There have been a plethora of responses to the recent incidents that can only be termed gruesome and shameful. Protests are erupting in many parts of the nation and our leaders are being shamed for staying silent, and rightly so. The incident is a black spot on our humanity – it must be condemned and we must, as a people, fight for justice for Asifa.
The vegan community too has been raising their voice against this issue, and as humans first, have been outspoken in their critique of the failure of our politicians, our legal system, or just our blinding hate, whichever was at fault here. But there have been a number of people who have tried to use the current rage against the act to point out that millions of animals undergo the same treatment in the dairy industry on a daily basis. On the other hand, in the ongoing protests demanding Justice for Asifa, there have been people claiming that cows are safer than women in our country. This article is about these two claims – one by a vegan and the other by a feminist. To clarify, this article represents only my views and of no group I may seem to represent.
Equating animal rapes to the rapes of women
Before talking about the intent and effectiveness of putting out such a statement, one must first analyse the statement in isolation. Do animals really go through such an ordeal in this industry?
Here is what PETA has to say about this,
When a human is forcibly and involuntarily violated sexually, it’s called “rape.” When animals on factory farms are forcibly and involuntary violated sexually, it’s called “artificial insemination.” Female cows, pigs, and turkeys are routinely raped—their bodies are violated through artificial insemination. Female mammals also often endure botched deliveries, and then their babies are taken away shortly after birth.
The very core of factory farming is breeding. Farmers exploit the female reproductive system to keep up a steady influx of new victims whom they can turn into “products” on supermarket shelves. Without the deliberate and systemic violation of female bodies, the animal agriculture industry would crumble.
There are many objections when it comes to defining this problem. Some people disagree with the use of the term rape because the intention of this procedure is to artificially inseminate a female, whereas the intention of human rape is usually to derive ego gratification (power over another) or sexual gratification. Although farmers seem to have made some connection by calling it the rape rack, it may be more accurate to simply call it forcible artificial insemination.
In the dairy industry a cow is artificially inseminated every year until they stop producing milk, after which they are sent to the slaughterhouse. Whether you agree with the definition of rape that PETA suggests or even if you think that artificial insemination isn’t really as cruel as it is being portrayed, it is clear that such atrocities wouldn’t be tolerated if they were committed on humans. Which brings us to the one question that every vegan asks a non-vegan: What is the difference between a human and a non-human animal?
The exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the rights, freedoms and protections afforded to humans is known as "Speciesism". Paola Cavallieri, author of The Politics of Species: Reshaping our Relationships with Other Animals, defines speciesism as "discrimination based on species".
Let’s briefly look at certain arguments against speciesism. A common argument is one which questions the exclusion of non-humans from the moral community. Anti-speciesists argue that the extension of moral membership to all humanity, regardless of individual properties such as intelligence, while denying it to nonhumans, also regardless of individual properties, is internally inconsistent. According to the argument from marginal cases, if infants, the senile, the comatose, and the cognitively disabled (marginal-case human beings) have a certain moral status, then nonhuman animals must be awarded that status too, since there is no morally relevant ability that the marginal-case humans have that nonhumans lack.
Several parallels are often drawn to slavery, the holocaust, etc. Whether it is sexism or racism, one group assumed power over another group, and the former was convinced that by certain morally irrelevant metrics they deserved more rights than the “inferior” group – the lesser gender, the lesser race, etc.
American legal scholar Steven M. Wise argues that speciesism is a bias as arbitrary as any other. He cites the philosopher R.G. Frey, a leading animal rights critic, who wrote in 1983 that, if forced to choose between abandoning experiments on animals and allowing experiments on "marginal-case" humans, he would choose the latter, he explains,
"not because I begin a monster and end up choosing the monstrous, but because I cannot think of anything at all compelling that cedes all human life of any quality greater value than animal life of any quality".
Following these arguments, vegans state that if the metrics are arbitrary and it has been proven that these beings are sentient and feel pain, the moral community and the law must take it into consideration and protect the voiceless from the powerful, like it has done in the past for humans and even certain animals like dogs or cats.
There are several arguments for speciesism as well. One of the most common philosophical arguments is that humans have the right to exploit other species to defend their own. It is also believed that the fact that animals aren’t capable of practicing moral reasoning, they do not qualify for Kantian personhood, and as such have no rights.
Another criticism of animal-type anti-speciesism is based on the distinction between demanding rights one wants and being put into those one may not want. Both the civil rights movement and the women’s movement were initiated and driven by members of the dispossessed and excluded groups themselves, not by benevolent men or white people acting on their behalf. Both movements were built precisely around the idea of reclaiming and reasserting a shared humanity in the face of a society that had deprived it and denied it.
Lastly, British philosopher Roger Scruton argues that if animals have rights, then they also have duties, which animals would routinely violate, with almost all of them being "habitual law-breakers" and predatory animals such as foxes, wolves and killer whales being "inveterate murderers" who "should be permanently locked up".
For vegans, the intention behind the analogy of human rape cases to the dairy industry is simple. These people have observed that the dairy industry is cruel and since the ones in power have succeeded in convincing society that they are indeed a superior group, certain vegans want to use such analogies to make them remember that the beings they call food also suffer these atrocities on a daily basis and it must be reacted to the same way one reacts to the human rape cases if one is convinced that the line between species is arbitrary.
