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In an attempt to bring reason to the debate on cow slaughter bans, I have tried to present data from Maharashtra where the broadening of an existing ban on the slaughter of cows to include calves, bulls and bullocks has the poor cattle owners of the drought stricken state devastated as their livestock has overnight become a liability.

The sentiment about the holy cow is beyond doubt. Upper caste Hindus revere the cow, even though there are many Hindus who do eat it. Whether Savarkar agreed with it or whether the vedas sanctioned it is irrelevant. The idea of cow slaughter is revolting to many Hindus.

However, as sentimentalism and hyperbole builds up, there is a need to take a long, hard look at realities, and for the government that claims to be interested in development to decide whether development lies in the past or in building a new future.

Here is the data from the various livestock census reports from Maharashtra and what it tells me.

Firstly, the numbers.

Livestock census data from Maharashtra for cows and buffaloes
Livestock census data from Maharashtra for cows and buffaloes

A quick glance at the numbers is enough to tell us that in the five decades since the first census data available in 1961 and till the 2012 19th livestock census, the population of cattle has grown by 1,56,632 or slihtly more than a lakh and a half. The population of buffaloes has grown by 25,07,378 or over 25 lakh - about five lakhs short of being doubled. While this, in itself is an astonishing difference, it becomes even more astonishing when we see that the population of cattle was almost five (4.9) times that of buffaloes in 1961 and in 2012, cattle are slightly more than two and a half (2.7) times that of buffaloes. So this dramatic increase has happened in a much smaller population.

The buffalo population saw an increase of 25 lakh in five decades
The buffalo population saw an increase of 25 lakh in five decades while the five times larger cow population only saw a lakh and a half rise in population.

AND, the buffaloes were also getting slaughtered all through, for food.

If you look at the break ups of the population, you will see this more clearly.

Details of Cattle and buffalo population in Maharashtra
Details of Cattle and buffalo population in MaharashtraCattle and buffalo population in Maharashtra

The line lying almost flat against the bottom is the population of male buffaloes, which has barely ever risen other than around 2007 and 2012 - recent years saw distinct radicalization of society against slaughter. This fluctuation, 2007 in particular, could also be explained if the census happened before the festival season when a lot of the slaughter happens. And in five decades, out of the 25 lakh rise in buffaloes, not even a tenth or two and a half lakhs has happened in the male population. And of course India is the world's largest exporter of carabeef (buffalo beef).

Not only do buffalo owners profit from the high yields of the buffalo, and then an income from the sale of the unproductive animals for slaughter, they also do not feed much surplus livestock unnecessarily.

If you take the total population of buffaloes to be 100%, the sex ratio for cows and buffaloes would be thus over the years.

Sex ratio of cows in Maharashtra
Sex ratio of cows in Maharashtra

The only time in the history of the livestock census in Maharashtra that cows have been more than bulls and bullocks is in the year 2012, though the trend starts at 1997 (also relevant later). If you look at the data, you will see that the numbers dropped more drastically than for cows. This basically means that for the first time in Maharashtra, bulls and bullocks were being butchered in any noticeable numbers. But why now, if not for five decades? We will look at the 2012 data in detail in a bit.

Sex ratio of buffaloes in Maharashtra
Sex ratio of buffaloes in Maharashtra

The ratio of male buffaloes to female buffaloes consistently hovers between 8% and 18% - we aren't even pretending gender equality here. 50% is far away in the stratosphere, let alone male buffaloes being the majority of the population. At no point does the male buffalo population even touch 20%.

But the buffalo population did slow in 2007 and fall in 2012 in particular. So did the overall population of cows, which has been falling steadily since the late 90s.

Explanations for changes in trends in livestock data can be found in events that impacted livestock farming practices.

Cow population started dropping after 1997

What else was happening in the agricultural world around that time? Maharashtra's post-economic liberalization agrarian crisis had established. By 1995, P. Sainath's reports of farmer suicides in rural India had triggered enough alarm that they had started being recorded in NCRB data. While livestock, as an economic asset provides a buffer against poverty, to me it seems like it lost its potency by 1997 with the agrarian crisis creating a similar situation for most cattle owners.

At this point, the farmers were committing suicide, but still there is no noticeable slaughter of bulls and bullocks. However, the overall populations started dropping steadily as cows started becoming economically unviable.

