This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Problem of Being Maneek!a Gundhi

Let me say this...though I love animals and do all I can for them I detest Maneka Gandhi. She is an absurd, moronic, biologically illiterate self-publicist whom I've often wished to meet so I can rub her own idiocy into her face.

Consider these gems:

1. "Drinking milk is drinking a cow's blood."
By analogy, drinking a mother's milk is cannibalism.

2. "Coloured people are lactose intolerant. Therefore non-whites should not drink milk."
No comment is necessary.

3. "Eggs are a hen's menstrual blood." Really? I suggest she does a chemical comparison.

4. "Street dogs should not be called mongrels. They should be called Indian dogs." I don't know if this fount of knowledge has ever heard of the many pedigree Indians breeds like the Rampur hound. Besides which "mongrel" is simply a term meaning "mixed breed". Mongrels can exist anywhere. And there's nothing dishonourable about being a mongrel. They have often a high disease resistance. Also I'm a mongrel myself, having at least four different genetic streams in me.
5. "Anti-flea powders are poisonous and kill dogs." I guess I share my life with two ghosts, then. I apply flea powder to them regularly, and they have neither fleas nor disease.

I read her weekly column regularly, for amusement. More often than not she
1. Downloads stuff verbatim from the net. Much of the stuff is ridiculous in an Indian context, as when she talks about how a dog breeder will first visit the house of a person being sold a dog to check conditions out.

2. Passes off commercial (controversial but commercial) actions like beak clipping as sadism (e.g."The farmers haven't begun their fun yet.")

3. Makes statements pitched to gathering sympathy rather than accuracy ("a pig is more intelligent than a dog")
4.And -oh yeah - her article on lac insects. She is even unaware of the fact that lac insects are harvested once the females have released their offspring and died. Pfft.
5. Dismisses avian flu, of which many worldwide have already died, as a hoax.

OK. Let's look at her actions now. Let's see what this great animal lover actually achieved:

1. Forcibly taking hand reared lab monkeys and releasing them into the wild. Within a week every one of those monkeys was dead of starvation.

2. Releasing jungle mynahs inside Guwahati city, over the protests of officials. Afterwards when it was pointed out - again! - to her that these birds would starve in the city, she said "Why didn't you tell me"?

Also, her in-your-face and shrill campaign (not to speak of her membership of the fascist BJP; the same BJP which promotes the Sardar Sarovar project and other big dams) must have put a great number of people off animals.
Now, a few questions
1. Had Maneka Gandhi managed to stop the murder of whale sharks during her stint as environment minister? Did she even make a serious attempt?

2. What steps did she take to stop the hunting of river dolphins?

3. Did she manage to stop or reduce deforestation?
4. Did she try to regulate overfishing especially during the breeding season?
5. Did she make any attempt to stop soft drink companies from overdrawing groundwater at farcical rates?
6. What, if anything, did she do to stop factories from polluting the country?
7. Did she try and regulate the import of toxic scrap?
8. Why are bats, those extremely useful flying mammals that consume hundreds of tons of insects every night, still classified as "vermin" under Indian law? Why did she not get the law changed during her stint as environment minister? Because they are not cute andsimpatico? Or was she too lethargic/ignorant/incompetent to be aware of this fact?
9. What is she doing, or did she do, about stray cows on the streets that starve, die of eating polythene bags from garbage dumps, or get knocked down by vehicles, not to mention being a major source of danger to people (I know. I have been attacked twice, and injured once, by stray cattle)?
It seems to me that Maneka Gandhi is not an environmentalist by any means. She is just a self-publicist donning the garb of an animal-rights activist.

