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- Kashish Juneja

They take time out to approach people at various locations to drive home the advantages of veganism

For a country like India- that serves dairy based desserts across its length and breadth, dons its women in silk saris, and pours litres of milk over a Shiv-ling, veganism as a concept seems impossible to consider. Vegans abstain from using any animal based product, food or clothing.

Veganism has clearly caught the imagination of a growing number of discerning consumers and health conscious people. Now, there are vegan activists among them, people who are not only made the diet changes in their own lives but also believe that they should spread the word -- the benefits and advantages of veganism -- to more people. Vegan activism has been added to the growing list of issues which inspire activism.

Vegan activists of India have high hopes that their word, their life and actions, will carry the necessary message. Vegan activism comes in all forms. With so much action on the ground, vegans no longer seem like aliens. India has various pockets of vegan activists across Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Dharamshala and Delhi. The numbers are on a steady rise and it seems like “The times- they are a changin”. With an agenda to put to rest the assumptions around a vegan diet, India’s vegan activist, probably the first, to summit Everest in 2016, Kuntal Joshier said, “I climbed Everest to prove that a vegan diet does not lack nutrition and can support the most difficult physical and mental endeavors of the planet.” His love and passion for mountaineering has evolved into an effective mode of activism. His followers over social media hiked which allowed him to reach thrice the number of people that he used to before his summit. The publicity and exposure that followed his successful summit gives him a platform to talk and discuss about issues that are close to his heart, one of them being veganism.

“People don’t bombard me with questions like 'Aren’t vegans weak?' 'Where do you get your protein from?' and all that anymore”, said Mr. Joisher. Mr. Joisher takes along many fitness enthusiasts and young aspiring mountaineers on his “prep-climbs”, trains them physically and tells them how to do it with the vegan diet. He will set out on his next expedition in 2020 with his all vegan gear by “Save the Ducks” along with a fellow vegan mountaineer who is yet to find funding for his own vegan gear. Kuntal says, “If he (his fellow vegan) does not get his gear, I will give him my gear for his first summit to Everest.” Kuntal aims to reinforce that vegans do not lag behind in any way.

Poonam Dhup identifies herself as a passive activist. Being an introvert, she prefers dialogue over debate, with no confrontations. She uses her social media account to share information and marginalised voices. Asked about being a “passive-activist”, Ms. Dhup said, “I believe in creation of new doable structures and alternatives within the society, often with the hope that they will lead as an example which others will also imitate and develop.”

Dhup makes sure that she writes regularly on her Facebook handle. Her posts are non-aggressive and aim at questioning the social conditioning, religious conditioning and the prevalent misleading advertisement culture. Tejas Mahajan, a street activist from Bombay believes that the world is a busy place and people need to be constantly reminded of the hypocrisy that they are a part of. “We aim to rip off the cultural blinders that people have on 24x7”, exclaims Tejas. Street activism is highly effective if done systematically. One needs to take regular follow-ups and maintain a record of people who agree to try veganism.

“Transitioning vegans needs constant support and encouragement so that they stick to their commitment”, said Harsha Atmakuri, a street activist. One needs to have a knack for talking to people if they wish to become a street activist. These activists directly raise questions against the cultural conditioning that people have had since they have been a part of the society.  

“People always put their guards up because they think we’re challenging their habits. Which in a way, we do. However, we need to be very careful because their defensiveness might provoke us to attack them with all the statistical facts that we’ve been reading.” said Mr. Mahajan.

In a recent outreach at Marine Drive, one of the activists approached this young group of college students, who were at first shocked to see the graphic footage of the slaughter houses but soon after the activists were returning to their homes they saw the same bunch walking into KFC. “It is disappointing and most of the activists feel dejected because they think that they're not making any difference”, says Mr. Tejas.

The activists encourage people to sign up for Veganuary and to try out veganism for at least a month. They encourage people to take baby steps towards veganism often by saying something like “every second you think about having a cheat meal, an animal dies".

A group of young girls aged 11-12 years were taken aback when a vegan activist told them that cows don't produce milk 365 days of a year. A cow needs to be impregnated first so that it lactates. They realised how deeply they were conditioned and requested the activists to convince their mothers to not force them into having a glass full of milk every day.

Vegan activism is catching on -- slowly but surely. Just as veganism itself is.

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