As a thinker in the Marxist tradition, I am interested in labour and fighting for its fair compensation. However, too often, the question of labour within and without the Marxist tradition has focused on male factory or peasant farm labour.

Here, I note some of the labour that animals do. If we accept that animals do labour then shouldn’t we find ways to provide them with labour rights? Let's begin with the story of Raju.

Raju, a beautiful, meditative donkey, was six months old when Saeed Masih spent everything he had to buy him. Saeed, like Raju, was separated from his parents at a young age.

He survived by collecting garbage from bins around Gulberg, Lahore. What he collected he would take to the kabaria to sell. Each day, if he was lucky, brought in a few hundred rupees.

He slept on footpaths, under bus stands, and sometimes headed as far out as Data Darbar. After seven years of working in this form, he saved up enough to pay for Raju, around Rs 30,000 at a discounted rate.

They hit it off straight away. Saeed had never known a family, he had never known companionship. Neither had Raju.

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I went, one windy and rainy afternoon, to visit them. Raju, now ten years old, was resting under a thatched hut made of reeds and supported by bamboo. He had water in a big container and hay straw laid out for him to rest on.

Next to Raju’s room was Saeed’s house, also made of stray materials – mud, planks of wood, reeds, and bamboo. It had a TV and two kids excitedly running around.

I asked Saeed to tell me more about his life. He's employed by the government as a sweeper, but his main income comes from the work he does with Raju. He told me that he was was able to cover more ground and carry more load once he bought Raju.

Once Saeed gets back from his day job, he goes with Raju from mohalla to mohalla to collect garbage from every house. He also gets tips from the houses and recycles the material.

With the work Saeed does with Raju, he was able to have enough money to start a family. "It's all thanks to Raju," Saeed says.

Saeed teaches his children to be grateful as well. I noted how they pet him and caress Raju with affection. Raju eats before Saeed’s children get to eat – and the kids don’t have a problem with that.

The work that Raju does is to transport goods, people, and keep the streets clean. He also provides companionship for Saeed.

Lali, a water buffalo, lives in a house with her two daughters in the town of Lalyani, Punjab. She shares the house with her owner Goga, who looks after Lali and milks her. Goga’s family includes his wife Zahra and one daughter.

At about five in the morning, Goga wakes up and milks Lali. Then he lets her daughters run over and drink the remainder. He makes sure to leave a sizeable amount of milk in the udder so that the young ones can grow quickly and healthy.

Goga is respectful of Lali and understands that Lali’s milk is for her own children and that he is blessed to get some for her daughter as well. After milking, Goga feeds Lali. What she gets depends on the season. At the time I visited, Lali was eating soft leaves of corn.

At around six, Goga cleans the area where Lali and her daughters spend nights. The dung is kept aside so that later on it can be baked in the sun and used as fuel. Goga then unties Lali and her family, and heads out into his field. Lali excitedly follows, chewing away at stray barks of grass and wheat from the fields as they head to Goga’s two acres of land about 20 minutes away.

Once there, Goga ties the family to polar trees and gives them enough rope so they can each walk around 20 feet in all directions. There is some grass for them to eat and at about 7:30 am, Goga presents Lali and her family with corn leaves that he cuts from his field.

Lali loves water and throws herself into Goga’s irrigation canal and bathes herself. At about five in the evening, they all head back. Gogal milks Lali again and lets the baby buffaloes have their share.

Goga has a holistic approach to his relation with Lali and feels sorry for the cows that are in neighbouring corporate farms. “wo barhi dyna nai the thea” (they don’t get to see the fields), he sighs.

Lali has done a lot for Goga. She has given him two young buffaloes who will also give him milk when they grow up. Lali will also pay for Goga’s daughter's wedding. Goga plans to sell Lali’s children when they are older so that he can raise enough money for the wedding expenses. “ya hi meri inmanat hai,” (this is my treasure) Goga tells me.

Gugu Guevara was born on the side of a tent at a building site in the lush grounds of Forman Christian College, Lahore. Soon after her birth, a labourer, unwilling to share his small tent, decided to put her in a plastic bag on the side of the road.

A professor, who had had too much coffee and could not sleep, decided to cool off in the morning breeze with a walk. As he strolled, caffeine induced, thoughts whizzed in and out of his mind.

What was he going to do about the electricity bill? Would his lover leave him for the smart young guy from Harvard she had been having lunch with? Could he possibly write something as good as Muhammad Hanif? And what of Shah Inayat … was it always fated that revolutionaries would have their heads cut off?

As he wandered, he noticed something dark-brownish crawling on the road. “Is it a rat?” he thought. He was scared, but curious. Slowly, he moved towards the object. A young kid was walking by and the professor asked him if it was a rat. The boy laughed and said that it was a cat.

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Gugu had never opened her eyes, but she knew that the plastic bag wasn’t a safe place and had crawled out. She also sensed a worried thinker around her so she presented herself, but the professor walked back to his house.

Confused, he pondered what to do. “The mother will come for her kitten,” he reasoned. But why is she near a plastic bag? She could suffocate.

As he was contemplating, it began to rain. On the side of the road, the rain was forming a puddle. The kitten, he worried, would drown. He got a shoe box, put his existential problems aside for a moment, and did what he loved about himself the most: he took action. For to think and not act, he thought, was a waste. But he mostly thought and seldom acted. That was ten years ago.

The professor and Gugu Guevara have spend most of those ten years inseparable. He still drinks too much coffee but he has never again been anxious in quite the same way.

His thoughts wander, but when existence bears down on him, Gugu comes and rescues him, jumping on his lap and purring to tell him that it’s OK.

It took a while, but after about eight years, the professor worked it out too. It is about sensuality, he now knows. One has to sense others, reach out to them, join them in pain and in love, in charity, and in revolution. This is what Gugu taught him.

For eight years, Gugu worried about the professor and would have to mind him to make sure he didn’t lapse into depression.

It was a lot of work – she would cuddle, reassure, even poke him out of depths of sorrow. Slowly, she noted, he has gotten better and healed a little.

The work Gugu does is emotional and intellectual labour. Counsellors and therapists charge by the hour, but Gugu is generous.

From production of milk, from transport of goods and people to therapists, animals take on various roles of labour in our world. If we accept that animals perform labour then shouldn’t we look to provide them with labour rights? This would mean a safe work environment, no violence, and medical care and, finally, a safe retirement.

I have always fought alongside human labourers in their campaigns for the above and I hope that we can also extend our battle for labour rights also to include Gugu, Raju and Lali and millions of other animals labouring daily.



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