research in Reproduction, in Mumbai, has been waiting
for CPCSEA clearance for its projects on large animals for the past
three years. The LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad has stopped
all experiments on the eyes of animals.”
Mrs. Gandhi responded that the CPCSEA had never stopped any
scientific project, but “questioned the wasteful expenditure done on
duplicative and irrelevant research, and for grants that are being
misused in the name of science.”
Mrs. Gandhi said that 590 laboratories had rectified
deficiencies in animal care during her tenure as CPCSEA chair.
“Badly kept animals means invalid research, which is a waste
of India’s money and bad for human health,” she emphasized.
The debate escalated further after Mrs. Gandhi on May 11
ordered the National Institute of Virology in Pune to halt animal
experiments, one day after CPSEA member and PETA/India
representative Anuradha Sawhney discovered during a surprise
inspection that 37 monkeys appeared to be kept in darkness, in cages
too small for them. The monkeys suffered from skin diseases and hair
loss, and displayed stereotypical behavior, Sawhney reported.
Birds also suffered from skin diseases, sheep had overgrown hooves
and nasal discharge, the facilities were filthy, and there was no
veterinarian on duty, Sawhney said. Her videotaped findings were
later confirmed by an inspection by delegates from the Bombay
NIV director A.C. Mishra said that this was all “a temporary
situation,” exascerbated by a power blackout while “all electrical
connections were being transferred to a newly built facility” for the
Housing 1,725 animals in all, NIV in July 2001 flunked an
inspection by CPCSEA consultant Syed Qadri.
Fumed Mrs. Gandhi, “The authorities do not have a single
health record, history of medical treatment, or even experimental
history of many of the animals. What experiments were they doing?
The NIV is supposed to be finding cures for HIV, hepatitis A, and
influenza. However, the money given to the institute for these
experiments has been completely misused and has disappeared.”
Meat & leather
Concluded Mrs. Gandhi, “Each battle starts with me being
completely panic-stricken, as I look at the forces ranged against
me, and yet each battle is won and I am still standing, looking
older, fatter and more tired. This one frightens me more than
most,” she admitted. “The last one was waged only only by
businesssmen. Now I am fighting businessmen posing as scientists.”
But her recent record against big business has been rather
successful, with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals again
backing up the boycott of Indian leather long sought by Indian humane
organizations, after a year-long hiatus. Leather is believed to be
the most lucrative product of the largely illegal Indian slaughter
Pressured by PETA, Daimler Chrysler–the third-largest
carmaker in the world–announced on May 21 that it will no longer use
Indian leather, including in Mercedes-Benz models manufactured in
Other firms to drop Indian leather under threat of PETA
boycott include Adidas-Salomon, Marks & Spencer, GAP, J. Crew,
Clarks, Gucci, Nike, Reebok, Florsheim, Kenneth Cole, Foresta
Internacional, Spiegel, Eddie Bauer, and Harley Davidson.
The Daimler Chrysler announcement came one day after a Mumbai
demonstration against a federal Planning Commission advisory board
recommendation that the Indian slaughter industry should be expanded.
According to the Times of India, the advisory board proposed
lifting the national ban on beef exports, removing restrictions on
buffalo slaughter, allowing bullocks to be killed at any age,
weakening the federal Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, opening
more authorized slaughterhouses, moving jurisdiction over
slaughterhouse zoning from the local level to the state level, and
forming a national Meat Board, with a mandate to double Indian per
capita meat consumption.
Participating in the protest were People for Animals chapters
from as far away as Bangalore, Beauty Without Cruelty-India, the
Theosophical Society of India, the Bombay SPCA & Dinshaw Petit
Hospital for Animals, the Mata Rukminidevi Ashram, the Viniyog
Parivar Trust, and PETA-India.
Among them, they represented the spectrum of Indian advocacy
organizations: the young and secular, those founded during the
British occupation, and those rooted in traditional Hindu,
Buddhist, and Jain teachings.