Animal Right Champion who Inspired Many to Serve Voiceless Indian Street Dogs
Creature Companion Magazine had an opportunity to interact with Dr S Chinny Krishna, Founder Blue Cross of India. He introduced ABC, Animal Birth Control in 1966 as a result of which Madras Municipal Corporation ordered stop catching dogs. By profession he is an engineer but at heart a passionate animal lover.
Being a chemical engineer, how did you develop interest in animal welfare?
My interest in animal welfare dates back to my school days where my maternal grandfather instilled in all of us a great sense of reverence for all life.
Eight weeks ago, I was honoured by the St Joseph’s Boys High School OBA, Bangalore with their lifetime achievement award. I was tickled pink because I was forced to leave* this school (then known as St Joseph’s European High School) in 1958 after I completed my penultimate year because of my refusal to dissect a frog in biology class! And, surprisingly, this is mentioned in para 5 of the citation! I did try telling my Principal, Father Biscaroff, that biology meant the study of life and I felt it wrong to study life by killing something – but to no avail.
This will also explain that my interest in animal welfare predates my Chemical Engineering career!
You pioneered Animal Birth Control Program called ABC. What inspired you to do that?
In 1959, I was one of a group of four that started an animal welfare group which we registered in 1964 as Blue Cross of India – the same year that I visited the Madras Corporation dog pound to try and help somebody who had lost her pet dog. What I saw there was terrifying, especially the way friendly innocent dogs that had been picked up by the Corporation were dragged to the crude electrocution chamber and literally fried to death.
Sadly, my first reaction was that there had to be a more civic way to deal with the dog population. I began to study the subject and found that the official killing programme of the Madras Corporation (the second oldest Municipality in the world at 380 years) started in 1860. 59 year later, the City Municipal Act of 1919 gave the Corporation the power to protect the citizens of Madras against danger posed by street dogs by catching and killing them. They were shot, poisoned with strychnine, clubbed and drowned by the Corporation. If the killing of dogs was intended to “protect” the citizens from rabies and to reduce the number of dogs on the street as supposedly intended by the Act, the Municipality failed spectacularly on both counts.
From a few dogs per week in 1919, the number of dogs being killed each year in the sixties had risen to 16,000 and the number of human deaths from rabies had shown a steady increase each year. To me, it seemed obvious that the catch-and-kill programme being practised was not working even after 45 years.
I had also visited the rabies ward of the Madras General Hospital and saw the terror on the face of the poor victim.
In the 1950s and the 60s when I was growing up, the most ubiquitous sign was the inverted red triangle and the accompanying words “A small family is a happy family” – the slogan of the Government’s birth control programme. From human to dogs, it was no quantum leap in thinking. The haunting image of the rabies victims and the barbaric electrocution of the dogs in the pound inspired me to try and find an alternative that works.
In 1996, we were fortunate that Mr M Abul Hasan, IAS, became first the Commissioner of Madras Corporation and a year later the Special Officer.
He gave us an area of Madras city to do the spay and vaccinate programme and promised that no dog in that area would be caught by the Corporation and killed. Six months later, he accompanied me in this area (South Madras bounded by the Fortis-Malar Hospital Bridge the the Kotturpuram bridge to the Saidapet bridge) and saw every dog on the street with a notched ear meaning it had been sterilised and vaccinated. More importantly, he saw no puppies in the area.
The same day, he ordered the killing of the dogs by the Corporation stopped and asked that the dog pound remove the electrocution equipment. The place was converted into an operation theatre.
The system was normally referred to in the rest of the world as trap-neuter-and-release or TNR. The Blue Cross of India called it ABC – short for Animal Birth Control – to show the authorities that the control of the street dog population was as simple as ABC!
Today, the biggest compliment that the WHO, FAO and OIE pays the Blue Cross of India is by referring to this programme not as TNR but as ABC!
Since its inception, what impact do you think this program has had on the lives of stray animals?
Please remember that in Madras city alone, in 1996, the city was killing as many as 135 animals per day! Per day!
Within 10 years, the number of reported human deaths from rabies had shown a decline from a high of 120 in 1996 to zero! And remember that in 1996, the degree of under reporting was tremendous.
Your efforts paid off and Indian Government accepted ABC as our national policy. How do you visualize the future of street animals in India in this light?
India has some remarkable animal protection laws but implementation is extremely poor. Unless the political will is there, progress will be slow.
Today, thanks to the double-edged sword called Social Media, awareness on these issues has risen exponentially.
And things will get much better in future.
You have been part of various animal welfare organizations. In your opinion, what should be our next step towards animal welfare?
In 2014, the Supreme Court of India gave its judgement in Nagaraja vs Government of India and Others. This is a landmark judgement in which the Hon’ble Court said that the PCA Act must be brought up to date and that the Five Freedoms must be observed for all animals It is now seven years and the Government is yet to amend the Act. The maximum fine of Rs. 50 for a case of cruelty is ridiculous in the extreme. Parliament must change the Act and increase the fines without any further delay.
Share your thoughts on human-animal bonding and their co-existence.
