Gandhi is the daughter-in-law of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She has held numerous government positions, including Minister of the Environment, and is the country’s best known animal rights advocate.
In an op-ed column in MizoNews last week, she writes from a Hindu and Buddhist perspective about our relationship with nonhuman animals.
How many times has a human been reborn? How many lives have I spent as a donkey or a mouse or a cockroach or a sunflower? My soul is the same, how many different bodies has it occupied? Therefore how can I love just my current species – and that too, only a few people in it – when I have been all species?
We are not humans, she says, as something separate from other species. You can only love yourself if you love all the other kinds of animals.
I love them because all of them are me and it is the ultimate self-love to see myself in every blade of grass and therefore to be respectful of it.
Gandhi writes about three species in particular who hold a special place in the Hindu pantheon: the snake, who is associated with energy; the monkey, who’s associated with intelligence; and the cow, who is “the ultimate and best in everything.”
She argues that how we treat those animals has a direct impact on us:
As we kill the snakes, the earth loses its energy.
Our constant war with monkeys (who are ubiquitous in many Indian cities) depletes the intelligence of the human race and its ability to think its way out of the mess we are sinking into.
And our ceaseless killing of cows by Hindus who sell them and Muslims who kill them and the government which boasts of killing the largest number of cows in the world, [causes us to lose] our desire to strive for the best.
And so a weariness of the spirit, an acceptance of mediocrity, corruption, bad education, third rate lives, bad health, criminal governments, wars, endless destruction, has settled on us.
If reincarnation isn’t your bag, and you don’t believe you’ve been all kinds of different animals through the ages, any biologist will tell you that you’re made of the same DNA as other animals. As a human you’re one of the great apes, sharing 98.6 percent of your DNA with chimpanzees, and 40 percent of your DNA with corn cobs.
In Maneka Gandhi’s Hindu tradition, the cow is the ultimate mother. She concludes her article by saying:
Do not treat the cow as an animal, to be used and discarded. Treat her well and your wishes might come true.