Prashanth V. is the Deputy Campaigns Director of FIAPO. He spoke with ACE Managing Editor Melissa Guzikowski on September 11, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
Please give me a brief summary of your work with FIAPO.
The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) currently has 117 members across the country. Our work includes wildlife conservation, the rescue and rehabilitation of farmed animals, and the protection of animals used in entertainment or for work. We engage in education and outreach, and we lobby state and local governments for animal protection in addition to running campaigns on issues of national importance.
Though we run a number of different campaigns, our main focus is on farmed animals. One of our longest running campaigns is called “Living Free”, where we create networks of volunteers across the country and support their plant-based lifestyle outreach. In 2017, we launched our “End Exploitative Dairies” campaign, through which we lobby state governments to improve the conditions of animals in dairy farms. In addition, the “Stop Slaughter Cruelty” campaign is the third program we run that focuses on farmed animals. We expose the cruelty of the illegal slaughter industry with the help of our network of grassroots activists. Furthermore, we conduct investigations to demonstrate how the slaughter industry violates animal welfare laws. The campaign aims to pressure governments to enforce the rules that already exist for humane and legal slaughter of animals.
In addition, we also work directly with consumers and industry. For example, we have a campaign called “Don’t Get Milked”, which is an aggressive media campaign that encourages consumers to give up dairy and other animal products by creatively bringing to them the realities of the dairy industry. Our Corporate Outreach campaign works with companies to help them reduce their animal consumption and use alternatives to animal products. Through this campaign, we managed to establish India’s first vegan food hub in Delhi.
Our campaign “Rabies Free India” aims to establish a positive relationship between people and street dogs. We do it through facilitating sterilizations, vaccination against rabies, education on bite prevention, counseling of bite victims and community care for street dogs. Alongside dogs, there are also a large number of bovine animals on the streets—the “Gaushala”1 campaign is aimed at improving cow shelters in India. We want to make sure that no bovine animal is abused by the dairy industry and is simply abandoned on the street, ending up in places which are unable to provide basic care for them.
Once every 18 months, we organize the “India For Animals Conference”, where representatives from all of our 111 member organizations participate. The conference was held on October 2018, with a total of about 350 participants.
What kind of messaging do you think corporations are most receptive to in India?
Companies are motivated by profits. We have significant influence because we are the leading vegan advocacy group in India and influence a large number of people. We have data on the number of people who are changing their diets so we can show that plant-based food is a growing market. A few corporations have started to tap into this growing demand, but there is still huge opportunity to expand it. We work with corporations to help them increase their product range into vegan options and thus widen their customer base. At the same time, we persuade them to reduce their consumption of animal products as well.
Can you tell me about your request for more funds to be allocated to animal issues by the Animal Welfare Board of India?
India has good animal protection laws but they are implemented very poorly. There is limited awareness among the regulatory bodies and the government, although these institutions are ultimately responsible for enforcing the law. Since the main problem is implementation, we asked the Animal Welfare Board, a statutory body, to allocate more funds for the establishment of cow shelters, for strengthening animal birth control and vaccination programs, along with a number of other initiatives. We think that implementing and monitoring animal protection laws is the Animal Welfare Board’s duty, together with other departments in the central and state governments.
How does the government respond to your requests?
Our investigations of the dairy industry were conducted in 10 different cities across the country. We then worked with governments at the local, state, and federal level. First, we demanded the passing of guidelines in the states where we had published investigations. After four or five months, we achieved this in seven states. We then had to go back to the local governments and lobby them to implement these guidelines. In addition, we have also started to put pressure on the central government to improve welfare laws.
Our success always depends on building strong relationships. It also helps to engage in outreach on social media and get the traditional media to cover our campaigns. We have built great relationships with a number of media outlets, which now cover animal concerns on a regular basis. Our strength lies within our network because our activists draw attention to our issues and exert influence. For those reasons, we invest a lot of time in mobilizing our network.
As a vegan organization, we firmly believe that animals should not be used for human consumption, entertainment, or labor. On the other hand, the law sometimes allows for animals to be utilized in these ways. Although we think that, for example, having a cow on a two-meter rope is as bad as having them on a one-meter rope, we advocate for incremental changes when in conversation with government institutions. Advocating in this way is acceptable to the government and has a chance of being successful. However, we are far more aggressive and direct when reaching out to the public or to our activists, and we always advocate for a plant-based lifestyle. We don’t hold back in telling people how the industry harms animals and that consuming them for food, fashion, entertainment, etc. is not acceptable.
Do you focus mainly on ethical issues when encouraging people to change their diets?
When reaching out, we always start with the ethical argument. We portray animals as individuals with names and personalities in most of our materials. On a secondary note, we might also include health and other reasons for changing to a plant-based diet, because different people or groups have varying motivations. At a food festival, for example, ethical arguments make less sense than emphasizing how great vegan food tastes, and when negotiating with corporations, profits are the main talking point.
What impact do the restrictions on receiving foreign funding have on the animal advocacy movement in India?
In India, there always have been restrictions on foreign funding. For this reason, we have a system in place to ensure that we get the necessary permissions to receive funds from other countries. We make sure to have the relevant documents ready and always keep our revenue and expenditures up-to-date because the law authorizes the government to inspect our books. More funding definitely enables us to help animals in a more effective way. Above all, we need full-time, experienced staff in order to work professionally. When negotiating with companies, we definitely need a specialist with experience in lobbying and we are therefore willing to pay for their salary.
What are the greatest challenges to effective animal advocacy in India?
Our greatest challenge is to build and service our network of activists. It takes a lot of time and resources to maintain the network of activists that spread our messages.
The fact that the animal-based food industry is becoming more and more aggressive in their marketing is another big challenge. For some time now, it has been fashionable to consume a variety of animal products, although in India, meat is less of a problem than dairy products. The market conditions here are encouraging the expansion of the dairy industry so we are doing our best to fight this process. In one state, we were able to stop the construction of a mega dairy. However, we expect giant global food companies to enter the Indian market and establish new meat or dairy operations here. We need to be more aggressive in countering their marketing and the increase of animal-based products available to Indian consumers.
What are the most promising opportunities to reduce animal suffering in India?
Recently, we expanded the animal rights work in India to demanding the personhood of non-human animals be recognized. We have just started a campaign to that end regarding elephants. If successful, we want to further expand legal personhood to other species. We are confident that this will change our perspective of how animals are viewed in legislation since at present, they are considered to be property.
The fact that India has progressive laws on the treatment of animals raises great opportunities to improve awareness of them and advocate for their implementation. It involves working with corporations, the police, and local regulatory bodies to ensure that slaughterhouses are functioning according to the rules. It also includes citizens being aware of the rules, noticing illegal activity, and reporting it to the authorities.