Like it or not, this is cow country now. Gau Mata loomed large over the year that was, and she will rule the year that will be.
This gentlest of herbi vores has inspired a battery of laws, across 24 states, to protect it. It has also provoked a vigilante movement that’s killed at least three human beings in the last year, and injured and intimidated many more.
To those of little faith, the cow-related events of 2015 seemed not just tragic, but also surreal. In Jaipur, an art instal lation of a suspended plas tic cow called Divine Bovine was hauled down, and respectfully garlanded, while the artists and organisers were bullied. There have been selfie campaigns with cows. Some find it funny that every cow product is held to be miraculous -poo and pee, milk, ghee and curd -and promoted as disinfectants, tonics and shampoos, breakfast foods and soft drinks, even cancer cures.
Though it is aggressively visible now, cow love has been an article of faith and flashpoint for a long time. It doesn’t matter that cows were gladly eaten and sacrificed in the pre-Mauryan world; parents in Betul, Madhya Pradesh who lovingly roll their toddlers in a dung heap don’t care. Their own parents and grandparents believed in the cow’s sacredness, and that’s enough to feel deeply invested in this creature. Their empathy doesn’t extend to all forms of life -in fact it could sharply exclude some humans -but it flows over at the thought of this suffering beast.
The cow be made the mother of the nation. In late colonial north India, the nation, the Hindi language and the cow were all smushed together as metaphorical mother. Between 1880 and 1920, gaurakshini sabhas and gaushalas came up, and Arya Samaj, sanatan dharma sabhas and other Hindu bodies rallied around them. Handbills and posters, poems and plays exhorted Hindus to protect the material body of the cow from aggressors, usually depicted as Muslim butchers.Its milk was meant to nurture Hindu manhood. The cow drew divided Hindus together, ranged them against the beef-eating British and Muslims.
Then as now, the cow separates caste Hindus from everyone else. A rumour about cow killing is still the simplest way to provoke violence for economic or political profit. And yet, 80 million people eat beef, according to NSSO data. This includes Muslims, Dalits, tribals, miscellaneous others including Hindus. There is a thriving economy around the cow, its labour, meat, hide and bones.
So far, the Indian state had flipped and flopped on how far to accommodate this belief. After all, as Gandhi acknowledged, to ban an activity based on the fervent feelings of one group is to explicitly state that this group owns the country . For the most part, hypocrisy has sustained us. A directive principle in the Constitution asks the state to stop cow slaughter, but covers it up with an economic-sounding call for “modern and scientific“ agriculture. Many states have qualified bans on cow slaughter, though they have been weakly enforced.
Now, there is no ambiguity on cow slaughter. These laws now bare their teeth, and are used as sanction for harassment.Some states ban the killing of bulls too, some place the burden of proof on the accused. This hurts millions of poor Indians, for whom this meat was a cheap source of protein, and strikes at the livelihoods of those who have anything to do with the cattle business, mainly minorities and low castes.
But the fear has rippled further outwards. India’s meat production, which ranks fifth in the world, rests heavily on bovine meat, largely buffalo. The meatprocessing industry declined this year.Leather exports have fallen; flayers and tannery workers -lakhs of people, from the most oppressed castes -have lost their work. Contractors, truckers and traders are running scared. Other industries that use animal fat or gelatin -soap, pharmaceuticals and the like -are affected.
There’s a problem when emotions and economics diverge too much. Cow populations actually thrive when selective culling is permitted. After all, it is an agricultural asset. Farmers, Hindu or otherwise, are now stuck with unproductive heifers once they are no longer lactating or reproducing. Cows that might have been quietly sold, to possibly wind up in an abattoir, are now just abandoned. According to the cattle census, there are already 53 lakh stray cattle, nosing through garbage; it would take 20,000 crore a year to feed them. With all this terror around the disposing of elderly cattle, now farmers have fewer reasons to rear them.
The irony is that all this devotion doesn’t even help the desi cow, unless its sustenance is accounted for. The Rashtriya Gokul Mission set apart Rs150 crore last year for cow-related activity, and states have not flung open their coffers either.And so, the more sanctified the cow is, the less economically useful it is, and the more likely that it will end up drifting on the streets.
Lesson for cow protectors -love it all you want, just don’t love it to death.
Source: Times of India 27 Dec’2015