KOLKATA (India): A huge billboard at Kolkata’s DL Khan Road, facing Red Road, features unmissable faces of a cow and a buffalo.
The passing traffic can’t but notice the searing stare of the animals whose skin is probably on the onlooker’s belts, and in the pocket as wallets.
This is a part of PETA India’s new nationwide campaign for World Vegan Month (November) with the same billboard featuring a cow and buffalo installed across India’s metropolitans like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai.
“We’re Individuals. We’re Not Shoes or Belts. Wear Something Vegan,” it reads.
“When it comes to feeling pain and fear, loving their families, and valuing their own lives, cows and buffaloes are no different from humans,” says PETA India Senior Campaigns Coordinator Radhika Suryavanshi.
“This World Vegan Month, PETA India is urging everyone to practice kindness by leaving all animals out of their wardrobes.”
More souls, more chances to change
PETA India says cities like Kolkata, for them, has priority in their outreach strategy, being one of India’s largest metropolitans by population. The world-famous animals-rights group uses street theatre, billboards to communicate their message to people.
“Billboards play a key role in PETA India’s press and online outreach strategy,” Suryavanshi told We The World in an email conversation.
Billboard campaigns like the recent one installed at Kolkata’s DL Khan Road are intended to raise the conversation, that could potentially lead to change.
People en masse, even vegetarians and vegans, don’t have the idea where leather comes from and that it is NOT a by-product of the meat and dairy industry which is put to GOOD use.
The leather handbag, belt, or wallet came after a terrifying blow on the neck of cows (mostly) whose every part of the body was dismembered and used for human consumption.
Big meat companies, who earn enormous revenues will not release figures (because they’re not obliged) what they derive from selling skin. In some cases selling the skin is more profitable than meat.
“We place different ads in different cities depending on the topic. For instance, during a drought in Chennai, we placed an ad that read, “Raising Animals for Meat, Eggs, and Milk Uses Up 1/3 of the World’s Fresh Water. Go Vegan”. We placed similar ads in other cities that were facing water shortage,” sSuryavanshi said.
She said, one recent billboard campaign urging the public to protect cows by going leather-free resulted in incredible media coverage and a 530% rise in views of PETA’s video exposé of leather cruelty.
PETA expose videos have previously shown how miserably, calves are slaughtered, sometimes ripped out from the mother’s body before birth to obtaining what will be the most luxurious and softest of leathers.
After all the leather you own was SKIN that could react to touch, and not a vegetable peel!
Kolkata, India’s leather capital
A major industry flourishes in Kolkata and the suburbs that employ lakhs and generates a turnover of thousands of crores over leather trade annually. The bovine meat trade is deeply entwined with the leather industry in the city.
Being one of India’s cultural capital, the city’s food scene is no unknown to diversity, and variance including an array of beef, which is enjoyed by a huge Muslim, Christan, and liberal Hindu populations.
As per sources from Calcutta Municipal Corporation, some 1 lakh Kgs of beef was consumed daily in the City of Joy, according to a 2017 Times of India report. Such numbers usually scale up sharply.
The city’s Bantala leather Complex on Basanti Highway is home to hundreds of leather tanneries and the exports from these industries accounted for 15% of India’s leather exports in 2017, according to the Council for Leather Exports data.
The flourishing industry has spawned successful retail outlets and numerous leather trade fairs that sell the goods to people in Kolkata, unbeknown to the perils of the industry.
A PETA billboard is common in nations like the US and the UK than it is in India. But a flurry of circumstances in recent times is apparently changing the outlook.
For instance, the climate-change movement, increasing consciousness on health and clean eating, and the pandemic has set in a motion against animal-derived products, more prominently meat.
What is wrong with leather?
If you happily devour stakes and bulk about buying a soft leather bag, it would be hypocrisy. But if your heart pains for sentient beings, and you don’t consume meat, maybe knowing more about leather will make you stop it altogether.
Like any meat, beef and leather derived from cows and buffalos trace a bloody and painful way to your plate and body. In West Bengal, the beef and leather industry is notorious for smuggling cattle via the Indo-Bangladesh border, which is again an altogether different issue that demand for leather ignites.
Animals from whom leather is derived are usually transported in small and filthy cages, sometimes so tightly crammed their bones break on the way, PETA India said in a statement sent to We The World.
Once they reach the slaughterhouse, the disaster begins — their throats are slit one after the other, in the presence of the other live animals. In some cases, dismembering starts even before the soul has fully left the body.
Not to forget the detrimental carbon footprint of these tanneries where leather is processed for finished goods. Chemicals like sodium sulfide and chromium (VI) used to process the skin wash out to pollute water bodies and air.
Even before it can harm the ecosystem, the leather dust and the chemicals used in treating will have already taken its toll on the bodies of those millions of workers who earn their living through this industry.
Fretful stories of tannery workers left with fatal diseases like skin cancer and respiratory illnesses are no uncommon.
The industry, by its nature, also supports a highly polluting meat industry, or cattle farming industry. Studies have shown livestock contributes majorly to the global greenhouse gas emission.
Tonnes of liters of water, chemicals, and cheap human labor are usually involved in processing leather which leaves a disproportionate footprint on the planet, and health of those involved in the making.
What can you do?
The world has come a long way to dress the population is healthier, more sustainable, and compassionate fabrics. Some of the best fabrics in the world come not from animals but from striking science and technological bi-products, which are beautiful and sustainable.
The simple-most and primary step you can take to reduce the pain of animals at the individual level is saying ‘No’ to leather when you go shopping for a wallet, a handbag, shoes, boots, belts, mobile covers and so much more.
It is certainly not trendy and cool to flaunt a piece of processed skin, which once belonged to a fully-aware, sentient being that could have used your love instead. The idea is primitive and does not apply in a modern-day fashion where sustainability is increasingly taking the center stage.
Opt for synthetic or plant-based fabrics, best if sustainable ones are available. The same goes for other animal-derived fabrics like wool and cashmere.
You might think – what change one individual will bring, whilst millions are doing otherwise? But the catch is not making a quantum leap in a structure that has defined history, traditions, probably more than that.
The idea is to start on an individual level, and then gradually, personally, begin to make the shift, as much as possible. Like everything else in life, choosing compassion over cruelty is a choice that a person will make.
We asked Radhika Suryavanshi — What is PETA India’s take on Kolkata as a vegan-friendly city?
“There’s also a new distribution company, Vegan World, that has a special focus on getting vegan goods to the eastern part of India, starting with Kolkata and West Bengal state.
“And there are many traditional Bengali dishes that are easily made vegan. Maybe Kolkata could be the next ‘Most Vegan-Friendly City’ or West Bengal could be the ‘Most Vegan-Friendly State’,” She said. And we could not agree more.
That said, time has never been more urgent to act!
NOTE: the story has been updated with more information in the body.