Interview with the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations
Please welcome Ms. Sirjana Nijjar, the Senior Manager of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO).
Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) is India's apex animal rights organization. As the collective voice of the animal rights movement in India, FIAPO is the catalyst that protects the rights and interests of animals at local and national levels. Created for the movement, by the movement, FIAPO is India's only federation with more than 170 members and 200 supporter organizations, nationally. FIAPO was among the first organizations to join the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia, an international campaign initiated by the Institute of Animal Law of Asia. Through this interview, we would like to introduce our member to the public and our audience. We are excited to learn more about FIAPO!
Part I: Introduction
IALA: Sirjana, could you please tell us about your organization?
Sirjana: Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) is India’s only Indian federation of NGOs that works with its member organisations to build a narrative on animal rights and creates a positive impact on the lives of animals in India. We believe that animals have an inherent right to exist without any form of human interference. We are committed to ending animal exploitation and the use of animals to create a society where the rights of animals are respected through the multipronged approach of public awareness, advocacy, and promotion of plant-based living.
We work by networking, partnering, and engaging with organisations, businesses, government authorities, animal activists, and influencers to highlight animal welfare issues and pushing for welfare reforms that drastically improve the lives of companion and farmed animals. FIAPO has been working for the past 10 years in India and over these years has many achievements to its credit.
IALA: What animal law issues does your organization address in India and in general? Have you faced any difficulties and how did you get over them? What are the most challenging difficulties you have ever faced during your animal protection work?
Sirjana: FIAPO has forayed into diverse areas of animal welfare in India and worked on issues of companion animals, farmed animals, animals used for entertainment, animals in captivity, and street dogs. We highlight the gaps in existing animal laws/policies and pitch solutions based on our experience on the ground. A common problem, that almost all animal NGOs face, of working in the field of animal law is the lack of government support and engagement on the issue. Animal welfare is not a priority and receives little to no focus from bureaucracy.
As an organisation, we come face to face with many forms of cruelty on a daily basis ranging from cruelty to street animals (cows and dogs), mistreatment of animals in the dairy industry, animals tortured in circuses for entertainment, animals killed for meat in illegal setting, and so many more. Bringing the attention of government and bureaucracy to the abuse, mistreatment, and torture of animals is a challenging and sometimes frustrating process. The enforcement agencies like the police department are often not well versed with animal laws which makes it difficult to register animal cruelty cases. The laws governing farmed animals are loosely framed making them difficult to implement.
We use and welcome all approaches and tactics to address animal cruelty – we engage with print media to build pressure on government authorities, we gather data, write reports, and submit it to different departments that deal with animal laws. If nothing works, we file litigation in courts to bring justice to the cause of animals.
IALA: Since the hit of the pandemic in December 2019, everybody has had to shift to a “new normal” life, remote work, and online education. What challenges has your organization faced since then?
Sirjana: COVID pandemic changed the meaning of the word “normal” for the world. Working remotely has had its own pros and cons for the employees and animals. Our work spans across different States and geographical areas in India, the pandemic and consequent lockdown made it difficult to travel, which did impact our groundwork to quite an extent. However, we utilised this time for reflection, desk work, research, and secondary data collection to strengthen our future strategies. Initial months were difficult for employees too who were slowly getting used to working alone in their homes instead of an office setting. Lack of interaction between colleagues and increased screen time affect some more than others. But on the flip side, it also gave employees an opportunity to spend quality time with their family.
Fortunately, we did not face any challenge with the donors and we were able to deliver results by working in partnership with our member organisations and activists. FIAPO’s team began working on the ground immediately after the opening of lockdown in the last few months of 2020 and we were able to formulate and submit reports to the government.
IALA: You successfully hosted the virtual conference 2021 with Asia for Animals Coalition and Blue Cross in India in 2021. Can you share a bit about the virtual conference this year?
Sirjana: Asia for Animals successfully organised a virtual conference with over 500 participants and in collaboration with Blue Cross India. The conference covered themes on animal welfare, movement building and alliance, animal rights, animals, politics and policies, wildlife issues, the role of plant-based movement, etc. Eminent speakers from across the globe addressed the participants and shared their knowledge and the direction of international animal welfare movements. It was indeed a challenge to organise such a huge conference virtually, but the changing times require an innovative approach and that’s what we did successfully!