Albert Schweitzer said: “Unless we extend our circle of compassion to include all life, we cannot enjoy world peace” I do not think I can improve on this Eight weeks ago, I was honoured by the St Joseph’s Boys High School OBA, Bangalore with their lifetime achievement award. I was tickled pink because I was forced to leave* this school (then known as St Joseph’s European High School) in 1958 after I completed my penultimate year because of my refusal to dissect a frog in biology class! And, surprisingly, this is mentioned in para 5 of the citation! I did try telling my Principal, Father Biscaroff, that biology meant the study of life and I felt it wrong to study life by killing something – but to no avail. I do not know how they tracked me down since I have been completely out of touch with my old school Previous awardees include Rahul Dravid, Sameer Bhatia of Hotmail, Former Chief of the Airforce, Air Marshall Trevor and Dr Pillai, Former President of Singapore. I wonder how the present Principal felt reading Para 5! After reading the citation, I had a twinge of remorse not going down in person but asking a friend in Bangaore to collect it.
I thought you would be interested to read this because the citation below also mentions the “vegan” tennis racquet I manufactured in 1973 and the computer programmes we developed in the 1990s to replace dissection in schools as part of our Violence-Free Science activities. Dr Basu John of Klein & Peyerl helped us in the development of the computer programmes. Basu was a colleague of mine when I was a member of the faculty at IITM in 1973-74.
This will also explain that my interest in animal welfare predates my Chemical Engineering career!
- Read “expelled”
Lifetime Achievement Award by St Joseph’s Boys High School OBA, Bangalore in 2021
Achieving material and professional success is praiseworthy. Sharing that success by giving back to the community is exemplary. But dedicating one’s life to the thankless task of animal welfare, whose only reward is the work itself, calls for courage and mettle of a wholly different dimension. And an Old Boy who has thus made animal rights his life’s mission is not merely deserving of praise and applause but also of the deepest respect through emulation.
Dr. Chinny Krishna, you are indeed one such old boy of St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, who has done your alma mater proud.
After completing your schooling at St. Joseph’s, you moved to Chennai, where you went on to earn an MTech in Chemical Engineering from the University of Madras. The USA then beckoned and you took an MS in Business Administration from Bucknell University.
Returning to India you set up Aspick Engineering Pvt Ltd, with the proceeds from selling a motorcycle, to build radio telescopes and robotic satellite arms for the Department of Space. In 1975, your company manufactured 10 m diameter dish antennae and thus contributed to the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) project which Arthur C Clarke called “the greatest communications experiment in history”. At a time when television was a rarity even in urban India, SITE saw TV sets for community viewing being set up in schools and Panchayat centers in 2,400 villages in six States: Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan. The life of the dish was supposed to be 15 years but, remarkably, 45 years later, they are still in use.
In 1973, you also manufactured the world’s first vegan tennis racquet – the AI 1000 – with an aluminum alloy frame, nylon string and a vinyl rexine grip, unlike other racquets that were fitted with leather. Within a few years, some of the finest tennis racquet grips were all synthetic!
The vegan racquet was no accident but grew from the empathy you always had for living beings from your childhood. You had even refused to dissect a frog in the Biology lab and opted to leave school instead. Many years later you pioneered the introduction of Computed Aided Dissection software in schools and also campaigned to have the government ban dissection in schools and colleges in India.
It was this selfsame empathy that drove the historic foundation of the Blue Cross of India in 1959 by your family, which started your lifelong involvement with animal welfare.
In 1964 you pioneered the first population management anti-rabies program for street dogs in the world, called Animal Birth Control-Anti Rabies, or ABC -AR in short. It bears testimony to the clarity of your vision and the resilience of your ideas that three decades later, in 1997, the Indian government accepted the recommendation of the Animal Welfare Board of India that ABC -AR should become national policy and endorsed the goal of abolishing animal control killing throughout India by 2005.
Over the decades your passion for animal rights and eye-opening initiatives have resulted in several legislative actions to better the lot of street dogs and other animals. You have also played leadership in key policy making and implementing bodies and thereby brought many of your ideas to fruition. You served as Vice Chairman, Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) from 2000 to 2016, and as Trustee & Member (Finance), World Society for the Protection of Animals, 2004 to 2016. You were a Member of CPCSEA (Committee for the Purpose of Control of Scientific Experiments on Animals) from 1996 to 2002 and later from 2010 to 2017. You were also one of 12 experts on Rabies Control selected by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Even today, you continue to serve as Chairman Emeritus, Blue Cross of India, and Chairman Emeritus, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization (FIAPO).
Your selfless dedication and efforts to promote the welfare of animals have earned you plaudits from across the world. These include the Jeev Daya Puraskar by the Government of India, the Venu Menon Lifetime Achievement Award, the Llewyt Award of the North Shore Animal League, NY, USA, the Humane Society of the United States Award, the Middle East Network for Animal Welfare, Cairo Lifetime Achievement Award, Marchig Animal Welfare Trust Award, UK, Acharya Hasti Karuna Award, Humane Society International, USA, Lifetime Achievement Award, Bhagawan Mahaveer Foundation Award (awarded to Blue Cross), WSPA-Canada Award and the Winsome Constance Kindness Award, Australia, which last puts you in the company of Sir David Attenborough, Dr Jane Goodall, and Maneka Gandhi. And this year you were given the Indian Government’s highest award for animal welfare – the Prani Mitra Lifetime Achievement Award.
On the Engineering front you are a Fellow, Institution of Engineers, India FIE, a Fellow, Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers, a Chartered Engineer, Institution of Engineers and have also taught for a while at IIT Madras.
Dr. Chinny Krishna, you are a true exemplar of the Josephite spirit, and a living inspiration to the thousands of your fellow alumni and students of St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School.
It is therefore our privilege, honour and pleasure to present you with the OBA Lifetime Achievement Award.
May your benevolent presence continue to cast a protective shadow over animals in India for many more years to come, keeping them safe from abuse and ensuring that they live life on their terms.