Blue Cross of India – Early days


Mrs. Usha Sundaram and Captain Sundaram


By Sharon St Joan


This is one of a series of stories about the early days of the animal welfare movement in India.


Blue Cross of India, in Chennai (Madras), was the first of the modern-style animal shelters in India.


For thousands of years in India, there have been goshalas, or sanctuaries for cows, and these still exist; many are run by the Jain community.

The Emperor Asoka


Around 300 BC, the emperor Asoka was the first animal activist known to history. He set up pillars all over India, some of which are still in place, with inscriptions of animal welfare laws that are to be followed. The first veterinary hospitals in the world were introduced by Asoka, with a requirement that the remedies to be used were to be based on the natural healing properties of plants.


As the first of the modern Indian animal shelters, the name Blue Cross soon became a generic term for any group that helps animals. There are scenes in Bollywood movies where, when an animal is not being treated with kindness, someone in the crowd will cry out, “STOP! We’re going to call Blue Cross!”


Blue Cross is today the largest and most well known of the over 10,000 registered animal organizations in India. In 1964, they started the first ongoing spay/neuter program in the world, known as ABC, spaying and neutering the street dogs and cats of Madras. This program has gone on uninterrupted for fifty years. They have never stopped, creating a model that has been followed all over the world for relating to street dogs and cats humanely and effectively – the world’s longest running TNR (trap/neuter/return) program. The rabies vaccinations they gave to every animal led to Chennai becoming a rabies-free city.

A family adopts a puppy at a Blue Cross Adoptathon


Captain and Usha Sundaram were the two primary founders of Blue Cross, joined in the early days by a number of others, including their son, Chinny Krishna, who even as a teenager was very actively involved.


Captain and Usha Sundaram were both pilots. At a time when there were few female pilots anywhere, Usha became the first female pilot in India. They flew together, as pilot and co-pilot, carrying dignitaries, including Nehru, Sardar Patel and other high-ranking government officials.


Captain and Usha Sundaram spent some time in the U.K. and when they returned, he joined Indian Airlines as a pilot.


After he had reached the mark of 10,000 flying hours, without an accident, he wanted to do something in gratitude for the blessings of his life. He and Usha talked briefly about starting a leprosy home, since one of Captain Sundaram’s uncles had been a doctor who contracted leprosy while caring for his patients.


They had always been fond of animals though; their house had long been a haven for any stray creature in need of a home, and the animals won out.


First, they started a group within the SPCA, along with D. Devasigamoni, the Vice President of the SPCA and President of the Indian Football Association, calling their group the Animal Aid Association. They focused especially on humane education, going to schools to teach children respect for animals, while giving practical guidance on things like how to approach dogs so as to avoid dog bites.


After around five years, they decided to start something on their own; the name was changed to Blue Cross in 1964.


As well as their son, Chinny, other founding members soon joined. There was G.M. Donner, an Irishman, in 1962. Usha’s father, T.S. Krishnamurthi, and her mother Kamakshi Krishnamurthi, as well as Dawn Swain, also joined; then Chinny’s older brother Suresh, and his younger sister, Viji. There was also Sundari Nataraj, and a railway officer, T.V. Chandrasekar.


Grimmi (short for Grimaldi) and Shaggy were two puppies found and rescued from a storm drain, during a monsoon downpour, by Captain Sundaram. Though the family had always had a houseful of rescued animals, these two became the nucleus of a new group that were related to, not so much as family pets, but as the first rescued animals of Blue Cross.


For the first several years the shelter was run out of their home, and Chinny credits his mother with being the backbone of the entire operation – ceaselessly caring for the animals. She did much of the work herself, getting up extra early, cleaning, feeding, and caring for any sick animals. Two rooms in their house, of about five hundred square feet each, were dedicated to the animals.


In 1968, Chinny, having graduated as a chemical engineer, went to study in the U.S., where he stayed for four and a half years, earning his MS in Business Administration, from Bucknell University, Pennsylvannia.


Having left to study in the U.S. at the same time as eleven of his friends and classmates; Chinny was the only one of them all who returned to India.


When he got back, Chinny and Nanditha Krishna were married in 1974. Nanditha later joined the Board of Blue Cross in 1987.


Like many who make a mark in the world, Captain Sundaram was never known as a quiet, retiring personality. He was intense and volatile, with a flair for the unexpected. He had a passion for machines, and loved going for long drives on his motorcycle.


One day, after telling Usha, in the morning, that he was going to Mamalapuram, about an hour’s drive south of Madras — she received a call from him a few hours later – not from Mamalapuram, but from Bangalore — which is several hours in the other direction, west of Madras. Upset at her husband’s unpredictability, Usha called Chinny, who was also exasperated with his dad. Chinny went to have lunch with his mom and was a helpful, calming influence.


The next chance he got, Chinny “borrowed” his dad’s motorcycle and sold it. He brought him the money and set it down on the table in front of his father. His dad did not look up and did not reply. For a month after that, there was a stony silence on the subject of the motorcycle.


Apart from these occasional family spats, Chinny, his dad, and their whole family had a warm relationship and communicated easily with each other. They worked together closely on behalf of the animals.