IALA: You work with multiple organizations in India. Have you faced any difficulties while working with them? Can you share with us your experience in working with organizations of different sizes, visions, and missions?
Sirjana: Working as a federation with multiple organisations comes with its unique set of intricacies, but I will say it has more positives than negatives. As a federation, we have more clout and standing than an organisation that works alone.
Our member organisations vary in size, vision, and resources they have for animals. They also have different areas of work and most often they deal with localised issues and problems. Whereas we, as a federation, work on a broad range of animal issues, which will in the future impact the lives of all animals. There are times when member NGOs feel a sense of misalignment and often question our work. In such situations, it is important to come together and address their concerns and show the vision of the future and the significance of our work. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning, Keeping together is progress, Working together is a success.”
Part II: Indian Animal Law Issues
IALA: What do you think are the most important and pressing animal law issues that exist in India?
Sirjana: India is one of the few countries that have separate legislation for the protection of animals from pain, suffering, and cruelty. But even with legislation in place, there are many cases of cruelty to companion and farmed animals that go either unnoticed or unreported. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 is an antiquated piece of legislation that lacks teeth to prevent cruelty. The Act imposes a fine of Rs 50, which is less than a dollar, in cases of animal cruelty. Rather than a law that protects animals and punishes the culprit, it is an open license to kill animals and get away with it!
The legislation itself does not provide the definition of cruelty in clear terms but only defines certain acts that amount to cruelty towards animals. The imprisonment for cruelty and imposition of fine needs revision and must be proportionate to the crime committed against the animal.
The law does not protect farmed animals adequately, which makes it almost impossible to bring justice to animals raised for food that continuously live in conditions that most humans cannot even comprehend. The slaughterhouses’ rules and regulations are regularly flouted without impunity as they are one institution that remains out of the public eye. Nobody wants to know what goes on inside a slaughterhouse! Animals in dairy, hens in the poultry industry, pigs, goats, sheep, and other animals raised for food are not covered appropriately under the existing laws.
There is a dire need to amend existing laws, rules, and regulations to protect all forms of animal lives from cruelty. The structures and institutions to protect animals must be put into place both at State and National level in India.
IALA: In many Asian countries, the regulations with regard to animals exist but lack enforcement. What is the situation in India and how do you think animal protection can be improved?
Sirjana: The Constitution of India through Article 48A and 51A(g) imposes a duty on every citizen to protect animals. This protection is then extended through the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. The Indian Penal Code also punishes any acts of mischief towards animals through Sections 428 and 429. The laws and legislations are only effective if there is a proper mechanism for their implementation. Lack of implementation is a challenge in India as in many Asian countries. The authorities have scarce resources and knowledge to tackle animal cruelty. In order to improve the current situation, the government needs to invest in capacity building, awareness, and training of enforcement agencies like Societies for the Protection of Animals (SPCAs) and police. All necessary resources like veterinary care facilities, rescue centers, rehabilitation centers for wildlife, quarantine areas must be provided by the State and Union government. Allocation of budget for animal protection and the robust institutional system can go a long way in improving the lives of animals.
Animal organisations, activists and the government should work together towards building a future where cruelty to animals does not exist. This might seem like a farfetched dream now, but realities are created out of dreams!
IALA: What are the attitudes of the government and the public towards the legal protection of animals, animal law movements, animal welfarism, and animal rights activism in India?
Sirjana: India is a land of compassion and a country where animals are worshipped as Gods for centuries. The traditions and culture of India teach a life of harmonious coexistence between humans, animals, and the environment. India has a strong community of animal NGOs, animal lovers, and activists who raise the issue of animal welfare and rights. The government is generally supportive of the cause of animals and there are institutions like the Animal Welfare Board of India and State Animal Welfare Boards that work actively for improving the lives of the animals within the ambit of existing laws. However, as a country with a growing population, the government has many schemes that promote the production of animal products, such as milk and eggs, and programs that support rural populations to raise animals for food. Any activism that threatens the livelihoods of communities or impacts exports is not taken easily by the government. In recent months, the companies manufacturing plant-based milk and vegan products have faced challenges due to the dairy industry lobby. The dairy lobby has pressurised the government and actively opposed the use of the word “milk” by plant-based milk producers.
