“There’s a caste angle to how animal cruelty works in India” – Karthik Pulugurtha – Fish Welfare Initiative – Sentientism Episode 101

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Karthik is Managing Director of the Fish Welfare Initiative in India. He has a background in animal welfare & ethical livelihoods. He is a PhD scholar at the National Academy of Legal Studies & Research in India & previously managed the university’s Animal Law Centre. While there, he researched the unethical practices associated with industrialised egg production in India. He has also worked as a research and livelihoods consultant for sixteen Members of Parliament from the Telugu Despam Party. Karthik is deeply committed to ending animal and human suffering and believes in the efficacy of bottom up approaches to change.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

01:36 Karthik’s Intro

  • Humility, curiosity & wonder
  • Leading the Fish Welfare Initiative in India
  • PhD studying freedom for queer people “I never had the opportunity growing up to fully express myself, be myself”
  • How would we take decisions if we had more freedom & hope

04:01 What’s Real?

  • A deeply religious Hindu, upper class extended family in South India
  • Becoming sceptical of biases like “darker skin meant some kind of bane from god”
  • Religion operated in a deeply heteronormative way. Being queer fed the scepticism
  • Women in the family with a deep empathy, including for animals
  • Being one of the few male vegetarians (most of the women were)
  • Brahmin caste dynamics & the “purity” of being vegetarian
  • Caste discrimination
  • Studying “science, technology & society” & the tools to unlearn the “cultural baggages” and to re-learn a different way re: animal rights
  • A very difficult journey but “I would call myself an atheist now”
  • “Hinduism had plenty of opportunities to explore queer life but it no longer does”
  • Progressive & fundamentalist religious movements
  • “Most of the bigotries we’ve subsumed into Hinduism are fairly modern – at least in the Indian context”
  • “The most liberating thing for transgender people in this country has been to derive power from a lot of the [Hindu] rituals”… pilgramages
  • A scientific way of finding meaning
  • “Life is such an anomaly”
  • “I find meaning in human actions”
  • Going from being bullied to seeing his own students standing up to bullies
  • “Homosexuality was recently decriminalised”
  • “One of the arcs tending towards a better future”
  • “You’re automatically challenged if you have an atheistic worldview”
  • “A lot of my relatives… think that I’m homosexual probably because I abandoned god”
  • A partner pushed to the brink of suicide by their orthodox Muslim family because of their homosexuality
  • “There’s a caste angle to how animal cruelty works in this country”
  • Animal sacrifice & killing vermin tasks fall to the lower castes
  • “Enormous cruelty in the name of carrying on this legacy”
  • Deference to religion enables caste discrimination
  • Urban liberalism vs. rural traditionalism
  • Cultural intertia & rationalisations re: animal sacrifice

24:24 What Matters & Who Matters?

  • One Hindu god has an incarnation as a fish that saves the world… “there are ways to use that”
  • “Religion was constructed as a way of understandng a complex world”
  • Ahimsa
  • The dominant scientific paradigm in India re: animals is “how to get them to grow better”
  • Re-centring ethics
  • Experiencing so many forms of oppression built a deep empathy
  • “A window into someone else’s life”
  • Veganism is often belittled in India
  • “It felt like I came home when I started working on animal rights”… surrounded by compassionate people
  • Ethical issues within the animal movement
  • Boyfriend meets colleagues, transformed, thinks “I can actually do this [veganism]”
  • Freedom & responsibility & secrecy
  • Working with out & secret transgender sex workers
  • Begging & sex work as the only way for out transgender people to earn a living in India
  • Food systems & pesticide risks
  • The cultural power of farmers in India
  • Women’s empowerment

46:12 How Can We Make a Better World?

  • Institutions
  • Farmer self-help groups
  • Empowerment, freedom, responsibility
  • Working with intrinsically harmful industries (& “welfare improvements”)
  • 20-30% of the Indian population is dependent on animal agri
  • “There is so much suffering… reducing that even by 2% is extremely meaningful”
  • Scope neglect
  • Animal alternatives
  • Plant-based solutions to nutrition issues in the developing world
  • Rapid industrialisation of egg/broiler in India. Not yet happened in aquaculture
  • Can we head off animal agri industrialisation where it hasn’t yet happened in Africa/Asia?
  • Awful working conditions in animal agriculture.

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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