As for Captain Sundaram’s rather flamboyant style, it came in very handy on the many occasions when he was standing up for animals.


Top photo: Courtesy of Blue Cross of India / Mrs. Usha Sundaram and Captain Sundaram.


Second photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / 1st century Indian relief from Amaravati, Guntar district, Andhra Pradesh, Preserved in the unmet Museum, Paris / Believed to represent the Emperor Asoka.


Third photo: Courtesy of Blue Cross of India / A family adopting a dog during the Blue Cross Adoptathon in December 2014.


© Sharon St Joan, 2015


To visit the website of Blue Cross of India, click here.  






1965 – The first anti-vivisection seminar in India




By Sharon St Joan


This is one of a series of stories about the early days of the animal welfare movement in India.


In 1965 Blue Cross of India sponsored the first anti-vivisection seminar ever held in India.


Diana Hamilton Andrews, a leading British animal advocate at the time, wrote a report on the seminar, which she had flown to India in order to attend. “Even at 9:30 in the morning,” she wrote, “It was almost unbearably hot, and I was grateful for the fans which whirred in the ceiling.” She describes the women wearing brilliant saris and brightly-colored flowers in their hair – all so very different from the snow-covered London airport she had left the day before.


The Chief Minister of Madras, the Hon. Sri M. Bhaktavatsalam inaugurated the seminar, and Srimathi Rukmini Devi, the Chairperson of the Animal Welfare Board of India, presided.





Captain V. Sundaram, President of the Blue Cross of India, welcomed the delegates. His Organising Secretary, Sri D. Daivasigamony gave the audience an introduction to the topic of vivisection, which many of them were hearing about for the first time. He explained the cruelty involved and presented strong medical evidence that research on animals is scientifically unsound and does not work, as well as being inherently immoral. He reminded those present of “ahimsa,” the Indian tradition of non-violence.




When the Chief Minister spoke he also referred to Indian history, to the great third-century BC emperor Asoka, who set up the first veterinary hospitals in the world, and to Buddha; he made the case that accepting animal research in India would be entirely inconsistent with Indian ideals and ethics.


Rukmini Devi thanked Blue Cross for calling the meeting, talked about her efforts to prevent animal experimentation from taking hold in India, and expressed her hope that the conference would lead to recommendations to prevent all forms of cruelty.


Diana Hamilton Andrews spoke then, talking about her experiences in England opposing animal research and some of the pitfalls they had encountered, especially that of compromising more than they ought to have done. She cautioned those in India not to repeat that mistake. She also mentioned the ancient Indian system of ethics, and added that “the East has not yet been drawn to such an extent as Europe and the U.S.A. into the sinister cult of science-worship.”


In the afternoon the delegates turned their attention to resolutions to be presented to the government and came up with 23 resolutions.


Some of the key points in the resolutions were that all experiments should be subject to government supervision and that there should be “no infliction of any kind of suffering on animals.”


“That repetition of experiments shall not be permitted.”


That no experiments should be done for financial gain; in other words, they should not be conducted by commercial or pharmaceutical companies.


No experiments in schools or universities should be performed on live animals.


No animals should be experimented on for the purpose of developing surgical or manual skills.


That complete anesthesia should be used for all animals being experimented on.


That alternative methods of research to the use of animals should be developed.


That experiments should only be permitted on premises able to provide adequate care for the animals.


That good records should be kept.


That animal welfare groups should be allowed access to any laboratory.


That animals should no longeer be exported or imported for the purposes of experimentation, and specifically that the export of monkeys from India should be banned.


That debarking of dogs should be banned.


That further seminars should be held to promote kindness to animals.


After listing the resolutions, Diana Hamilton Andrews concluded her report by stating that she was grateful to have attended the seminar and for the chance to have had a conversation with Rukmini Devi, especially about the topic of exporting the wild monkeys of India to American and British laboratories. She had long been surprised that this practice could happen in a country where the monkey was regarded as a sacred animal, and where more than 80% of the population were Hindu. Rukmini Devi assured her that the Animal Welfare Board of India would continue to press the government for a complete ban on the export of monkeys, which in the preceding year had involved around 50,000 monkeys.




The far-sighted resolutions passed at this first seminar held by Blue Cross of India formed the framework of principles on which those fighting against animal research in India have been working over the 50 years since the seminar took place.


Progress has been made – banning the export of monkeys to foreign laboratories, banning the use of live animals for experimentation in schools and universities, and banning animal experimentation for the purpose of producing cosmetics, as well as banning the importation of cosmetics tested on animals. This progress, though it may seem, correctly, that much remains to be accomplished, has diminished the suffering of, and saved the lives of, many hundreds of thousands of animals.


The principles remain the same, and the struggle to prevent the suffering of animals in laboratories in India is on-going today.


Top photo: Rukmini Devi / Wikimedia Commons / “This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired.” / “This work is in the public domain in the United States…” / Rukmini Devi, classical Indian dancer.


Second Photo: Courtesy of Blue Cross of India / Captain V. Sundaram


Third and fourth photos: Sharon St Joan / Taken at Blue Cross of India.


To visit the website of Blue Cross of India, click here