The earsplitting screech of a thousand tires that had been forced to brake simultaneously, mixed with the grinding of heavy machinery — that’s what it sounded like. I was riding my bicycle down to the market on a sunny winter day when this monstrous noise forced me to a halt. It took me a while to figure out what the hell was going on. I was near Haringhata Farm. Pigs were being slaughtered. Those weren’t the screeches of tires, those were screams. I rode away.
The memory got buried under piles of mundane thoughts that life threw at me. But it lurked at the back of my mind, like a persistent itch that I was afraid to scratch. I would feel a strange aloofness whenever I rode past the farm, whenever I saw a related post on the internet, whenever I sat down to eat my favourite chicken dishes. Something was wrong. Later, while reading about Kafka at the aquarium, I would realize that this particular emotion was called guilt. I was perhaps feeling guilty for the first time in my life and didn’t know the appropriate word to classify it under.
Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.
— Kafka talking to a fish
I do not easily let my heart make my decisions for me. I decided to educate myself on the topic. My plan was to make a list of arguments on both sides, look at the issue from as many angles as possible, balance idealism with pragmatism, and all the stuff that I secretly accuse people of not doing before forming opinions. I was going to be thorough.
In my early discussions with friends, it quickly became apparent that most of them had never given any serious thought to the ethics of what we eat. Worse, they felt that it didn’t even warrant giving a thought. “Things are the way they are.” “It’s nature.” “It’s a choice.” “Don’t bring ethics where they don’t belong.” These were excellent points, except I noted that they can be applied excellently to every atrocity ever conducted. I turned to better sources: philosophers and thinkers who have written on the subject. It was only then that I resigned to the fact that my way of living was inherently unethical given the alternatives. There was simply no honest way to argue against it.
I gave up meat. What followed was a nightmare I had never anticipated. The act of eating animals became a lot more abhorrent once the bias of my own complicity was gone. Many of my days were filled with blind rage. It took all my self-control to not flip out when people would mock my diet as the newest fad or when they would dangle chicken pieces in front of me for temptation. I felt I was surrounded by brutes who could not be penetrated with logic, driven only by their programming and base desires. If I turned into a pig, they would probably proceed to eat me too.
It was in those days that I learnt the simple truth about how most crimes are committed. Not out of evil. Not out of hatred. Just out of plain old ignorance. If you have ever wondered how millions of people at one point condoned slavery, casteism, child marriage, witch hunts, and the other similar disgraces — this here is your answer.
I managed to escape the initial trap of anger and hatred for humanity after a few weeks. Over time, I have made my peace with the fact that I cannot expect the world to change just because I did. Everything has its own pace. I am completely convinced that one day in the near future, eating animals would be classified in the same category as slavery and genocide, but it won’t be because of the things I do or say. The only person we can truly change is ourselves.
Half a decade has passed since my unplanned exposure to the sounds of a slaughterhouse. I’m happy to note that the issue of animal rights is much more widely accepted today than it was back then. Here I must mention the amazing peer group at IIMA where, for the first time, I met lots of people who agreed with me on the subject. Knowing that more and more people are updating their worldviews helps me confirm that I am not just a lone deluded looney.
I don’t know much about the world. But I do know that while shoving a knife into a throat, intelligence is irrelevant — it’s the suffering that matters.
Featured art: Dana Ellyn