[New Zealand Herald]
In Sydney last week, the waitress moved to get rid of an ant wandering about on the rim of the Indian man's glass of orange juice.
"No, no," the man told her, "he's a friend of mine, just let him be, he's not bothering anyone."
When the waitress came back to take the glass away, she asked "is your friend there?"
The man had a look at his juice and when he saw the ant was still there he popped it gently on a finger and put it on the floor.
"Oh, you can't do that," said the waitress, and he replied "what do you mean I can't do that, he's got equal rights, I don't see any reason he can't be on the floor."
Meet Raj Panjwani, a once high-powered corporate lawyer now turned legal champion for all creatures. He sits outside the Hyatt hotel in Auckland in the little woollen hat his wife knitted, shivering a bit against the biting wind he is not used to in his own country of sweltering heat but which he is willing to endure so he can have another cigarette. He's not perfect, he smiles.
Among his court battles for elephants, stray cows, abattoir and zoo animals, and all manner of other animals, Panjwani also takes seriously the rights of an ant.
This comes from the heart, and from his Hindu beliefs which are heavily based on compassion.
So why should New Zealanders listen to this Indian man talk about his country's sensitive animal laws which are so blatantly violated?
Because the law is about empowerment, Panjwani says.
He counts among his many court wins the banning of tigers, lions, panthers, bears and monkeys from circuses. He has gained the right for school students not to dissect or experiment on animals. He has put behind bars Sansar Chand, one of India's most notorious wildlife criminals, a ringleader in the grisly trade of tiger and leopard skins.
Gods are linked to the animals _ Krishna is closely linked to the cow and there is also a goddess of the cow. There are gods for rats and there is even a superstition that if you want a son, you must feed the ants, "so you'll see people walking round and feeding ants".
Panjwani would not kill any insect. There are ways of dealing with them, he says. If ants are in the home, people can take a mixture of flower and boric powder and paste up the hole where they are coming in.
"You just block that portion, [you say] `please, find your place, you're not welcome, maybe you can find another place in this house which is not inconvenient to us, if so please go ahead."'
Panjwani sees this as a different attitude; he is not telling anyone what they do is wrong.
Simply "if you, by seeing me, feel that what I'm doing is right and want to adopt it, please adopt it. Otherwise, you carry on doing what you feel like and God bless you."