A Visit to Karuna Society and an Interview with Clementien Pauws, President
Article by Dr. Arun Rangasamy and Uthra
For many animal welfarists (and perhaps some vegans) in India, Karuna Society for Animals and Nature needs no introduction, thanks to the Plastic Cow Project(1). As one would expect, the Plastic Cow Project is one among the list of impressive projects implemented by Karuna Society. We were fortunate to get the chance to visit Karuna Society and interact with its President, Clementien Pauws and Vice-President, Romula D’Silva. We believe that many vegans would be pleased to know more about the activities of Karuna Society. We are happy sharing about the visit on our blog.
Founded in 2000 at Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, Karuna Society for Animals and Nature has been providing the much needed relief to sick, injured, abandoned, or abused animals, free of cost. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who insisted that humans extend their circle of compassion and love to include non-human animals, influenced the founders to take up this noble cause.
It is common to find many differently-abled dogs and cats at veterinary hospitals-cum-shelters, but what makes Karuna Society special is that it hosts a variety of animal species – dogs, cats, a large number of rescued cows, bulls, and buffaloes, and also a few equines, monkeys, and even a camel that was rescued from slaughter. We also got the chance to meet a couple of peacock and deer visitors at the hospital.
For many animals in the shelter (particularly the ones who have lost their limbs and the abandoned or rescued), Karuna Shelter is their home. Karuna Shelter hosts the rest of the animals (those admitted for ABC and treatment for particular injuries or diseases, with or without foster parents), until they recover, or sometimes even throughout their lives.
Vice President Romula D’Silva took us on a tour of the shelter, providing us information about Karuna Society and introducing the inmates. These animals are brought in either by people (foster parents or public) or those involved with Karuna Society (including Romula and her daughter, Roshni) on receiving information about them. We were dumbfounded when Romula introduced us to a non-human visitor (a wild monkey engaging the permanent monkey-residents, who have lost most of their limbs)! Although the visitor monkey is very mischievous, he gets his share of goodies (including yummy organic mangoes) that his friends are treated to.
While seeing an isolated rabid dog who had arrived at the shelter a short while ago made our heart heavy, the selfless work Karuna Society is doing, the dedication of its employees, and a brief meeting with a foreign volunteer (a woman attending a dog with ticks) moved us deeply. Romula later informed us that sometimes young volunteers from different countries take time from their vacation in India to serve the animals at Karuna Society.
Puttaparthi is largely a vegetarian town and after our visit to the shelter, we had a sumptuous vegan meal at a vegetarian restaurant with Romula. Romula, who along with a healer friend, was originally interested in establishing a center that cares for aged and terminally ill humans, recollected how Sri Sathya Sai Baba influenced her to shift her focus to non-human animals, how she met Clementien and they came together to start Karuna Society for Animals.
Romula also informed us about the organic products for sale at the Karuna Organic Shop. The shop sells organic and fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits, as well as a host of other products including the single ingredient organic peanut butter (one of the sweetest foods we have ever had!), roasted organic sesame seeds, organic lemon grass, and more.
Going to Puttaparthi just to get hold of the sweet and flavorful organic mangoes is worth the effort. Romula, who is also involved in instilling compassion in local schoolchildren, runs the shop that also serves as an information center for Karuna Society.
After lunch, we visited Karuna Society’s organic farm that produces raw materials, greens, herbs, seasonal vegetables, and fruits for Ahimsa Organic Products Pvt. Ltd., whose profit goes back into Karuna to serve the animals. We also got a chance to interact with Clementien, President of Karuna Society, who manages the farm.
Clementien showed us the cattle shelter in the farm where rescued and abandoned cows, bulls, and buffaloes are hosted. The buffaloes are sterilized to prevent them from being abused for milk. One striking observation is that most of the cows and bulls at Karuna belong to the cattle species native to India. Their population has come down drastically, thanks to the green revolution (that replaced native bulls with tractors, and native cows with chemical fertilizers and pesticides; dairy farmers do not prefer these animals), and Karuna Society is truly a sanctuary for these animals, who assist the Karuna Society team through their contribution to the organic farm.
|Cattle shelter at the ‘Ahimsa Farm’ of Karuna Society|
Most products from the Ahimsa Company are not just vegan and organic – in her interview with us, Clementien, a vegan herself, discusses the difference between typical organic farms and the ‘Ahimsa Farm’ at Karuna (where workers enjoy pension), how the public views Karuna Society, and how she became a vegan, among other interesting topics.
