by Ankita Jain

Shristi Singh Shrestha, Kathmandu-based animal rights and environment activist, has been campaigning for animal rights for more than a decade. In 2007, she became an animal rights activist after witnessing a van filled with goats being taken for slaughter. Although she had seen that countless times before, that day and at that moment, she felt a sudden shift in herself.

There are many alterations that Shristi has made to live a life that is compassionate and encompassing. From being a meat eater to going on a plant based diet which then evolved to a cruelty free diet, Shristi is all about living mindfully.

In a conversation with WOW’s Ankita Jain, Shristi shares her love for animals, her journey as an activist and the things she is passionate about.

Tell us about growing up? Were you an animal lover always?

I grew up around dogs. Thus, it was an instant connection with them. I was a dog lover for as long as I can remember. Since the very conception of self-awareness, I aligned myself with the relationships that I developed with animals around me. I had however not made the connection between animals in flesh and the flesh on my plate. Thus, it took me years to see the picture in its entirety. Once that clarity came, I fell in love with each and every creature from a caterpillar to an elephant.

What caused you to become an activist?

It was 2007, and I was going through an inner turmoil. That was when I saw a van stuffed with goats being taken to slaughter. Although I had seen that countless times before, that day and that moment, I felt a sudden shift in myself. Betrayal, desperation and pain is universal and after this realisation, I decided to work to create a better world for animals and chose the path of activism.

Tell us about your association with Animal Nepal

I wanted to be part of any organisation that was working for the benefit of animals in Nepal. Around 2008-2009 I searched on google which led me to finding Animal Nepal. One of the co-founders, Lucia de Vries and the President Pramada Shah welcomed me to the exemplary work that Animal Nepal had been doing. I decided to join them and the association still is strong and worthy.

In your journey as an activist, what has been your greatest struggle?

My biggest struggle as an activist is to see the animals suffering. There is no excuse to cause suffering to animals for any reason including food, entertainment, clothing, research, sports, tourism among many. I also struggle seeing the apathy that I am an audience to, where people who I love partake in cruelty against the animals, and which is further aggravated towards wilderness, forests and the very basis of life on earth including that of humans.

What are some of the conscious changes that you have made?

There are many alterations that I made to live a life that is worthy and as harmless as possible. That journey led me to change my diet from meat based to plant-based diet which then evolved to a cruelty free diet. This principle of Ahimsa is incorporated in the way I live including the food I eat, the clothes I wear, and the products I use. It is all about living mindfully, doing research on the alternatives of habits and leading a life as harmlessly as we can.

Your views on street dog adoption, or the lack of it.

There is no absence of societies or organisations and individuals that advocate for adoption of dogs in need. However, rehoming the dogs is difficult because very few people prefer to house dogs of local breed and instead opt to buy dogs from breeders. Local dogs are as loyal and more adaptive than the pedigree dogs and the suffering that both of these sections of dogs go through due to the intervention of humans is beyond comprehension. We need more people adopting our Nepali dogs so that they have a chance for better lives and humans have the chance to be loved unconditionally.

How do you view the current condition of animal breeding centers in Kathmandu?

The breeding industry, whether it is breeding dogs or livestock like cows and goats, when there is the concept of maximising profit by using these animals like products, there is always heightened level of cruelty. With livestock and the history of cultural as well as economic aspect to the same, the debates are unending.

However, when it comes to the dog breeding industry, the level of indifference, apathy and cruelty is beyond physical. The puppies are kept in deplorable conditions inside cages in pet shops, the parent dogs are confined in cages and chains with only one purpose to their life, breeding and making money for people who have betrayed them. There aren’t any guidelines, monitoring agencies and regulatory modalities to navigate the industry which is accelerated by the tendency of people buying these puppies and in countless cases dumping them on the streets when they are old or sick.

Any people you look up to…

There are many such people who have been a compass for me. They have come in times of my life when I needed them the most. So, there is not just one single person I look up to but an entire ecosystem of people who have conjured the intent of bringing me where I am today.

When you look in the mirror now, what do you like the most about yourself?

I like who I have become as a person, centered and clear headed. I am learning to love my scars and imperfections and everyday looking at my reflection brings me closer to who I am inside out.

What do people tend to get wrong about you?

I think everyone is entitled to their opinions and their perception of me. I do not condemn or question anyone for thinking a certain way about me. In their way of seeing this world and themselves, they judge me and how I am in several ways. Thus, I am not much inquisitive about that.

If you could go back in time and talk to your younger Self, what would you tell her?

I would tell her to take it easy, not to be hard on herself and have faith that this universe will take care of her.

What brings you joy?

The laughter of my daughter, the sight of animals wild and free, and to experience the beauty of humans helping those in need.

In moments of doubt, what gives you courage?

I truly feel that there is a greater power taking care of me. There may be countless names for that energy but for me it is formless yet powerful and peaceful, and that gives me that courage and the wisdom to choose my battles even in the face of paralysing self-doubt.

What is your call to action for women today?

We all come from different situations and perspectives. My issues are completely different from the issues of a woman who comes from varied adversities, privilege and conditioning. However, the root is the same and is of disparities, disappointment and discriminations. Therefore, I call all women to hold each other up and create an unbreakable system of love and sisterhood because together we can bring down the walls of oppression and patriarchy and together we can create a balanced world for our children where they are not celebrated for having a boy and consoled for having a girl.

An achievement that you are proud of…

Every single animal I can help, every tree I can save, and every mind that I can influence to destroy the division enhancing speciesism and disconnect with nature are the achievements that give me a purpose to continue.

What is your hope for animals…

I hope that humans finally wake up and see that animals are not different than us. We share this planet, our home with them and when we open our hearts to the beauty and majesty of these beings, our soul will finally find the solace that we all are continuously seeking for. I hope for a world where animals are not treated as products and machines, where their intelligence and emotions are acknowledged, where humans realise that in order to lead a balanced and happy life, we do not have to exploit animals and they are deemed as sentient beings who have social ties, families experiencing love, fear, joy, hunger and awareness. I long for a future where we let our children stay innocent and connected to these animals which is their natural state of being by raising them as kind and empathetic beings. I hope that the future brings us closer to the realisation that by destroying nature and the homes of these animals, we are destroying our chance to life as well and the very fact that as long as there is violence on our plates and in our backyards, there will always be violence and wars in this world.

Photographer: Suzan Shrestha

Coordination: Ankita Jain

HMUA: Sannu Gurung

Stylist: Sadhana Ranabhat

Wardrobe: Blue and pink Kaftans by Como Nepal; White dress by Sangram

Accessories: Jewelry Nepal & Aamo

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