However, the question here is one of reception. The aim of any vegan message is to increase the pervasiveness of the vegan message amongst the masses. When vegans sent out messages equating the Kathua rape case to the dairy industry, the reaction from non-vegans and several vegans was completely negative.
Whether this message was perceived as negative because humans despise being equated to animals because of their speciesism or because the incident is fresh and people are angry, or even both, the point that vegans must understand is that spreading veganism is not about being righteous. It involves fighting centuries of meat and dairy propaganda to reveal the torture and abuse behind everyday aspects of our life, even those with cultural and religious significance. It requires a new secular and moral consciousness that contradicts features of our identity. It is often met with resistance even without antagonizing the recipient.
If one claims that they are vegan activists and would like it if more and more people go vegan, and on the same hand send out messages which antagonize scores of people against veganism, it seems a tad bit hypocritical.This is not to say that one shouldn’t propose anything that will be received badly. In fact, a large part of activism is aimed at highlighting the cognitive dissonance in people’s minds—and with that shock value, dispute their ignorance. Anger that is targeted at their own cognitive dissonance could prove constructive. However, the anger in this case is aimed at the insensitivity of these vegans who are using the rape of an innocent 8 year old as an opportunity to further a cause.
Is it the vegans who are insensitive? For them, the rape of an animal is as bad as the rape of a human. Society is insensitive to the rape of thousands of animals every single day. However, the rape of a child is not the occasion to bring it up. If the current society refuses to see the parallels, it might be a good idea to be more sensitive to the current ideology in society and tackle this speciesism more organically, i.e., generally explore why it is rape that these animals go through, rather than compare it with recent horrific cases of sexual assault and with such shock value, antagonize any receptors who were supposed to feel empathy.
"Cows are Safer than women in India"
After I expressed my disagreement with the vegans who compare the dairy industry with the Asifa rape case, I came across certain photos from the ongoing protests. A placard read, as the image shows – “India. Our cows are safer than women”. The silence of the government regarding the Kathua case is reminiscent of the silence regarding cow vigilantism. Essentially this slogan is trying to highlight that the government’s silence represents it’s complicity in making this country a hostile space for women while they are active protectors of cows.
Let’s analyse this claim. While the cow vigilant may be safe in India, can we extend this safety to the cow itself? Many illegal slaughterhouses have been shut down, and in certain cases beef has been banned, but claiming that cows are safe will simply be a naïve and ill-informed claim to make. Claiming to accord the position of the mother to a cow does not protect it from the flourishing dairy industry. India also remains the leading exporter of beef in the world. Torture of an unprecedented magnitude is being inflicted against these animals, as has been discussed in the first part of this article.
Our legal system may be failing the women who suffer from such atrocities, but the animals who go through this don’t even have legal recourse, as the dairy industry is currently fully legal and supported by the government. Cows are still tortured till they stop giving milk, after which they are either butchered or left on the streets where most of them die painful deaths due to eating toxic wastes and plastics.
Apart from being a badly researched claim, it is speciesist. It doesn’t say that cows are safe and humans should be too but instead reduces the value of the cow’s life in comparison to the human’s. The sphere of state responsibility has never accorded the rights of a citizen to non-humans.
However, it is time to revise that conception in light of the terrible atrocities being meted against animals. Meanwhile, it is hypocritical, from a feminist perspective, to dismiss the suffering of animals in order to highlight the suffering of women since both these groups are victims of exploitation by arbitrarily created power structures. This isn’t the first time animals have been unnecessarily made the target of protests. Beef has been eaten as a form protests against the current regime, while India remains the largest exporter of beef. Amidst cow politics in India, animals have been reduced to political tools. On one side these animals are being slaughtered and on the other side they’re being tortured their entire life. I fail to see how they’re safe in any of these scenarios.
I think I’m writing this article just to point out that a lot of times many people fighting for something forget why they’re doing it. The analogy of the Kathua rape case with dairy industry only alienates people from the vegan agenda. While it might be important in certain instances to draw parallels to humans to point out that the cruelty and violence in both cases isn’t really that different, if a certain statement will almost certainly push people away from your cause, I fail to see why someone would wish to use it. Ethical activism talks in length about this.
On the other hand, we have activism which is ethical in the sense that for some, the placard would be the perfect way to point out the fact that women are mistreated in our country. However, if activists who are protesting against unfair treatment will use false claims and hurt other movements aimed at doing the same thing for a different group, it is a bit hypocritical, given that said claim is completely unnecessary. Saying women are less safe than cows contributes to the curtain that has been put over the cruel industry that is dairy.
Vegans can point out that rape is a reality in the dairy industry without comparing it with terrible unfortunate and recent cases of human rape, and feminists fighting for humans can fight for better safety of women, if not women and cows, without dismissing the terrible sexual and physical exploitation of animals. In the inter-sectionality of feminism, it is time to stop ignoring the females suffering and exploitation. These are mothers whose children are stripped away from them at birth, artificially inseminated continuously till they can no longer produce offspring, and finally thrown away to suffer a painful death. Yes, women aren’t safe in our country- but neither are cows.
Compiled with inputs from Zohra Abdullah.
About The Author
Tanmai Khanna is a student of Computational Linguistics at IIIT, Hyderabad, and likes to think that he has amazing hair. An avid debater, Tanmai has achieved high honors in debating tournaments organized by colleges across the country. He is also a fierce advocate of feminism. In addition, Tanmai also believes in ethical treatment of animals, and for that reason, espouses for veganism and changes in anthropological dietary habits.