#MyStory Brinda Poojary - Stop Being Desensitised!
From Monday to Saturday we’d have veggies, but Sunday was always ‘special’ because obviously, that was our ‘chicken day’. Over the years it turned to fish fry and fish curry on weekdays, and chicken with green masala or kori rotti (a mouth watering Mangalorean dish where ‘kori’ means chicken) on Sunday.
That’s right. I was a hardcore flesh eater, so were my family members.
My tryst with desensitisation
Like every human who consumes non-human flesh, I’ve mocked vegetarians all my life (I never knew the word ‘vegan’ then; had I known, I’d have had one more group to mock), given the ‘plants feel pain’ excuse, told vegetarians to stop boiling water because they’d be killing micro-organisms, fooled vegetarians into eating meat because I saw no harm there, was even conditioned into believing that chickens are on this earth for our consumption, told people that our body was made to eat flesh. I can assure you that I’ve used every permutation and combination to justify what I felt were my ‘food choices’.
This was just the beginning of my desensitisation. It grew with me. My favourite place on the planet used to be the fish market, even the beach where I would get to see the fishes struggle in the fishing net, which used to be a treat for my eyes. I absolutely loved the smell of fish blood, loved to watch them cut the fish. On days that the entire fish was brought home, my favourite pastime would be to sit in front of mamma while she cut open the fish, make her open the fish’s mouth, watch with amazement as she dismembered the dead animal and showed me each body part. I started loving this so much that I went on to take up biology in college just because the thought of vivisection excited me. That’s correct, people! I wanted to cut up animals.
When I look back in retrospect, it’s perplexing to think that the person that I was would ever stop her ways and one day fight for the ones whose death never made her bat an eyelid.
Along came Lassie, and she changed my world.
Making the Connection
Lassie was a puppy when my aunt adopted her. She lived with my grandmother and extended family in my native place in Coorg. Like every little baby, Lassie loved playing around, running, frolicking, biting everything in sight when she started teething. These natural behaviours lead her to be tied because no one had the time to run after her. The only time she’d be let loose was in the night time, that too she’d be locked outside the house. She was a Tibetan Apso, petite with her face and eyes covered by her fur. Now imagine her being chained to a pole outside the door. Heartbreaking? I hated it. I was 11 at the time and couldn’t comprehend how anyone could have the heart to tie up such an innocent being for no fault of her own. They did care for her, feed her well, BUT kept her in chains, enslaved. I loved her to the moon and back. The vacations I spent at my grandmother’s comprised of me unchaining Lassie, taking her to the terrace, intermittently watching her run free and wild while I read my pile of books. That’s the least I could do for her. Coming back to Bombay, being separated from someone whom I considered a part of me, was painful each time; she’d stay hungry for 1-2 days in sorrow.
It is mind boggling how those words by a few vegetarian friends about not eating animals never made me think as much as watching Lassie in chains did. It happened in 2011, when I looked at hens crammed into cages at a butcher’s (something I saw a lot but never bothered about much) and then looked at Lassie in chains trying to catch something that her chain didn’t permit her to. That’s when it hit me how hypocritical I was: fighting for one, while blatantly ignoring a million others. It started with nausea kicking in as my psyche refused my body to consume anything that walked on land. Stopping the consumption of sea animals was the toughest because I loved eating them, but one day I stubbornly did, even though my family members said I would die if I went vegetarian.
Let me be blunt here and tell you that like all vegetarians, I was absolutely ridiculous too. In addition to being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I also ate the gravy of meat dishes, removed the chicken’s body pieces from the biryani and ate the rice, and had a ‘to each his own’ attitude (mostly because I felt guilty thinking that I was troubling my mom with my ‘food choices’ and didn’t want to cause any inconvenience to her).
