Dr. Chinny Krishna is the co-founder and the Chairman Emeritus of the Blue Cross of India, one of India's largest and oldest animal welfare organizations. He has also held 2 terms as the Vice Chairman for the Animal welfare Board of India, from 2000-2003 and from 2010 to date. Dr. Chinny Krishna is also the founder and MD of ASPICK Engineering Private ltd. When he was honored by HSI with a lifetime achievement award, HSI president & CEO Andrew Rowan referred to him as the Grand old man of animal welfare in Asia.
The Blue Cross was founded by 9 members, led by his father Captain Sundaram and Usha Sundaramn 1959. (About Capt. Sundaram and Blue cross-must read). They have been pioneers in some of the biggest movements in animal welfare. Right from conceiving and successfully launching the ABC program back in the 1960s to coming up with alternative models for dissection, being instrumental in the ban of export of Indian monkeys to the US (for experimentation), and the ban of Jallikattu, they have done it all. Their list of achievements are given on the Blue cross website.
Some of the biggest people are the most humble they say. Dr. Chinny Krishna and his brilliant and beautiful wife Nandita Krishna have spent much of their life being compassionate caring people, who created change in the world around us. And they still make time for new websites like OFP to support our work towards awareness. We are thrilled to have Dr.Chinny Krishna's interview on ourfoodprint.com! Here, we share some excerpts.
1) Considering you have a background as an engineer and an entrepreneur, what got you interested in taking care of animals?
I was interested in animals long before I became an engineer. The inspiration for many of us was from my grandfather, T. S. Krishnamurti, who inculcated in all of us a great sense of reverence for life, one of the co-founders of Blue Cross was Mrs. Kamakshi Krishnamurti, his wife.
We all grew up with a great reverence of all life. Capt. Sundaram, my father and Usha Sundaram, my mother were pilots, (she was the first woman pilot in India) and in their free time they used to use our car as an ambulance to pick injured animals. Blue cross was started at our home as a shelter for animals, there was a time we had 60 cats, dogs goats bandicoots and even mongoose!
2) How did Blue cross come about?
In 1959 there were 4 of us later became 5, who were working with the Madras SPCA for about 5 years. We tried getting the Madras SPCA to change from their narrow confines of prevention to cruelty to animals to a more proactive mode, more like a society for the promotion of kindness SPKA and we failed. So we had the choice of working with a 100 year old organization at the time an 85 year old organization, or to start something else. So we started the Blue cross. It was called the Animal Aid Association initially, and became the Blue cross later, around 1962. In ’64 we registered the Blue cross as an independent animal welfare group. I was one of the initial signatories. We were 9 of us and from that, touching wood we are still 5 of us around. For 5 people to be around when the organization celebrated its 50 anniversary is not very common.
(in the picture Dr. Krishna and Amala Akkineni with Dr. Jumble, India's first certified "Dr. Dog"!) We were till very recently entirely functioning with the help of working professionals' who dedicated their free time and volunteered with us to help animals. Pilots would be driving our ambulances and doctors engineers lawyers would all contribute with time and effort for various activities. It's only recently that we hired a CEO to professionalize Blue Cross, since things are changing today and we have to adapt to it.
3) Please tell us more about the ABC (animal birth control) program.
Basically how it came about was that in 1963, somebody who had lost their dog came to us and said that you have been doing so much for dogs and talking of electrocution of dogs by the municipality. My dog is lost, and we think they have taken him, please help us get him out. So we went to the dog pound to see what we can do. We reached there at around 10 in the morning and what I saw was extremely disturbing. And my first reaction was there has to be a kinder way to kill these dogs. When I went back home, what I saw kept bothering me so much that I began to make a study of the dog program that was going on in Madras. The deeper we went we saw that the dog killing program was a disaster. (image source Voice of stray dogs)
The way it was done, the dogs would be conscious while they were being electrocuted and their organs were burning. There is a video of electrocution that was done in Bangalore, which was randomly taken not in the perspective of welfare. That video shows the kind of suffering and pain that these animals endured.
Dogs are naturally attracted to human settlements due to food being easily available thanks to garbage collected in those areas. So killing dogs didn’t help control the population, as dogs from other areas would simply move in and take over the space of the ones that had been killed, and cases of rabies didn't reduce this way. It had become a Catch 22 situation. Like Albert Einstein defined ‘insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.’ The age-old method of catch-and-kill has not worked and never will.
4) What started the concept of ABC (Animal Birth Control)?
In those days, there used to be the inverted triangle symbol displayed almost everywhere, in stations, bus advertisements hoarding's. This symbol was used to advocate family planning, and various methods were advised including vasectomy. At the point it occurred to me, why not use this method to control the population of dogs. In 1964, the Blue Cross proposed that a more humane and viable solution to prevent the visible increase in the number of street dogs and the number of cases of human rabies was by a sustained catch-and-neuter program coupled with vaccination against rabies.