In this article, the Deccan Heraldclaims that twenty Bonnet Macaque (Macaca radiata)monkeys were released into the forest by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Allegedly, these were used for testing in research into tuberculosis, HIV, and hepatitis (type not specified) and were released into the forest against ethical norms although there was an organisation, Compassion Unlimited For Protection Of Animals, willing to take them over.
This raises many questions.
Was the institute right in releasing the monkeys into the wild?
Even on the face of it, the answer is a resolute "no". These hand-reared monkeys are not, and never will be, fit to survive in the wild. (But I do find it amusing that the same people who protest against the release were championing the ludicrous Maneka Gandhi when she forcibly released monkeys from the same institute some years back into the jungle, of which every one died of starvation.)
And, even though the institute certified the monkeys healthy, one who knows the working of everything in India might have some reservations about the veracity of these claims. I personally don’t think HIV even if present would be able to re-cross the species barrier, but tuberculosis just might, since it does in cows. So these animals, assuming they survive, might just be a threat to local populations.
The condition of the monkeys in their cages has been described as awful, with several sharing one cage. Here I'd like to say that this is, if true, not just inhumane but positively anti-science, since overcrowding or mingling of research specimens would negate the reliability of control groups or results. Even in the West, the standards of lab animal care are not awfully great, to put it mildly (check that link). But the obvious solution would have been to compel the institute to improve its standards of care and suspend funding till it does so. Maneka Gandhi could have done it when she was Environment Minister, but since it was not a vote catching manoevre, she chose to "free" the monkeys instead.
The question remains: are animal rights anti-science and anti-medical research? Despite the proliferation of sites like this one, I'd like to point out that with proper animal testing we would not have had tragedies like Thalidomide with its fifteen thousand babies suffering from phocomelia (please look at those pictures. You need to see the other side of the story as well). Could we have had heart transplants without experimental heart surgery performed on dogs?
It is true that not all animal models can be extrapolated to humans. But all  in all, the data gathered has been more than worth it. And as science advances, the animal research model is slowly shifting to tissue culture studies. I don't think animal research can ever be wholly dismissed, though.
Also, medical research is dwarfed by the amount of experimentation done on animals by the cosmetics industry. For example:
Rabbits have had their eyelids taped back and irritant substances applied on their corneas.
Guniea pigs have had their epidermis shaved off and similar irritants applied.
I don't know if Indian subsidiaries of cosmetic companies are aware of their parent companies' research, or if they care. Gillette vowed to stop animal experimentation;  I don't know if they have actually done it.
Nor do I know if animal rights activists wear sunscreen lotions and lipsticks created from animal experimentation during their demonstrations.
There is the other sort of scientific research, though, that can have absolutely no value except meaningless data.That cannot be condoned under any circumstances.
It's easy to target medical companies, though. People are ready to disbelieve in science anyway. Just check the "alternative remedies".

I have been trying to locate Maneka Gandhi’s column "Heads and Tails" online to give a link directly to her writing but so far I haven’t been able to find her latest article. Pity. If I can get to it I’ll certainly post the link so you can see for yourself…
The latest article is called «Ways to keep flies out of your house». I accept that it might not in fact be the latest, but it’s the latest that appeared in a paper that I read (The Shillong Times, issue of Sunday, July 30) so I – in the absence of online resources to check on – will take it as the latest.
She starts off with "Houseflies are a nuisance. The reason they exist is for lizards, spiders and frogs to eat them."
Comment: Excuse me? Is she saying that God created the housefly as food? Or is the housefly a most generous creature who gives itself as food to the frog et al, like the Dish Of The Day in Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy?
"They must land on an item to taste it – one reason that the housefly is considered such a pest."Comment: I might facetiously ask how a housefly is supposed to taste something without landing on it; is it a hummingbird, perhaps? But, more seriously, you’ll note the woman does not mention a thing about the diseases houseflies spread.They are the reason it’s considered such a pest.
"…awful flypapers which have a sweet sticky base…look ugly and are very cruel."Comment: They are convenient, eco-friendly, and effective. As for "cruelty", perhaps Ms Gandhi might want a look at burning locust hoppers with flame-throwers if she wants genuine cruelty towards insects? Let the farmers starve!
"food remains and animal faeces should go into a covered dustbin…the drain near the house should be covered"Comment: Fair enough. Now I wonder if she has seen the reality of Indian towns? You might keep your garbage covered. Is your neighbour doing the same? That crochety neighbour who will go out of his way to do the reverse of what you say? The municipal authorities who are not at all concerned, or the thieves and vandals who will happily steal the local dustbin covers? Does she think flies limit themselves to their home street?
"Flies don’t like basil"Comment: Any proof of this bald contention?
"Buy essential oils of cedar, clove, eucalyptus…put one of these on strips of paper next to windows…take orange peel and scratch it…put that on windowsills."Comment: First: Strips of paper on windowsills? Oh please. Like they will stay there unless you tape them down? And remember this is the woman who calls fly papers ugly. You would have to paper every single entry point to the house…I am not even talking yet of whether the method will be successful in any case.

Second: As for flies not liking orange peel, here I’ve posted a photo (source:, I’ve not faked it, guys) of a fly drinking orange juice direct. Volatile essential oils being what they are, you can depend on them evaporating with extreme felicity, so you would need to keep on replacing the oil….which in any case would not work, as shown by the orange photograph.
"Once a week, take a little soap, peppermint or eucalyptus oil, …mix…water and spray everywhere…if you can’t find oils use the spray inside the house with just water in it. It knocks out the fly an then you can just sweep it out and let it spread the message to its colleagues."Comment: Now this little suggestion makes me completely certain that this woman is hallucinating. Let’s take it up in some little depth.