Clementien is a brave woman who speaks her mind and therefore interacting with her can leave one uncomfortable sometimes; however, they also help one discover opportunities for improvements in the issues under question, and consequently, such interactions are invariably rewarding.
After interacting with Clementien, we visited Karuna Society’s Wildlife Rescue Center, where we saw baby and adult deers of different species and bears. We left for home loaded with lasting memories of our interaction with our friends and also with Ahimsa Company’s goodies that we bought. We hope that it will not be long before the products of Ahimsa Company are easily accessible to our vegan friends living elsewhere. This year, many in Bangalore got the chance to taste some mangoes from the Ahimsa Organic Farm – they were sold at Carrots (Bangalore’s first vegan restaurant). We can find some other products from the Ahimsa Company for sale at Carrots as well. Need we request fellow vegans to support Karuna Society – an organization that strives to take compassion to the next level (through monetary donations, donation of used/new towels and sheets for nursing old or sick dogs, patronizing Ahimsa Company products, forwarding information about Karuna Society to friends, etc.)?
Here is a conversation we had with Clementien, President of Karuna Society.
Question: Before we start with questions about Karuna Society’s work, could you please inform us how you became a vegan?
Clementien: After we rescued 53 buffaloes from the slaughter truck, we started initially to sell milk and curd, and I was making cheese. Soon we learned that the number of animals was growing. All male calves stayed at Karuna and we could not stop the reproduction.
As a result we have now more than 100 buffaloes. We sterilized the female buffaloes, stopped reproduction, and stopped milk, and I became a vegan.
Question: That was an interesting one, Clementien. Now, coming to a few questions about Karuna Society, does Karuna Society interact with the public? If so, how?
Clementien: We have different levels of communications with the public. First of all through the in- and- outpatient services we provide for sick and injured animals and the ABC program. Wildlife rescue involves the villagers and whenever there is an emergency of any sort that involves an animal, Karuna is involved. Recently we have provided hundreds of anti-rabies vaccinations to dogs and cattle after people and animals were attacked by a rabid wolf.
Another level of contact is through the shop. While we attract foreigners for the organic products, the shop is also an information center where people can inform about sick dogs and provide general information.
One more level is the information we give out through regular newsletters, articles on Internet and website, communication with donors and well-wishers, and through Facebook. Yet another level of communication that is not so much with the public but with the government is with the AWBI, Central Zoo Authority, Income Tax, and through inspections with the Animal Husbandry and Forest Departments. These are very important to make the functioning of Karuna possible but it also has the effect that our services and quality are widely known – locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally. You see our actions define our involvement.
Question: It is good to know that there is a lot of interaction with the public. We are curious to know how local people react to the activities of Karuna Society?
Clementien: That depends on their personal interest. In general, they are happy with the medical services that are free. From far and wide, the local people come with their sick and injured animals. They also appreciate the sterilizations and vaccinations. We receive hardly any donation from local people. They believe that we are very rich as we are connected to foreigners. When it comes to cattle rearing, slaughter, hunting, and poaching, they want us out of the way and experience us as a threat.
Question: Could you please tell us more about your Ahimsa Farm? How is it different from a typical organic farm?
Clementien: The Ahimsa Farm is a combination of a cattle rescue project and organic farming where the rescued animals have a right to life, live in the herd, and graze outside. They are protected from abuse and no milk is drawn from any cow or buffalo. Buffaloes are protected from abuse by castrating and sterilizing them. They are unfit for reproduction and thus free from exploitation.
Agriculture in India depends on the cow and by-products like dung, cow urine, and the physical strength of the bulls for ploughing and transport. This is also true for the food being consumed by the vegans. We cannot deny the importance of the cow in the development of thousands of years of agriculture. The question is: How can we improve the lives of animals involved, even if they are not slaughtered.
There is a new interest in organic farming in India but there is a disconnection from the lives of animals. Many organic producers have no animals themselves but use dung for compost from their neighbors’ milk buffaloes or they might even have their own small dairy and use the by-products for farming. These animals will still go to slaughter and the male calves will be killed after a few days. This is not cruelty-free organic farming; the products will still be grown on the energy of cruelty and death.
