Her Forum is a platform and community for women in law. Their aim is to build a strong community to foster networking, meaningful conversations and peer-to-peer learning.
The Women in Law Series by Her Forum on Lawctopus is a series of interviews with leading female lawyers. Her Forum has interviewed several of India’s finest female lawyers on their platform, which we hope will inspire the journey of other women.
The third in this series is the interview with Ambika Hiranandani. Adv. Hiranandani is an Environmental and Animal Rights lawyer. She is a legal and government affairs adviser to the Tata Trusts and the Strategic Partnerships Head with the Good Food institute. She has been a part of several monumental cases involving filing of PIL’s and was also instrumental in the banning of Victorias or horse-drawn carriages in Mumbai.
Excerpts from the interview have been reproduced below.
Watch the full interview HERE.
Question 1: How were you drawn to this field of law?
Adv. Hiranandani: “There were many lawyers who took Human Rights cases, there were established institutions. But on the environmental side, I saw very few lawyers and on the animal rights side, I saw absolutely no one. Maybe one person taking up something as a PIL occasionally.
I didn’t see a strong system […] I come from the Eastern philosophy and belief that all life is equal. So my life is of the same value as a pigeon’s life,which is the same value as an elephant’s life, and that’s the same value as a cow’s life. Given that belief, I thought I should protect the most vulnerable.”
Question 2: Despite the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act’ there is lack of implementation. Where does the problem really lie?
Adv. Hiranandani: “The fine is still fifty rupees […] Fifty rupees might have meant something in 1960, but what does it mean today? It’s nothing! And we need to change this, but the government hasn’t changed it. I think that because the animals don’t vote so it’s very easy to ignore their issues.”
Question 3: Animal welfare and law has very low priority in India. How do you see this changing?
Adv. Hiranandani: “We need ten people like Mrs. Gandhi. We need ten people like Poonam Mahajan. People who care for the cause and who will actually activate for it. We need fifty Ambika Hiranandanis because there’s little-little legal work. You know, we need the movement to grow. We need more people to stand up.”
Question 4: You were instrumental in the banning of the Victorias or horse-drawn carriages in Mumbai in June 2015. Can you talk a little bit about the case and its challenges.
Adv. Hiranandani: “I googled online: how to file a PIL. I made this really bad draft. I’m sitting in front of the Managing Partner of this law firm where I have finally gotten a job, and I am like ‘Sir, so here are my RTIs, here are the photos, here are the laws, here is my PIL.’ So, he said ‘Research, very good. Draft, you need to work on.”
Question 5: Recently an elephant was killed because it was by fed a pineapple filled with firecrackers. But later reports showed that the problem is a lot more complicated. Your thoughts?
Adv. Hiranandani: “The government basically gives permission to kill them [vermins]. My point is that I think that is really unethical because the reason why these animals are being killed by farmers is because we are rampantly cutting down the forests. These animals have no food to eat.
Plus, in the forests we are practising monoculture. We are growing crops that have commercial value. So you might walk into a forest and say that it’s so green. But what do these animals eat? There’s nothing that they can eat! […]
We need to stop destroying our forests. We need to implement better measures to protect farmers. For example, in Africa, in Kenya, they don’t kill the elephants. They grow a two feet thick fence around fields of chilli plants. So the elephants don’t even go in there. There are innovative methods that can be used to keep these animals out. It’s not right to have any animal have their mouth blow up, or their stomachs blown up.”
Question 6: What can non-lawyers do to engage in activism?
Adv. Hiranandani: “The one thing that all of us need to do even if we are giving our time to the cause, is to hold our government accountable. […] People complain about things. But what are you doing about it? Have you even written a letter to your local corporation? Why not file an RTI Application?
The Internet has made it so easy for us to hold people accountable. If you have a Twitter account, tweet your local MP. They need us to vote for them. What is important to us is important to them.”
Question 7: This is not the most paying field of law. What is your advice for those looking to enter this space?
Adv. Hiranandani: “There are well paying NGO jobs and if you don’t manage to find one of those, you can always do so much with just two hours.”
Question 8: What are your views on climate change in relation to the pandemic?
Adv. Hiranandani: “The truth is that the urban landscape is filled with animals. But with human movement, we just don’t see them, we don’t pay attention to them. So if we just had a little bit of empathy, a little bit of compassion, kept food in our windows, kept water, it will be filled with birds. We have to stop being so hostile towards nature, and innovate.”
Watch the full interview HERE.