The Courts in India have played a significant role to protect the animals and help build a narrative around animal rights and recognizing them as sentient beings. In the first landmark judgments of Supreme Court in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India Vs. A. Nagaraja and others (2014), the Court observed, “We have to examine the various issues raised in these cases, primarily keeping in mind the welfare and the well-being of the animals and not from the standpoint of the Organizers, Bull tamers, Bull Racers, spectators, participants or the respective States or the Central Government, since we are dealing with a welfare legislation of a sentient-being, over which human-beings have domination and the standard we have to apply in deciding the issue on hand is the “Species Best Interest”, subject to just exceptions, out of human necessity.”
This judgment became a stepping stone and various High Courts took inspiration from this judgment to deliver justice to animals.
Part III: International Cooperation
IALA: In which ways do you think the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) could help the animal advocacy within the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia? What goals would you like to achieve through the Alliance?
Sirjana: FIAPO has vast experience of working on various animal issues across India and has built a strong community of NGOs and animal activists to support the cause of animals. We are leaders in promoting plant-based living and a vegan lifestyle for health, the environment, and animal welfare. Our policy and advocacy work has been significant in highlighting animal welfare issues and bringing relief to the lives of animals. FIAPO can support the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia by sharing its knowledge, strategies, and tactics to fight for animal rights. We will be honoured to share our learnings and experience with other members of the Alliance who can then tailor our strategies within the context of their own countries.
IALA: Is the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) seeking any global participation and collaboration for improving the level of animal protection?
Sirjana: FIAPO is open to opportunities of collaborating with global partners to further the cause of animal rights and welfare. There is definitely a host of opportunities in promoting animal welfare by influencing trade, commerce, export, and import policies that can strengthen the existing animal protection framework. There is an increase in wildlife trade and trafficking and collaboration between countries through the government and NGOs can be successfully used to tackle the killing and poaching of wildlife for sale in black markets. In the future, we are looking forward to collaborating with international institutions like WHO, OIE, FAO among others for promoting animal welfare through their policies.
IALA: Do you have any experience or suggestions to share with our members on how to advocate for animals more effectively?
Sirjana: Our experience shows that more than one tactic is required to advocate for animals. What may be effective in one situation might not work at all in another. A combination of strategies and a holistic approach is the need of the hour. As an animal rights organization, we want to end the use and exploitation of animals, whereas we know that there are numerous people who solely depend on animals for their livelihood. In such situations, it becomes important to recognise the need and use strategies that balance both human and animal welfare. Animal welfare cannot improve in isolation; it is intricately linked with the attitude of people who raise these animals. Therefore, it is always advisable to use a multi-pronged approach. FIAPO promotes a vegan lifestyle to reduce the demand for animal-based products, but we also acknowledge that the animals that are still being used require policies and laws to protect their rights and improve welfare.
IALA: What else would you like to tell the audience of the Institute of Animal Law of Asia (IALA)?
Sirjana: In the end, I would like to say that India is a diverse country with different socio, economic, and political situations that vary from one State to other. It is also a quasi-federal country, which means that powers to legislate (formulate laws) are divided between the Centre and the State governments, which makes working for animal rights and welfare extremely complex. India is still hugely a rural economy with 70 percent of the population residing in villages and depending on animals for their livelihoods and income. Such a complex socio-cultural, political and legal scenario makes animal welfare a daunting task! While working in collaboration and partnerships is great for the cause of animals, there might arise situations where things won’t work out in your favour.
IALA: Thank you again for taking the time for this interview. We enjoyed talking with you and discussing animal law issues that we can solve together as the Institute of Animal Law of Asia (IALA) and the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO).
Learn more about the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO): https://www.fiapo.org/