There are people whose lives and work dramatically affect the trajectory of history, and Mohandas K. Gandhi was surely among the biggest agents of change in the last century. He helped to usher in an end to colonialism, to drive the spread of democracy as a form of governance, and to stir the conscience of people throughout the world on issues ranging from prison reform to economic justice to animal protection.
On Saturday, we felt the presence of Gandhi’s ideas and celebrated his continuing influence today – more than 60 years after his death – at the unveiling and dedication of a life-size statue of him within view of Manhattan, in the small New Jersey city of Secaucus. The HSUS co-hosted the event at the Sadhu Vaswani Center of New Jersey. Two federal lawmakers – Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Frank Pascrell, D-N.J., both leading animal protection advocates – joined the ceremony and offered remarks.
The Rev. Dada Vaswani, at the age of 95 years, gave a deeply moving keynote speech about the father of the nation of India, noting that “Mahatma Gandhi was born in India, but he belonged to all of humanity.” The Rev. Vaswani devoted a large share of his speech to the systemic mistreatment of animals, noting that we as a society are continuing to engage in a “tyranny” against animals, especially in the form of the institutionalized cruelty of factory farms.
Gandhi never sidestepped the question of animal cruelty. And his work reminds us that the principles of justice and decency are indivisible. That same fire inside him that burned so hot against colonialism and poverty also propelled his work against animal abuse and so many other injustices.
There were so many occasions when even Gandhi’s allies told him that the cause of disassembling British rule was impossible. It was impossible only until it was inevitable.
That’s the way I feel about animal cruelty. How can rational people defend clubbing seals for their fur when we can keep ourselves warm with plenty of other garments? How can they tolerate testing on helpless animals for cosmetics when so many companies already market their products without resorting to animal tests? And how can people throughout the world stage fights between animals when we humans can choose so many other forms of entertainment that do not leave behind the battered bodies of animals?
For me, this weekend’s event was a reminder of the strong Indian traditions of compassion and mercy for animals and the impactful life of one great Indian leader. But it was also a reminder that great causes require not only leaders but mass struggle and determination, and if those causes are right and the adherents resolute, they cannot be forever contained or denied. Right and decency will triumph, as the Rev. Vaswani noted, as past movements for the rights of man, the end of slavery, and suffrage for women have shown. One day, the end to all forms of animal cruelty will be added to that list.