About 18 months ago, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was the headliner for the official launch of Humane Society International – India, at a jam-packed event in Mumbai. Since that time, under the leadership of HSI-India director N.G. Jayasimha, our Asian director Rahul Sehgal and the rest of our staff, we’ve seen a raft of gains for animal protection:
- An end to animal testing and a proposed ban on the import of cosmetics tested on animals.
- Agreement by a majority of Indian states, including the top egg-producing states, that battery cage confinement is in violation of animal cruelty laws, and the shutdown of the nation’s only gestation crate facility.
- A ban on the development of dolphinariums, with testimony by HSI experts playing a significant role in the decision.
- A “fins naturally attached” policy requiring fisheries to land sharks in coastal states with their fins intact.
The latest advance, driven by the Blue Cross of India and other animal protection organizations, came last week when India’s Supreme Court issued a ban on the use of bulls in entertainment. It was a landmark verdict that will put an end to bullock cart races, horse and bull races, and a cruel event called Jalikattu, held annually in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. During Jalikattu, crowds of men pursue and taunt bulls by throwing chilli powder in their eyes, hitting them with nail-studded sticks, and pouring alcohol down their throats. The bulls are wrestled to the ground and their tails are twisted and often broken by the frenzied crowds.
We are now working on the next step on the animal testing front, by seeking to ban imports of cosmetics into India that were tested elsewhere – just as the European Union did last year at our urging. We’re gathering signatures to support a draft rule just published by the Indian Health Ministry, and in a few months we hope to report India as South Asia’s first cruelty-free cosmetics zone.
India has a large population of street animals and HSI, through a street dog welfare program, has been providing expertise and guidance to create programs that focus on sterilization and vaccination. A recent innovation was the use of a mobile app for completing a census. Every day, each of our teams was given a mapped area with assigned roads to cover. Using a tracker application downloadable from Google, they tagged each dog observed: female or male ear-notched (i.e. sterilized) or un-notched, lactating female, unknown adult or puppy. Then, they submitted a file to be analyzed with all the other teams’ data. The technology, which allowed surveyors to be more efficient and access more locations, showed that more than 75 percent of dogs observed in the study area were ear-notched—a good marker of success. We are also innovating with our humane handling techniques, which involve catching street dogs by hand instead of with nets.
India has pretty remarkable religious and cultural traditions when it comes to animals—something I was struck by when I traveled throughout the country and joined His Holiness and our HSI team for the launch of our offices in the subcontinent. As the Dalai Lama said, “We must know their pain. We should nurture this compassion through education.” And that’s exactly what we are seeking to do in the biggest democracy in the world.