Today’s Discrimination Must Not Be Ignored
Within the Human Community and Across Species Boundaries, Inequality Runs Rampant
by Sangeeta Kumar
Contributing Writer
April 4, 2006

Alice Walker once said, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men." While we rightly look back on the cruelty of the past with indignation, it is also essential that we take a stand against contemporary cruelty. The Animal Liberation Project reminds viewers that the mind-set that accepted child labor, denying women the right to vote, and the enslavement of countless human beings is alive and well today.

Today, animals are the victims. Billions of animals are slaughtered, experimented on, shot, poisoned, beaten, chained, drowned, and dissected. This happens routinely despite scientific evidence and common sense showing that animals have the ability to think and to feel pain, love, joy, terror and other emotions and despite our ability to choose alternatives to the use of animals. It happens because animals, whose modes of communication, appearances, and interests that, on the surface, may seem different from ours, are powerless to stop us.

The Animal Liberation Project carries a message of compassion and a plea for justice. It encourages people to open their hearts and minds to the fact that all cruel acts must be denounced, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable it is to do so. Many of the horrors in our society's history are linked by the notion that "might makes right" and by the exploitation of less powerful groups of people. The beliefs of a bygone era seem ridiculous now, and it's now unacceptable to say what was commonly spoken not so long ago: "They're only immigrants." "Who cares about slum children" "Women and slaves aren't as intelligent as white men."

This same attitude, with its old tired cliches, is now seen being offered in defense of enslaving, abusing and killing billions of animals: "Animals aren't as intelligent." "They don't suffer like people." "They don't have feelings or needs; they're only animals."

But animals do suffer and feel. They have physical, social and emotional needs and a compelling interest in leading their own lives. No matter how different animals seem from us, the differences are less significant than what all people and animals have in common-the desire to be free from suffering and exploitation by others.

The Animal Liberation Project is important to me for very personal reasons. As a woman of South Asian descent, I am no stranger to prejudice, to being treated as inferior just because I am different. This is the same mind-set that allowed for the enslavement of more than a million of my ancestors by the British (Indian indentured servants began to replace African slaves in the early 1800s).

Because I have suffered from discrimination, I don't want anyone else-human or animal-to have to suffer because of me. That is why I became a vegetarian. Once I learned about the treatment of farmed animals today-the imprisonment in filthy spaces, extreme crowding, castration without painkillers or anesthetics, transportation by truck without protection from searing heat and bitter cold, inept slaughter practices that cause animals to be butchered while still conscious-I knew that I must stop participating in this oppressive system. I wanted to extend my compassion to those who cannot demand their own freedom anymore than an 8-year-old child forced to work in a mine could.

The Animal Liberation Project has provoked defensiveness on the part of some, who bristle at having their own suffering or that of their ancestors compared to the suffering of "mere" animals. "How can you compare the suffering of animals to what I have endured?" some have asked, insulted. Yet this attitude-that animals are lesser beings whose suffering is inconsequential-parallels the attitude that enabled white slave owners to shackle, beat, and abuse black Africans.

We have wrongly accepted the suffering of animals as routinely as we once accepted slavery, Native American genocide, child labor, and other heinous crimes-until kind and thoughtful people demanded change.

The great civil rights activist and African-American Dick Gregory once wrote: "Animals and humans suffer and die alike. Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and vicious taking of life." Looking back on the cruel treatment of human beings in the past with indignation is understandable. But taking a stand against contemporary cruelty to animals is also important and in no way denigrates people. Rather, it enlarges the umbrella of our compassion, helping us to become better at what is so wonderful about human beings-our capacity to empathize with the suffering of others who are different from us and to take steps to stop it.

Each one of us can make a difference by making compassionate choices. This can be as simple as eating vegetarian food, buying clothing not made from animals or purchasing cruelty-free products. For tips on compassionate living, visit www.peta2.com. We ask everyone to open their hearts and minds to the concept that all torture should end, regardless of race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability-or species.

Sangeeta Kumar is a coordinator for the Animal Liberation Project. Send comments to opinion@dailycal.org .