Hi, Paul can you give some background about you?
I have always been an explorer, from the day of my inception. This is why I was (and is) fascinated by the natural world and its wonders. My curiosity for wildlife stemmed far younger than most of my major interests. This expanded to encompass the whole of sciences (or perhaps it was vice versa, as memories can be very hazy after so many years). My natural curiosity and rebelliousness took me to intellectual spaces which seemed too advanced for the conservative Christian environment I was born into. At the age of 12, I started seriously questioning commonly accepted dictums. This probably started with the existence of ‘God’.
I was really awestruck at the number of people blindly following an ideology and belief with no rational arguments or evidence to back it up. That’s when it hit me. If majority of the people in the world believed in things with no rational introspection, what else was I being brought up in that I too blindly participated in? This nagging voice of reason coupled with my strong empathy culminated in me turning a vegetarian (with some influences by speakers who visited my school, and the turning point being a visit to a slaughterhouse). I realized how hostile my current environment was to me being an atheist vegetarian. I started feeling more alone as time passed, since the people who I considered friends, who were otherwise empathic and seemingly intelligent individuals were blasé and uncaring about animal fundamental questions, such as unnecessary exploitation of sentient beings. As I distanced myself from these people, I found hope and promise in the netizens, especially the ones who I met on Facebook.
When I got the chance to move to Bangalore to pursue my Bachelors in a triple major relevant to my field of interest, I took it, especially because of the knowledge that there was a blossoming vegan animal rights movement in the city. That’s where I met my future best buddies. During my first vegan outreach, I got to meet Abhay Rangan, a charismatic and inspiring character. That was the beginning of our lasting friendship. By an astonishingly young age, he had already founded an animal rights organization and was doing grassroots outreach in the Bengaluru. We, along with a couple of other ‘Core Team’ organizers of Vegania,(later renamed to Society for Animal Rights and Veganism or SARV, as the former named bore a un-ignorable homonymy to a body part), namely Sudharni, Vinay, Harshad, Vihari, Ashraf, Asma, Ranjan and Anushree spearheaded campaigns every week, relentlessy in multiple locations within Bangalore. Those were the most amazing times. I got to turn a lot many people vegan, or atleast plant a seed in their minds, which hopefully grew. I personally made it a habit to do as many vegan outreaches as possible, even if it was just me and another person who tunred up for a campaign. There were times when I suffered from burnout. But, I carried on by reminding myself of the hellscape Earth has turned out to be for a great many animals, all due to human greed and selfishness.
The number of amazing people I have met during this time far outweighs the number of such people I was able to meet during my stay in Noida for Masters in Widllife Science. This is because of the difficulty in reaching Delhi for activism (where most campaigns were done), lack of time, and additionally, the number of vegetarian apologists and bhakts in the vegan movement. My approach is strongly unapologetic. It is based on reason and research. What people like Tobias Leenaert do with their “Veganish” narrative, is that it waters down the seriousness of the cause and ignores the scientific studies (such as that by Dr. Corey Lee Wren) which contradict their narrative. Coming back to my story, I got to know that there is a person who recently turned vegan in my University. So, I met up with Raghav and we are now good friends. He has coordinated and continues coordinating a lot of vegan outreaches in Delhi-NCR.
What were your earlier consumption habits?
I was born into a Malayalee Christian family, in Kerala. So, I was as hardcore a non-vegan as they come. I was one of the disgusting kinds of people who expand PETA as People Eating Tasty Animals, and even suggested putting fish under the bed of a vegetarian because they chose to only allow other vegetarians as tenants (during a social science classroom discussion). I used to consume all kinds of animals – cows/buffaloes, chicken, pigs, sheep, fish etc. I used to use leather, silk and wool; visted circuses and zoos (ab)using animals; found no problem in using horses, bullocks and elephants for rides… and the list goes on. I can never atone for the horrible participation I had in the non-human animal holocaust, but what I can do now is to work towards ending the suffering.
When did you turn vegan? Was there ‘a moment’ that made you change?
This blog article which I write around 4 years ago, summarizes the answer to this question: https://popvegan.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/animal-rights-activism/
“Activism is my rent for living on this planet”- I remember this quote from Alice Walker everytime I venture out to the public with my activist friends to fight for animal rights.
I, who have been a diehard fan of all kinds of meat and dairy products (In fact, one of my favourite food was prawn), now is an hardcore animal rights activist. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. There are millions of people out there in the world who are like me- who used to consume animal products in order to have a few minutes of gastronomic fun, but now, are hardcore vegans. I used to be a kind of person who used to expand PETA as People Eating Tasty Animals. When did make the quantum shift to vegan from a carnist(non-vegan)? I would attribute that change to a couple of things. I used to call myself an animal lover and used to love the documentaries on Animal Planet and Discovery Channels. As far as I can remember, I always wanted to be a naturalist/wildlife biologist/conservationist.
Some events in my childhood shook up my strongly held belief system of carnism. A video presentation from representatioves of PETA and a speech by a philanthropist who talked about the violence to the domesticated animals had me thinking. I have never been exposed to that paradigm before. A few days after, I went to a slaughterhouse to buy meat. What I saw there horrified me. Chickens cramped into such small places and huddling together as to escape the hand of the butcherer. The look on the eyes of these small beings when they were taken to a slab to be beheaded, was that of terror. I couldn’t participate in this system of violence anymore. Why was I paying somebody to take away someone’s life, something I would never do myself? I had been blasé about many aspects of life, death being one of them.