Hence, children, the moral of the story is that when you make a decision based on emotions, research the logic behind it too. I’d see posts about veganism and anti-dairy all the time, it did make me think but I found it absolutely extreme. All this changed when one of my friends kept urging me to watch a documentary called ‘Earthlings’. After procrastinating for more than a month, I finally watched it and my life has never been the same again.
The Earthlings Experience
Earthlings unabashedly showed me the truth of the animal agriculture industry. It’s a 1 hour 48 minutes movie that I took over 3 hours to watch owing to the fact that I would pause it every 5 minutes to cry my eyes out. I forced myself to watch it, wanting to know the truth behind what I called ‘food’; come to think about it, I sometimes feel that it was my way of atonement for the innocents’ blood on my hands. It filled me with the kind of rage that 2 years on, still hasn’t extinguished: rage over being lied to all my life, rage over being taught selective compassion, rage over how I participated in a kind of discrimination that I never even knew about, rage over how much I valued freedom but how my choices denied it to someone else. I wanted to scream my throat hoarse, tell everyone about it. I turned vegan and an activist immediately.
Vegan for Life
Watching Earthlings was a huge eye opener. It made me introspect. I was someone who’d gladly kill a frog just to cut out their heart to put them in Ringer’s solution and watch it beat without the body. During college days, we used to buy fishes to dissect them just for practice. I turned vegan after my college life was done, so there wasn’t any question of boycotting any of the dissections I used to do. Earthlings made me question all my past actions. It made me make sure that whatever future research I did for my PhD degree didn’t involve animal suffering; made me consciously select a topic while bearing animal liberation in mind. A researcher is someone who finds answers to questions, finds solutions to problems. It’s time for biologists to stop focusing on giving excuses for vivisection, and start focusing on finding alternatives to it.
Ever since the night I watched Earthlings, there has been no looking back: from leading marches; saving lives by choosing not to eat them, to rescuing some; from meeting amazing souls with the same mindset and principles, to making beautiful friendships; from being a novice at social justice, to learning and practicing more of it; from protesting, to outreaches and spreading awareness.
The Liberation Pledge
One major change that I brought about in the way I live has been taking the liberation pledge. I was introduced to the liberation pledge, a few months after turning vegan, by an organization called Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). The pledge entails that one publicly refuse to eat animals (live vegan), publicly refuse to sit where people are eating animals, and encourage others to take the pledge. The idea of this pledge struck a chord with me: when we are fighting for the liberation of someone, why be okay and participate in an activity that centers around the injustice we are fighting against?! Why normalize an activity that needs to be called out?! Going vegan is a huge and courageous step in a dominant abusive culture such as ours. It takes tremendous willpower to stand up against a society that has normalized something as gruesome as animal agriculture and hold your ground. At the same time, just going vegan isn’t enough. One needs to actively speak up, and take a stand against it. The liberation pledge is one of the things that helped me realize and do that. It’s lead to a lot of people being aware, it has lead to my family kitchen turning from a hardcore non-vegan one to a 99% plant based one (there’s sometimes milk for tea at home, which I hope will be eliminated too in the near future). Even though it can be inconveniencing and awkward to do at first, it is essential.
The Power of One
One of my favourite quotes is by Martin Luther King Jr. which is, “Never never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” Being bogged down by society and saying, “Yes,” even when it’s important to say, ”No,” is easy, but none of us would have had whatever little freedom we have today had the ones who fought for it in the past not stood up for what’s right and had chosen to play into the dominant oppressive culture.
They’ll tell you it’s impossible, they’ll tell you it is fantastical, they’ll tell you that you’re just 1 person against 7.6 billion. Don’t be dejected. Always remember, that it took ONE person to stand up against the cruel practice of Sati, it took ONE person to stand up against child marriage, it took ONE person to stand up for widow remarriage, it took ONE person to stand up against imperialism in this country. Never ever underestimate the power of ONE.
Find your voice. Join the movement. We need you; the animals need you more. Be the voice for the ones whose voices have been silenced behind closed doors.
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