By Sharon St Joan
This is one of a series of stories about the early days of the animal welfare movement in India.
In 1963, in the earliest days of the modern Indian animal welfare movement, Captain Sundaram, Founder of the group that was about to become registered, in 1964, as Blue Cross of India, received a disturbing phone call.
Dr. Nurgesh Ganapathy, the resident medical officer of Kilpauk Medical College, in Madras, called to ask if Blue Cross was aware of the nature of the animal experiments being carried out at the center. She also asked just what exactly they were planning to do about them.
As the resident medical officer, she was second in charge. Clearly, this was of grave concern to her; she felt could no longer remain silent about the circumstances of the animals and chose to come forward as a whistle-blower, regardless of consequences.
As soon as he got off the phone with Dr. Ganapathy, Captain Sundaram telephoned the Inspector General of Police for the State of Tamil Nadu, F.V. Arul; explaining that Blue Cross intended to investigate the animal experiments at the medical college and requesting police protection in case there was a confrontation with the hospital staff. In response, F.V. Arul contacted the local police in Madras and told them to provide a police escort to Blue Cross.
The local Madras police chief called the Dean of the College to advise him that Blue Cross would be conducting an investigation, accompanied by the police.
At around 10 or 10:30 in the morning, the next day, when it was already quite hot – this was in late spring or early summer – Captain Sundaram, his son nineteen year old son Chinny Krishna, Mr. D. Daivasigamoni who was a Blue Cross Board member, and a police officer, arrived outside the doors of the Medical College.
After some hesitation and delay, they were let into the building. The police officer insisted that they be allowed to see everything. Because the college was a government facility, they were not permitted to take photos.
The Dean of the College showed them around, with Dr. Ganapathy joining them later.
A shocking, ghastly scene awaited them. There were about 40 dogs, all dead, some partly burned. Gruesome experiments had been performed on them, mostly the grafting on of heads, including puppies’ heads grafted on to the bodies of adult dogs – and some dogs with two heads.
It was obvious that, when the college had been alerted about the impending investigation, they had killed any surviving dogs and had begun burning the remains to cover up the evidence. They had not had time to finish their task or to dispose of the bodies.
The Dean, who seemed embarrassed and ill at ease as he gave them a tour, insisted that these were all quite routine experiments, necessary so that medical students could acquire surgical skills.
There were also mice and rabbits present, still alive, used for other experiments.
Earlier, around ’62, Blue Cross had become aware that some experiments with cats were being performed at the college. It was a common practice for gypsies to kidnap cats and sell them to labs. (The term “gypsy” in India is used to refer to various transient groups who make a profit by abusing or exploit animals.)
Though they had been forewarned about the experiments on dogs, they had not been expecting to see anything like the horrible scene that they encountered. They could not prosecute the medical college because the Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1960, specifically exempted scientific experiments on lab animals.
The medical college was not off the hook though, because the tide of public opinion had begun to turn.
The Blue Cross investigation had a long-term significant impact. Although the medical college continued to use lab animals, there was no more grafting of heads onto dogs.
The gruesome discovery made that day led directly to a decades-long program, still ongoing, by Blue Cross and others, to control and cut down the use of lab animals in India. It has proceeded slowly, sometimes inching forward, but it has never halted. India is among those countries leading the world in terms of progress to reduce animal research.
For the rest of his life, Captain Sundaram spoke abut this incident, whenever possible, to let people know about the horrors of animal experimentation. Following in his footsteps, his son, Dr. Chinny Krishna, first as Chairperson of Blue Cross, and later as Vice-Chairperson of the Animal Welfare Board of India, and through his positions in other animal organizations, has worked non-stop to end animal experimentation, along with a great many others in India. They have achieved notable successes along the way.
To be continued in part two…
Top photo: Courtesy of Blue Cross / Captain Sundaram, in the early days of Blue Cross.
Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Dawn Williams, Resident Manager of Blue Cross, with a rescued calf.