When End Animal Slaughter’s Sandra Kyle visited India in 2018 as the recipient of the Philip Wollen Animal Welfare Award, she was presented with her certificate by Maneka Gandhi, then Minister for Women and Child Development in the Narendra Modi government. Her brief meeting with the formidable Mrs Gandhi left a lasting impression on her:-
“At the back of her office was an enormous whiteboard filled up with animal campaigns she was currently working on, a ‘to-do’ list that covered every aspect of animal rights and welfare in India. Of this long list, only a few had been marked as completed, reflecting the difficulty of the work she grapples with every day. I was so impressed that this one individual, through force of character and hard work, and despite her enormous governmental responsibilities, had achieved so much for animals in India, earning her an international reputation. Maneka no doubt has a brilliant mind, but what she does also requires vision, imagination, patience and determination. For much of our meeting she was businesslike, even a bit brusque, but every now and then the sweetest smile broke through. In her presence I could feel the breadth of her intelligence, but also her compassion. As Eileen Weintraub, founder of Help Animals India, describes her: ‘Maneka has a golden heart”.
1. Have you always loved animals?
I don’t know whether what I felt or feel was love . It is respect and compassion and a sense of oneness and a desire for fairness that drives me. I feel each animal/insect/bird stuck in this man-made world, bewildered, grappling to survive, is part of my soul. I simply cannot see the difference between me, a leaf, a crow, a goat, or an elephant. I cannot understand how the human species can create so much pain around them and expect to be happy.
2. When did you start actively campaigning for animal rights and welfare in India?
I made the first animal shelter in India with the money that my husband, who died when I was 23, left me. I ran the shelter first and then because I was in politics, used that platform always to change things for animals.
3 You have enormous responsibilities, and have achieved much in your political career. And yet you also manage to be so productive for animals, through the Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre, and in your writing and other activist platforms. You are the longest serving Member of Parliament in India, having won 8 times. How do you manage to do so much?
I don’t stop for a minute. And I do everything that I can. I study very hard every day to improve my knowledge of animal issues so that I can speak/do with correct information.
I feel the heart is a door. When it opens, it opens for every being. My heart and energy is open for all kinds of pain, and I endeavour to lessen it for as many beings as I can. That is what gives me the ability to work hard.
4 What is the hardest thing about your work advocating for animals? What are the main obstacles you face?
Ignorance, the ignorance of politicians and bureaucrats especially. When I started, it was considered the domain of “little old ladies”. Now fortunately the movement is coming into its own, with groups starting everywhere.
5 What are some of the campaigns you are currently working on?
I work on 50-100 things at the same time . At this exact moment we are getting pet shops and dog/cat breeders banned.
6 At the beginning of the Covid-19 Lockdown you issued a press release saying that people should continue to feed stray dogs and cows, and even gave your personal number out all over India to help people get special passes to feed animals without the police hassling them. Can you put into words what drives you to work so hard to fight animal cruelty and injustice?
The fear of pain. Your pain is mine, so I need to get rid of it.
7 Are things beginning to change for animals in India? If so, why?
Some things change. But for every good thing, some politicians will make sure three more policies are made that are bad. But last year I made the government give money for the scientific exploration of making clean meat (meat by cell multiplication). We are the first government to do so . That is going on now, and if we can do this, it will change the world as we know it.
8 What would you like to see happen in the future?
Clean meat, clean milk – milk/meat made without animals. The banning of any meat exports until we get there. A sharp rise in veganism. Compulsory training in animal welfare in schools… I have a booklet in which I have listed 170 things I want to do or I want to see happen before I die.
Of course they will not be all done but even if I can get half, I shall die happy and not have to come back!