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Batting for an equal world

Nina C George, DH News Service, Nov 29 2017, 23:11 IST
Kevin R Schneider

Kevin R Schneider

Kevin R Schneider always had pets and adored animals but he also ate meat.
As he grew older and continued to be exposed to more information, especially about issues of American factory farming of dairy and meat, his ideas began to change. He gathered information on having the fundamental rights of nonhuman animals recognised and respected.

Today, as executive director, Nonhuman Rights Project, Kevin joins animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in drawing people's interest towards the issues related to human-animal conflict.
He was recently in the city to give a talk to the students of National Law School of India University, on the concept of animal rights and personhood.

In an interview with Nina C George, Kevin sheds light on this rather extensively debated topic.

Human-animal conflict is a widely debated issue. What is being done in India to fuel the interest in the same?

I must stress that we don't really have an in-depth view of this issue on the ground in India, and we would never pretend to know enough to tell Indians how to deal with these issues. The issues we litigate right now in the US are vastly different and I think less complex than the issues of human-animal conflict like you see in India and elsewhere.
That said, my hope is that the issues we are bringing to the fore in our lawsuits will continue to help frame the discussion about what rights mean in practice, especially in the natural world.

What drove you to join Steven Wise?

I recognised about 10 years ago that Steven approached the problem in a fundamentally different way, and I thought correct, way. Instead of focussing on conditions of treatment, he focussed on the rights.
This resonated with me.

How does lifestyle interfere with human-animal conflict?

Unquestioning consumption is a big problem. We are all basically good as humans, but we have a regretful capacity to abide injustice when it is socially normalised. In previous social justice movements, the courts have been a vital counterpart to other measures like protests, legislation, and ballot initiatives (like gay marriage, antislavery, women's rights, etc). The circle of moral consideration should always be expanding - our culture of consumption can be a barrier to this.

Why did you choose chimpanzees for your study?

There are a number of strategic reasons why we are beginning with the species that we are (great apes, orcas, elephants). For one, they have been intensely studied and we know so much about the inner lives of chimpanzees that we did not know so many years ago. One of our board members Jane Goodall was a pioneer in teaching and showing the world just how complex their cultures and their inner lives are. Everything from teaching to grieving to communication and language to adoption of unrelated infants by adult males - an insurmountable mass of evidence that shows these beings are like us in fundamental ways that should entitle them to at least basic fundamental rights.

How do you plan to make people more sensitive to this issue?

From the legal perspective we continue to put forth the best arguments that we can, using the most accessible language that we can while also bringing in science and explaining it in a way that makes sense to both judges and to the general public. We also have plans to work with artists and writers to help explain these issues.

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