As expected, we met with complete resistance, so we pooled in our own resources and started doing it independent of the government. All the while keeping sustained pressure on Corporation of Madras to change their policy. The challenge was, once the street dogs are handled by people during the surgery they become friendly with people. Unfortunately this also made them easy prey for the municipality dog handlers. So the dogs that were operated on would be picked often and taken to be killed. Though we kept working on neutering them, the success of the program was being limited. In 1990, WSPA and WHO brought out their “Guidelines for Dog Population Management” followed by WSPA’s guidelines for “Stray Dog Control”. In 1995 the Blue cross was finally able to convince the Corporation of Madras to agree to try out ABC as an alternate to killing in parts of South Madras.
By then we had realized that a city-wide ABC program would have been the ideal solution, but the Corporation Commissioner, Mr. M. Abul Hassan, asked us to start the program and then increase its scope. The only assurances he gave us was that he would personally monitor the program, and that no dog which had been spayed and vaccinated would be caught. We pooled in our own resources again and started picking up the dogs, performing the surgery by volunteer doctors and releasing them back in their own area. Chennai and Jaipur were the first cities to start sustained ABC-AR programs. Within six months, results in the areas covered by the Blue Cross ABC program were promising enough to prompt the Corporation to extend the program to the whole of South Madras. By a stroke of luck, Mr. Abul Hassan became the Special Officer – equal to Mayor – of the Corporation. People for Animals agreed to take up ABC in North Madras and the Corporation converted its electrocution chamber to an ABC center. Several cities have taken up ABC but in many cases it has not been a sustained program. In some cities the program has met with reasonable success, but is still not being completely implemented.
5) India has recently banned cosmetic testing. Blue cross has been involved in a number of projects against animal testing, dissection and vivisection, as a matter of fact the first one in our country to work actively against it. Please tell us more about it?
In 1964, my father Captain Sundaram got a call from Dr. Nurgesh Ganapathy from a veterinary college (KILPAUK MEDICAL COLLEGE) who complained of the extreme cruelty being meted out to the animals in their college. When we got there with police protection, we saw four puppy heads grafted onto the necks of four dogs (apparently to test if they can support the extra life). The conditions of the animals were terrible. That incident started our effort to get dissection and vivisection banned. My father and mother, who were pilots witnessed the condition of monkeys being exported for various experiments. They also started the movement against the export of Indian monkeys for experimentation. Today the export of wild Indian monkey’s for experimentation is banned.
Today thanks to sustained effort by Mrs Maneka Gandhi and organizations like PFA (People for Animals), Blue Cross, CPSEA and the Bombay Humanitarian league, dissection of frogs, cockroaches and rats is banned in India. Blue cross has also come up with alternatives for dissection called the Compufrog, Compuroach and many more to be used for dissection in schools and for life science courses.
You know, when biology means the science of life, how can you learn it by taking a life? My wife Nanditha Krishna had written an article about it called ‘Slaughter for science’ for the Illustrated Weekly which also garnered a lot of attention to the issue.
6) Many people consider milk to be vegetarian, please share your views about it? And there was an incident where you have personally witnessed the violence involved in dairy?
Yes, milk is vegetarian but only mothers milk. We had made a film about the life of animals in these industries, that helped many people to change their lifestyles. Thanks to the dairy industry, there is tremendous cruelty and slaughter involved in the life of the cow. The killing of a newborn is violence toward the animal as well as it’s mother. In fact there is so much cruelty that can be avoided, for example battery cages for hens in the egg laying industry is perhaps the cruelest thing we do.
From the many incidents I have witnessed, there was this one time when we were driving in Chengalpet and found a tempo packed with almost 40 cows and buffaloes being smuggled. We started chasing it and we finally drove our car ahead of it to stop them. I got out to stop them, and the driver almost ran over me in an attempt to get away. It was an extremely close shave and I just about managed to get out of the way. We chased the tempo again, but he started throwing cattle down on the road, one by one in front of our car, in an attempt to stop us. He then drove off the road into a ditch and tried to get away. By then, we called the Blue Cross and Dawn Williams (an ex army official who works with Blue Cross) got there and we managed to catch the driver. The cows who survived were taken to a gaushala and the case is still going on.
Considering our rich heritage in animal protection, India was the first country which had animal welfare laws laid down by Emperor Ashoka, and we were the first country to ban hunting. The Divan of Travancore banned hunting in the 1930's. I have been fighting against Jallikattu for the past 50 years. We still have the laws, but implementation is virtually zero.
7) Any books you would suggest for people interested in animal rights or helping animals?
Well, of course the first book that comes to mind is Peter Singers Animal liberation. Then there is this one book that made a great impression on me, Ruth Harrelsons Animal machine. She wrote it at the start of industrial farming, when the practice of restraining animals for mass production started. The cruelty in practices like the battery cage got her to write the book. That book major impression on me. Then of course there is Henry Salt, he wrote a lot of books on animals a long time ago, over a 100 years. Then there is Tom Reagan (The case for animal rights, The animal rights debate and more). Then there is my wife, Nandita's book Sacred animals of India. She has also written a number of thought provoking articles like Are we civilized?
8) Any words of advice for future activists?
(laughs) Very difficult Himani, you know it's been a long struggle. Unfortunately people expect instant gratification these days. You can't get things done that way, you have to work hard, at whatever you do. Henry ford made a beautiful statement, I'm no admirer of Henry ford By the way. But he once made a very beautiful statement he said, 'It's an amazing co incidence, the harder you work the luckier you get.'