Being born into a highly conservative Christian family, I never used to think about the innocent lives that I used for my palette pleasure, clothing and umpteen number of other uses. I realized that their life matters too. That was why I went vegetarian when I was 14. It was a difficult choice for me as the people surrounding me were all victims of the system of carnism. Friends, family and cousins-they all used to mock and tease me for my compassion. But these minor inconveniences in my life were nowhere comparable to the enslavement, torture and death billions of animals underwent each year for the pleasure and comfort of the human beings.
3 years into being an ignorant vegetarian who had not done much research on animal rights, I chanced upon a life-changing video-“ The Best Speech Ever-By Gary Yourofsky” on YouTube which has been viewed more than 2.2 million times till date. He is the one who introduced the word ‘vegan’ to me. His honest nature and strong approach to cause has inspired me to go vegan. I stopped consuming any dairy products from that day onwards. The first replacement I found for cow secretions was soymilk. Unlearning speciesism was not very easy because it was imprinted in my mind-from storybooks, textbooks, movies, advertisements and much more. The feeling of liberation from the system of carnism was one of the best experiences of my life. I started research on all aspects of veganism, ranging from animal cruelty to health to environment.
When I finished my +2 at my school, I moved to Bangalore for further studies, partly because I learnt from my facebook feed that a large number of vegans in India were stationed in Bangalore and lot of vegan activities were observed here. This city is the birthplace of my offline animal rights activism. What first began at a vegan fair at ADCB building in Church street, grew into meetings at Cubbon Park for vegan potlucks. Then, I came to know about Vegania Nation, animal rights organization that came recently into existence only a few months after I started living here. The first vegan campaign under Vegania’s banner, was a leafleting event at M.G.Road where more than about 20 vegans came to distribute leaflets and booklets sourced from various organizations and individuals. This was not my first outreach, as I had helped in a free food distribution (cookies and cashew cheese) and leafleting with 2 of my vegan friends whom I met at the potluck. That event happened at the Green Bazaar. Instead of just volunteering for Vegania, I decided to work as a core member of it. Since it was founded by a dedicated 16 year old boy called Abhay Rangan, the organization showed good promise. This is how I got into hardcore activism. Fighting for justice was now, a part of my life.
As of today, I have been vegan for about six and a half years.
Wow, that’s a long time. Even most Vegans now, won’t have heard about it then. Why do you think it’s important for you to stay Vegan?
Veganism always was and is for one reason only – the victims of speciesism. That’s the reason why I will remain a vegan until my last breath. The health of the oppressors is not a reason for one to turn vegan. If one eats only plant-based food for their health, they are called ‘plant-based’. Organizations like SHARAN in India has unfortunately watered and damaged the movement by making veganism synonymous with the ‘ultimate cure for cancer, diabetes and all major diseases’. These organizations are selling pseudoscience and woo to a gullible audience, which gives a bad rap for the vegan movement.
This is super staunch stance, How being Vegan impacts your life now?
As the joke goes, “when I turned vegan, I lost a 10 kilos and a 100 friends”. The former may or may not be true, but the latter is definitely true for me. It has reduced my connection with non-vegan friends from my childhood to zero (i.e. I don’t seek them out for social bonding, but I occasionally hang out with them when we meet by accident). Familial bonding has deteriorated because I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that my family members still take part in the genocide of animals just for irrational and selfish reasons, such as taste, habit, convenience, religion and culture. But on the flipside, veganism opened up friendship and lasting bonds with some of the most amazing people on the planet.
Do you talk to people about being Vegan anywhere?
Yes, almost everywhere I get the opportunity to. While dedicated activism is a regular way to achieve it, I also do it on a one-on-one basis with classmates, some acquaintances and family members. I even showed a graphic footage and talked about veganism while we were on tour in Europe, in a bus full of strangers trying to have a jolly time (yes, I am a buzzkill for the ignorant).
Do you wish to contribute beyond what you are doing now in Animal Rights/Vegan field? What will you do if you had only that thing to do?
Absolutely, yes. Given the limited time and resources I have to spend on animal rights/veganism, I would wish for a superpower if I had only one thing to do. The superpower would be to have mind-manipulation (tele-kinesis) powers like Professor Charles Xavier (in X-men) so that can instantly turn everyone vegan. Or maybe pull a Thanos, with the whole of human population. On a realistic tone, I would choose to work on technological and other solutions to end use of animals for any purpose.
Haha, wish that becomes true somehow. How can people reach out to you?
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCU9S_IgrFtA55YqhU39hSGQ
Citizen science initiatives profiles:
iNaturalist – https://www.inaturalist.org/people/776649
Do share a a few sparkling photos of you/with your favourite people
ePhotos from World Vegan Day campaign in 2015, in M.G. Road, Bangalore.
After the campaign on World Vegan Day, in Indiranagar, Bangalore. From bottom right (of picture): Sujani, Ranjan, me, Abhay, Vihari, Harshad, Annu, Akash; top left: Jyoti and Ayu.
Taken during my Masters dissertation on two threatened species of birds in Idukki district of Western Ghats (2018).
Me and my adopted son, who also happens to be my best friend – Poopy the snooper
-Some follow up questions to come here. Stay tuned.-
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