At the Ahimsa Farm, no animal goes to slaughter and the available by-products have the energy of respect and happiness. This is very important for the quality of the soil and the small animals living in and around our farm – birds, squirrels, snakes, and whatever more we do not even see. Wildlife will not be scared to come for water.
It is very important to be aware of the different motives of organic farmers; some are only for profit, sending products abroad to be converted into very expensive organic fast food and fuzzy drinks! Others are only concerned with the preparation of the soil and the products without any consideration for the animals involved.
|A worker at the ‘Ahimsa Farm’ of Karuna Society – a farm where workers enjoy pension|
|More workers of Ahimsa Farm|
Question: How do you plan to take Ahimsa Farm forward?
Clementien: We have a plan for a “model farm” to which we will extend our existing activity and one which will show the local farmers that it can be done. For this development, we need a big donation as it involves planting of trees, plants, and scrubs, bringing water, green house, and drying facilities, and more at our new Ahimsa land.
The Ahimsa Company that produces and markets organic products made from the produce grown on Karuna’s Ahimsa Farm, gives back its profits to Karuna Society and it will be used for the maintenance of our rescued cattle.
Question: Do you think it is possible to have a sustainable animal shelter?
Clementien: At present, it is not possible to have a self-sufficient animal shelter, not even with organic farming, biogas, and by-products.
Question: Well actually we are not surprised by that answer, as we can see the number of cattle here (300+!). Clementien, there is a lot of scope for compost from kitchen waste (proportional to the human population and crop produce – many by-products of feed crops are inedible and are potential inputs for compost) to be used to aid organic farming. What do you think about it?
Clementien: Most municipalities try to compost their wet garbage (which still contains plastic, animal waste, and other pollutants) even as vermi-compost, to sell to farmers.
Unfortunately, it is so polluted that it cannot be used in the soil. These composting plants are poisoning the local groundwater as well. I have reports about this. The problems are more complicated than we think!
Question: What keeps you busy these days?
Clementien: I am busy with whatever needs to be dealt with – management of the clinic, treatment of animals, office work, connecting with donors and friends, like now!!!
For Ahimsa, I am busy with product development to go out in a big way, new labels, promotion material, and development of the new Ahimsa website. Only after this is ready, the production and sale can expand.
Question: Many vegans look up to you as a brave, inspiring, wise, and uncompromising activist for the rights of non-human animals. From your experience, what do you think could be the high-priority activities to take veganism to the masses?
Clementien: I have definitely made an uncompromising choice for the animals.
The activity with the highest priority is the rescue of individual animals who suffer in actual time! My personal opinion is that “animals and nature” itself will change the picture. It will become so poisonous to eat what people eat now that worldwide a change will be forced irrespective of what people “want” to eat. It will not be a personal choice. In the meantime, it is important to provide information for those who are able to make a free choice.
Question: How do you think can vegans help animals better?
Clementien: I believe that only the experience of “being one” with animals and nature will save us all in the end as it will inspire the small changes that will lead to big changes.
I wish more people would be involved in the actual rescue of animals. I believe it is more important than “awareness”. Actual rescue has a high awareness value!
Afternote: Thank you very much Clementien for doing so much for the animals and for spending some time with us.
For more information about Karuna Society, its projects, and how one can help Karuna Society, please visit Karuna Society’s webpage, www.karunasociety.org.
About the authors:
Dr. Arun, a lacto vegetarian for most of his life, has been a vegan since 2007. He became one after his vegan brother, Balaji showed him how the dairy industry exploits cows. He is one of the trustees of Samabhava, an equine welfare organization. A compiler engineer by profession, Arun has won several prizes at college-level running races. He has been finishing at the top 250 places in the Bangalore TCS/Sunfeast Open 10km races since 2012, sporting vegan-promoting clothes.
Uthra is a freelance fashion designer, who began her journey to veganism in April 2013. She loves to cook, and impresses her neighbors and relatives with sumptuous, flavorful, and appealing vegan dishes. Together, Uthra and Arun are experimenting with a veganic micro-garden nourished with compost from their vegan kitchen by-products and are seeing fairly good results.
(1) To know more about the Plastic Cow Project and others involved in the project, please visit this link on the Karuna Society website.