  1. As I already said, where is the proof that essential oils will do anything to deter flies? I can prove that oranges certainly don’t!
  2. Has Ms Gandhi ever tried to knock down a fly with a spray, of water or anything else?
  3. You don’t kill a knocked down fly, you carefully sweep it out. Oh really. So it does not come right back?
  4. Are flies eusocial insects like bees, wasps, termites and ants? Do they communicate with each other by any means at all, let alone talk of being knocked down by water sprays? Even bees with a relatively sophisticated system of communication can just about talk of food sources and direction. Where does she get this stuff?
"One simple solution is to set up a fan inside the most often used door pointing out…flies are not great fliers…won’t be able to go against the wind."Comment: It has, I hope, occurred to Ms Gandhi that running a fan out of a door all day will use more power, thus increasing the already heavy load to a point more than the environment can handle, always assuming that there is power available 24 hours a day?
"Someone I know…made a garland of dried flowers and herbs and put it outside her door….spritzes it with oils, the dried flowers look nice and the flies stay away."Comment: Again, sigh, proof that oils keep flies off, please?
"Fold a newspaper lengthwise…cut fringe on one long side…tape or staple this to the top of your doorway."Comment: Yes, the horrible news of war and terrorism and Jagmohan Dalmiya would keep flies away. Which self-respecting fly wants to read about politicians in Delhi or sex scandals in Kashmir?
"Fill clear ziplock bags two thirds of the way with water, then hang outside the doors….it acts a bit like a lens."Comment: This method was a rage in Shillong a few years back. I can certify for myself that it is a total failure.
"A mirror will probably work as well."Comment: Ms Gandhi has probably never seen a fly sitting on a mirror.
"In the beginning you will probably think the lessening of flies is a coincidence but this is a tried and tested method."Comment: Yes, when winter comes the flies will go anyway…
Now, in keeping with the ideas of Ms Gandhi, here are my non-lethal suggestions for fly proofing:
  1. Take photos of flies, draw long fangs and dripping blood on them, and hang them in prominent places. The flies will get scared.
  2. If you catch a fly, paint ugly, abusive messages on its body or images of nude flies (if the fly is very religious or prudish). It will be too embarrassed to return.
  3. Tell the flies frightening horror stories about spiders and lizards, which are on earth only to eat and eviscerate flies. They will run away in fear.
  4. Hang big POISONOUS TO FLIES signs all over.
I guarantee they will work at least as well as Ms Gandhi’s formulae!

