by ASJAD NAZIR.
The birth of an animal rights activist.
BEING a child of immigrants in the predominantly white area of Suffolk, Virginia, in the US
led to Poorva Joshipura facing racist abuse at school on a daily basis.
Instead of being defeated by these painful experiences, she used them to open her heart and mind to those who are seemingly different, including living creatures, who like humans have the capacity to feel pain, suffer and have a desire to live.
This led Joshipura to join leading animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and become a dedicated activist helping to make a real change. She has gone from working at the grassroots level to becoming the vice president of International Affairs for the PETA Foundation.
The 41-year-old has worked in all areas – from campaigning to investigation and global outreach activities. Along with a dedicated team she fights for animal rights globally, spending her time in Mumbai, Delhi and London.
Eastern Eye caught up with Joshipura to talk about animal rights, veganism, her fascinating
work and why everyone needs to take notice.
When was the first time that you got interested in animal rights?
At 13, I met a new kid in school named Natalie Hawkins. She had just moved into town from England along with her mother and since she spoke differently to the other kids and I looked different, we became friends. A few years later during a school outing I got a chicken burger from McDonalds and she got something vegetarian from somewhere else. As we sat down she asked me, “are you really going to eat that?” I defensively said something like, “Of course, I can never stop eating meat.” But the truth is her comment
made me think, and ultimately led me to go vegetarian and finally, vegan. Today, Natalie has worked for PETA US for 18 years, and I have worked for different PETA affiliates for that long.
What led you towards joining PETA?
Natalie and I embarked on a journey to learn more about animal rights and became members of PETA US. We discovered that rabbits suffer from chemical burns on their skin from the testing of consumer products, elephants that are forced with weapons to perform in circuses, foxes are commonly killed by anal electrocution for fur and more. I also
learned about factory prisons where animals are crammed into the tiniest spaces, cages or crates to help meet the growing demand for meat, egg and dairy foods, using automation and mechanisation. All to maximise profits. Today, almost 70 per cent of land animals and even most fish are reared on intensive farms.
How did you feel when you started working for PETA?
I was 23 when I first started working at PETA US in 1999, and one of my first tasks was to go through footage taken in India during an investigation of the leather trade in the country. That involved hours of watching cows and other animals being crammed onto vehicles in such high numbers that their bones break, they suffocate and many die en route. And animals having their throats hacked at with dull knives. Sadly, that footage is still relevant, but its release was the first time many consumers thought about leather being dead skin, not fabric.
Fast-forward to today, and Helsinki Fashion Week has just gone leather-free and top designers like Stella McCartney and Anita Dongre refuse to use leather.
What has been the highlight for you?
There have been so many victories PETA affiliates have achieved, ranging from – leading the way to get cosmetic and household product testing banned in India, to over 300 retailers dropping angora wool after it was revealed rabbits’ fur is often yanked from their bodies to major circus company Ringling announcing its closure. Every victory is a great step forward, it’s also a highlight every time anyone chooses to go vegan because it is estimated each person can save the lives of nearly 200 animals a year simply by leaving animals and animal derived ‘products’ off their plates.
How much of an important issue is animal rights?
Animal rights, human rights and environmental protection go hand-in-hand and disregarding animals only hurts ourselves. For example, research in psychology and criminology shows that people who commit acts of cruelty to animals don’t stop there, with many moving on to fellow humans. And it is now widely recognised that meat, egg and dairy production is the most polluting with the world’s top five meat and dairy corporations alone responsible for more greenhouse emissions than major oil and gas companies.
Which are the pressing concerns now?
All issues affecting animals are pressing, but in sheer numbers, every year around the
world, more than 77 billion land animals like chickens, cows, pigs and others are killed for
their flesh and up to trillions of fish. We kill more animals every year than the number
of humans who have ever existed in all of history.
What is the biggest challenge of promoting animal rights in a place like India?
Like everywhere, many industries work hard to hide their mistreatment of animals behind closed doors. It thus becomes our job to get behind those closed doors, bring the truth to the public and help consumers understand how they can use their buying choices to either help or hurt animals.
Is it easier or equally as hard to promote animal rights in the West?
People are generally kind and most would hate to be called an animal abuser. It’s just that they are often told lies or haven’t known what exactly happens to animals after testing for products they use. Social media is helping change that and you can reach millions in a matter of hours with investigative videos. As more people become aware that animals are tortured for various reasons, they want nothing to do with this cruelty and are pushing corporations and policy makers to do better.
As someone who does care about animals, but encounter harrowing things, do you have to be emotionally strong?
Of course, but it’s important to remember that things so harrowing are happening to animals every day whether we see it or not and that their only hope is us. And each of
us has the power to help animals by refusing to eat them or refusing to buy shoes or other products made from their bodies, saying no we won’t stand for animal tests, logging onto PETA’s websites and signing petitions, and standing up for them.
Is it easy to disconnect emotionally when you finish your work?
I think people take rest as we all need to, but nobody ever emotionally disconnects from what matters to them.
How much has becoming vegan helped you?
Growing up, my mother would ply me with cow’s milk, as many moms do. All throughout
childhood, I struggled with stomach cramps and occasionally the pain would become nearly unbearable. When I got sick I would also develop a persistent, uncontrollable cough. My parents and I thought these problems were a part of my genetic makeup and something
I’d have to suffer my whole life, but we were wrong. When I stopped having dairy and foods containing it, things got much better. More than 20 years ago I realised I must have been unable to properly digest milk. After choosing to eat vegan, I never experienced the stomach discomfort or that horrendous cough. If only my parents and I realised that I am likely lactose intolerant, allergic to milk or both, we could have saved me years of misery.
Are your family vegan?
Today, because I would regularly share my findings about eating plant-based with my family, both my mother and my sister are lacto-vegetarian, my brother is vegan
and my father is nearly so.
My parents are now in their seventies, but look at least 10 years younger because of it and have become healthier. My husband Soum is also vegan and gluten-free, which appears to have helped him cure what he was told by doctors was a lifelong kidney condition.
Why would you encourage other people to become vegan?
They can improve their health, like Bill Clinton did. He had a quadruple coronary bypass in 2004 and today credits turning vegan to keeping him alive. They can make a positive difference to animals’ lives and save up to 200 animals a year by not eating them. They can improve the state of the planet (eating plant-based is calculated to have the potential to reduce a person’s carbon footprint by up to 73 per cent).
What inspires you?
Kindness inspires more kindness and that works for me too. If I see a neighbour put water out for birds, I may get the idea to do the same.
What campaigns are you currently working on?
So many. PETA Asia visited 12 mohair farms in South Africa, where most of the world’s mohair comes from. At every farm we documented pervasive cruelty to animals, including cutting animals’ throats when they are stunned into unconsciousness. So far more than 100 more fashion brands have banned mohair. Following our outreach work major supermarkets, food companies and restaurants are embracing meat and dairy-free eating with new vegan products, menu items and whole ranges free of animal-derived ingredients. PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. are changing the face of chemical testing globally and working tirelessly to promote non-animal testing methods. In 2017, Scotland became the first country in the UK to ban wild-animal circuses after over 13,000 PETA supporters contacted their politicians. These are just some examples.
What are your future hopes for animal rights?
A recognition of animals as beings who exist for themselves and not for humans’ whims and fancies, where they are spared from human-caused suffering and where we think of devices like cages as a relic of a shameful time in our history.
Finally, why do you love working for PETA?
There is nothing that feels better than helping another in need.
- Visit www.PETA.org.uk and www.Peta.org