By Sharon St Joan
This is one of a series of stories about the early days of the animal welfare movement in India.
In March 1978, the Illustrated Weekly of India published an article by Nanditha Krishna, “Slaughter for Science,” about laboratory experiments on animals that were being carried out in India.
Nanditha Krishna had gained access to the King Laboratory in Chennai simply by calling them up, explaining that she was working on an article about animal research in laboratories, and asking if she might come by to learn more about the scientific work they were doing. She spent a couple of days at the laboratory. She expressed interest in their work, and they were cordial.
The article she wrote contained real and graphic examples of research on animals, from King laboratory and many other sources, as well as statements by medical authorities.
It began with Dr. Krishna’s own experience as a schoolgirl in which their class performed dissection on frogs who had been ineffectively euthanized with chloroform, so the experiment was cruel. She described it as being an unnecessary and useless waste of life.
Professor Lawson Tait, one of the ablest of British surgeons was quoted as saying, “I do not believe that vivisection has helped the surgeon one bit, but I know that it has often led him astray.”
A law in 1876 had been enacted to regulate the use of vivisection in Britain; this, in effect, meant that the law allowed it to continue to take place. Dr. Krishna also pointed out, on a positive note, that Britain was the first nation in which organized groups fought against cruelty to animals.
India continued the British tradition of performing animal experiments. In 1953, a Bill for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was introduced into the Indian Parliament by Rukmini Devi Arundale, an early animal advocate who used her fame as an Indian classical dancer to promote the cause of animal welfare. A committee was then set up to control and supervise experiments. The committee, however, in the beginning, was made up almost entirely of the heads of laboratories that experimented on animals, so, in practice, it did nothing except to reassure the public that these experiments were necessary for the advance of scientific knowledge.
Dr. Krishna wrote, “The majority of experiments, particularly those done in India, are repetitious and serve no purpose.” She then outlined a number of experiments performed with excessive cruelty, which were unnecessary and repetitious.
Without going into the graphic details of these experiments, the first mentioned was an experiment on fifteen dogs to study the effects of blood loss; the results of this experiment had already been discovered earlier by another vivisector, Mr. Morowitz. Dr. Krishna pointed out that one could easily reach the same conclusion by visiting the casualty ward of any hospital.
Six healthy male buffalo calves were exposed to another similar experiment, with similar results.
In virtually every experiment involving lab animals anywhere in the world, the animals are killed so that the dead animals can be studied and the results tabulated.
In a district in West Bengal, 105 birds and 121 rodents were captured from the wild and experimented on to determine whether or not they were involved in spreading the Japanese encephalitis virus. It was concluded that they were not involved. Dr. Krishna asked, “Was such mass slaughter necessary to find that out?”
31 rabbits and 8 monkeys were sacrificed to study the effect of methanol poisoning in order to understand how the alcohol produced by bootleggers effects human beings. Noting that a great many instances of humans drinking bootleg liquor were available, Dr. Krishna observed that “all the symptoms have been amply studied and analyzed, and a sufficient number of humans have been sacrificed.”
Ten adult male dogs were subjected to an experiment to study the effect of blocking the blood supply. Like a number of the experiments cited, this one was described in the Indian Journal of Medical Research. Dr. Krishna wrote, “Any child could tell you what would happen if the blood supply to any part of the body was cut off. Why submit the animals to such indignity and pain? Was it merely to satisfy someone’s curiosity? Or is it to justify the receipt of large grants for research in science and medicine?”
The British Medical Officer Dr. George Wilson, LLD, was quoted as saying that animal experiments are “inherently misleading in their application to man, and, therefore, always more or less unreliable.”
In an experiment to study the brain, twenty-nine cats and thirteen monkeys, all fully conscious, were implanted with electrodes. Then various areas of their brains were stimulated to cause them to become fearful and violent – or quiet and passive. The conclusion reached was that it was important to understand “the physiology of the limbic system.” Dr. Krishna commented, “What a ghastly way of going about it!”
Dr. Krishna noted that the greatest suffering was being borne by Rhesus monkeys, because of their similarity to humans – who were being captured in the wild and exported to foreign countries for laboratory experiments abroad. They were transported in horrible conditions, and most of them died on the way. Those that survived met an even worse and more prolonged fate.
Dr. Krishna mentioned that these kinds of experiments are carried out in many countries, including the UK and the US; however, “two wrongs do not make a right,” and “Cruelty elsewhere does not justify its existence here [in India].”
Immediately after this article came out, there was a huge furor in India. So many people had never realized or had never stopped to think of the cruelty involved in animal experiments, and suddenly this harsh, shocking reality had been brought to light. Here, I have left out the graphic details that reveal the suffering experienced by the animals, but they were quite clear in the original article.
The idea that innocent forest animals, Rhesus monkeys in particular, were being snatched from their natural homes and sent abroad in horrifying conditions to undergo a life of pain in laboratories was too much for Indian authorities to contemplate. Within a week following the article by Dr. Nanditha Krishna, all export of Rhesus monkeys out of India was halted, and it has never resumed.
On a personal note, I was in New York City in 1978 when I read in the newspaper that India had stopped all capture in the wild and shipping of Rhesus monkeys out of the country for use in foreign laboratories.
I recall being struck by a sense of profound admiration for the Indian people who had brought about this result. Finally, someone somewhere in the world had stood up to the entrenched brutality and insensitivity that, in the name of modern science, disregards the lives and well-being of innocent wild animals. Indian people had simply refused to provide any more of their native species to be gobbled up by this vast, arrogant machine.
Wondering who had achieved this, I knew nothing about the article that had been published or how this had come about, and assumed I would most likely never know. Little did I realize that, over thirty years later, these people would cross my path, and I would be blessed to know them well as close friends.
The stopping of the export of Rhesus monkeys is only one aspect of animal laboratory experiments, and sadly, other experiments do still continue in India. In fact, western pharmaceutical companies often outsource laboratory experiments to India and to other developing countries, so it is an ongoing situation. Dr. Nanditha Krishna, and her husband, Dr. Chinny Krishna who is one of the foremost leaders of the Indian animal welfare movement, along with many other courageous animal advocates across India, continue to fight against this ongoing injustice towards animals, and are making progress, but there is much that remains to be done.
Top photo: Thomas Schoch / Wikpedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.”/ Rhesus macaques at the Red Fort in northern India.
Second photo: JayDalal5 / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / A rose-ringed parakeet in India, eating fresh leaves.
Aiwok / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. / A rhesus macaque with here two babies near the Jakhu Temple in Shimla Himachal Pradesh.