Another piece of brilliance from dear Maneka…this one’s about the recent ban on snake "charmers". (Let’s make clear that I’m against the use of animals for entertainment in any fashion first. Then let’s see what she has to say.)
"In any case I’m surprised that the government is reinventing the wheel. Snake capture, use and sale was banned in 1972 by the Wildlife Protection Act."
Comment: What was she doing all the years when she was a minister for environment, then? Swaying her head to the music of power?
"Why the police do not pick up every wandering snake dealer is because most of the lower level policemen do not know the law still."
Comment: This is far from true.
Is Ms Gandhi an Indian? Is she aware of the basic fact that police in India will always look for an easy way to earn bribes and arresting the helpless is a good way of doing this? The police know the law extremely well and are always on the lookout for a way of using it for their own benefit.
"Predictably some villages that are infested with snake poachers…that should be raided and its have its inhabitants arrested and sent away for seven years as government guests…"
Comment: Excellent idea. I guess we should immediately liberate Mafia dons and terrorists from jails to make way for snake "charmers".
"Not a single snake has ever been released back into the forest"
Comment: Typical, totally unsubstantiated, Maneka claim. Has she seen every case of snake capture in India with her own eyes? I suggest that her own record in the field of animal release does not pass muster as I have already discussed.
"Since the cobra has poison in its fangs, the poachers first knock off the fangs by using a hammer."
Comment: I’ll quote something from National Geographic:
"The fangs are simply cut out very crudely with a knife and just at the fang base where they grow out of the mandibular bone," said Rom Whitaker of Draco Films. Whitaker has long studied the practices of Indian snake charmers. "More sophisticated are the charmers who slice the venom gland and leave the fangs intact. It's a ruse to show that the snake is not defanged," said Whitaker.
Snake fangs are soft. If you wanted to smash them out with a hammer, you’d more likely than not end up with a snake without a head. And as I quoted above, snake "charmers" as in Bhopura cut the venom duct rather than remove the fangs. Of course, the end result is the same, but again shows Gandhi’s extremely poor research and credibility.
"The main purpose of the fangs is not to bite people. It is to digest food. The poison is an enzyme that breaks down the food so the snake’s body can absorb it."
Comment: Seriously muddled thinking here, probably prompted by half-remembered facts about venom being modified saliva. Well, venom is a prey-immobilising substance in snakes that is used secondarily as a defence system. ( ) . Even Ms Gandhi ought to have wondered why non-poisonous snakes exist if venom is so important to digestion, or indeed why all evolutionarily more primitive (and most) snakes are non-venomous.
"The basket itself is very dangerous to the skin of a snake"Comment: Just wondering if anyone has thought of handing out cloth-lined baskets? But that would be just too easy, wouldn’t it?
"No snake lasts for more than a month…(but)…it has been bought for Rs 500 (the snake) has earned the madari many thousand rupees"Comment: Let’s just for the sake of argument suppose Gandhi’s allegation is true. Here is the quoted earning of a snake "charmer" from this website:
"Aryanath earns 75 rupees (US$1.7) a day". So let’s do the mathematics. If the guy works every day and earns that much, he gets Rs 2250 for a 30-day month. Subtract Rs 500 from that and he has Rs 1750. Now do you think Rs 1750 is a hell of a lot of money for even one person, let alone a family?
Another typical Gandhi misstatement passed off as fact.
Or, to quote from this website :
"the vast majority roamed the countryside holding sidewalk shows with a collection of cobras and vipers in their baskets and a 'been', or flute, earning barely 50 rupees (US$1.10) a day."That makes Rs1500 a month, or Rs1000 after buying the snake. By Maneka’s own figures.
"The poachers have demanded the government set up a snake park in which all of them can be employed…all that will happen is that these men will be allowed to get more snakes…the same number of snakes will be killed in the same number of ways."Comment: Ms Gandhi is a privileged person, a member of an elite family (albeit estranged), and a career politician with a right wing fascist party. I don’t, somehow, think she has ever had to earn her living. You can’t just remove peoples’ livelihood without giving them some alternative, or they will just go on with what they have been doing, albeit clandestinely, and in any case they are not interested in classical snake "charming".
Quoted from that site:The Trust, in a list of recommendations to the government, proposes redefining the role of snake charmers, who catch some 400,000 snakes from the wild each year, as "barefoot conservation educators". The snake charmers would work in special centres where they can share their knowledge about the venomous reptiles and sell traditional medicine to treat bites. "This is a poor community and in an era where tolerance for wild animals, especially dangerous reptiles like snakes, is going down, the skills of the community can be used for conservation," said Bahar Dutt of the Wildlife Trust of India. Alternatively, the Trust suggests turning snake charmers into musical ensembles performing on their beens, clarinet-like instruments they play when the snakes appear to go into a trance. Snake charmer Banwari Nath said the entertainers, whose skills are passed from father to son, desperately needed to find a new form of income. "India is known for its kings and its snakes. You have stopped our profession but there was a time when we used to be sent abroad to perform at festivals of India. Even that has stopped now," Nath said. Fading livelihood "Please restart these festivals so that we can earn something. Also please see that our children get educated so that they don’t enter this profession," he said.Again, with all due respect to Ms Gandhi, I guess asking for some retraining would be too much of a good thing, um? In any case, "the second and third generation in the community no longer take pride in their profession and are in fact ashamed to admit they are snake charmers." (16.00 - 16.15DUTT, BAHAR DICE. Department of Anthropology, Eliot College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, UK.

"The been can be taught as a musical instrument to anyone who cares to learn it. It isn’t as if the instrument is umbilically tied to the animal."Comment: Snake "charmers" are aware of the fact and have formed "been bands" which play without snakes at weddings and earn more than they would as snake charmers.
All in all, not a very intelligent article from Maneka. Why do animal activists hang on to such a loser?
And the kicker:
For 60-year-old snake charmer Krishan Nath, the conservationists’ plan makes perfect sense - that he put his skills to work at a special centre to educate people. What he cannot come to terms with is the inconsistency of the approach to snake charmers. On the one hand, his occupation is illegal, but then he is sought out for his expertise when snakes present dangers. He said he was once even called to the prime minister’s residence to catch a snake. "I don’t understand this," he said. "If there is a ban, why does the prime minister’s office need us to catch the snakes?"Maneka?

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