Heading PETA India isn’t just another job (Interview, With Image)

May 28th, 2009 - 11:26 am ICT by IANS  

Shilpa Shetty By Jatindra Dash
Bhubaneswar, May 28 (IANS) Eight years ago, while working in a leather buying firm, she was horrified to notice a piece of fur sticking to leather. She went to animal rights group PETA India, was inspired by what she saw and begged them to hire her.

Today Anuradha Sawhney, 45, is chief functionary of the Pune-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, said to be the largest animal rights organisation in the country. And that means practicing what you preach, even at home.

Sawhney starts each day in her garden where she replenishes the bird feeders, waters her plants and plays with her rescued cat, Kalu, before she is ready for work.

From her toothpaste to her soap, shampoo, clothes, shoes, bag, Sawhney makes sure she does not use any animal product. She is vegan - a vegetarian who does not consume any dairy products either.

She has been working tirelessly to help animals in distress - a passion she says she developed in her childhood. “Growing up, I was known as the girl who fed her lunch to the birds and dogs. During my school days I would forego my own meal to feed the famished stray dogs on campus,” Sawhney told IANS on phone from Pune.

Sawhney topped Mumbai University in 1983 when she got her bachelor’s degree in moral philosophy.

PETA India under her leadership has been listed by the Limca Book of Records as the largest animal rights organisation in the country. The many honours Sawhney has received include the 2009 Womens’ Achiever award.

No family member understood when she decided to join PETA. “In fact some of them used to make fun of my decision. But now they are happy and supportive,” she says.

“All our family members are not vegetarian, though my sister’s children have recently converted to vegetarianism, finally. Now after so many years my mother is more supportive of my work. My in-laws and husband have always supported me.”

Her husband is a vegan and her mother-in-law has now turned vegetarian.

PETA under her leadership has rescued over 54 lions and tigers from circuses and numerous birds and monkeys from captivity. These animals are now living in rehabilitation centres across the country.

“Over 55 monkeys and other animals were also rescued from laboratories and sent to rescue centres,” says the woman, who was portrayed by Femina magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women for her initiative.

She is credited with creating awareness on vegetarianism across India.

“No country in the world is as strongly associated with vegetarianism as India. As early as 500 BC, India saw the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, which preached the principle of ahimsa or non-violence,” she says.

Her efforts are visible in the involvement of celebrities such as Raveena Tandon, Madhavan, Celina Jaitly and Shilpa Shetty in the PETA campaigns. Sawhney says they have inspired thousands of people to say no to meat.

Other celebrities, including model and actor Aditi Govitrikar, Mahima Chaudhary and cricketer Anil Kumble have also pitched in.

Govitrikar posed in outfits made entirely from vegetables to encourage viewers to kick the meat habit, while Kumble showed off his “Go Veg” cricket bat. Mahima Chaudhary did an “angel for the animals” ad; lifelong vegetarian Devang Patel grimaced as he held a chicken drumstick.

“Each person who turns vegetarian saves over 83 animals a year,” says Sawhney, who has been instrumental in converting innumerable people to a vegan diet.

Sawhney says: “I think it is time now for me to enter politics - animals need my help, and since they cannot speak for themselves I would like to speak for them.

“I would also like to write a book on the rise and importance of animal rights in India. The main thing, no matter what I plan, my fight for animals will go on no matter where I am.”

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