Understand this, when less than 50% of the cattle population is cows, milk producing cows are even fewer, so cattle owners probably had two unproductive animals for every milch cow. With the rise of motorized transport, while bullock carts could be used for own needs and ploughing the fields could be done, income earning opportunities from bulls and bullocks started dwindling (and are near non-existent today).

What happened in 2012?

The worst drought to hit Maharashtra happened in 2012. People were desperate for water for themselves. Buffaloes actually have higher water requirements than cows ("water buffalo" d'uh). Buffalo owners seem to have sold off their livestock in greater than usual numbers. This is probably also a factor in India becoming the world's largest exporter of beef at that time.

What was happening with the cows in 2012?

The cattle population continued to drop, except for two major departures from the norm till then.

The population of exotic and crossbred cows rose

While all the other cattle and buffalo population was busy going down, the one notable exception was the population of exotic and crossbred cows - this would be your fancy imported dairy breeds with very high production. Their requirements of water would be less than buffaloes, and milk production would be comparable. Indigenous cows, on the other hand, barely produce enough to justify a business if it also means caring for an unproductive cow later. Those continued to reduce.

Exotic and indigenous cattle population between 2007 and 2012
Exotic and indigenous cattle population between 2007 and 2012

Actually, the crossbred and exotic cattle population has been showing a steady rise all through, it only became visible here, when everything else went down. The rise in the number of exotic and crossbred cows (usually reared for dairy business because of high yields and correspondingly high dietary requirements), combined with the highest drop in male cattle also belonging to the same category shows that the more progressive dairy businesses were moving toward a pragmatism in their business model.

Dramatic drop in male cattle numbers

Male exotic and cross bred cattle saw the highest drops (they are less suitable/sturdy for local climates and work AND they require more feed and water). Male indigenous cattle too saw a drop. For the first time in the history of the livestock census in India, Maharashtra has more cows than male cattle. To put it bluntly, when food and water got scarce, male cattle were the ones sacrificed in greater numbers - either to butchers or starvation and dehydration in abandonment.

My views on what the government should have done, as opposed to what it did

In the absence of slaughter bans, cattle farming is actually more profitable than buffaloes

This is because buffaloes require more care, water and suffer more in drought - which seems to be a permanent feature of Maharashtra now. In the absence of slaughter bans, cow beef is more palatable and thus priced higher than carabeef, which would add to the income of the cattle farmers and make it a viable choice.

Given the lack of any real increase in the cattle population in Maharashtra (similar is seen nationwide), the government should have taken the initiative to free people from traditional taboos against cattle slaughter and encouraged them to sell cattle to middlemen, even as they themselves remained reluctant to engage in slaughter or consumption.

This would not only make cattle farming viable and result in similar increases in population and quality of cattle as with buffaloes, and reduce non-productive investments for the already stressed agrarian economy, it would allow better treatment of cattle, instead of abandonment, injury and worse. It is a matter of debate which is the greater cruelty - a quick death or a week in pain with a stomach full of plastc or legs broken by an irate farmer whose crops stray cattle destroyed. Having fewer non-productive cattle would mean a better diet and care to cows and calves. It would mean optimal use of scarce grazing, fodder and water, which would indeed go to the revered milk producing cow.

It was a matter of educating the people and leading them to economic viability - is that not the government's pet grudge? That the poor are given handouts when what they need is sustainability?

Instead, the government chose to take Maharashtra back to a rigid cow worship as a part of their ideological agenda, but funded by the already stressed cattle owners, turning their investments to liabilities overnight for the sentiments of those who don't raise (and thus serve) the cows themselves at all. It chose to smother the budding realization of the need to reduce male cattle - even if triggered by desperate circumstances and protect the cattle instead of the people. It put the welfare of an animal over that of its voters. That is the bottom line. An open declaration that the state that leads the nation in farmer suicide still expects farmers to spend on unproductive cattle, even as government actions have brought an unending drought.

Basically, the government has turned the cow into its murder weapon. And no, I am not talking of its murderous affiliates slaughtering humans by leveraging rumors here. Is it not murder for a state that sees educated girls give up on non-existent jobs and dreams of marriages and turn to prostitution to feed starving families to force them to fund the government's cattle fetish as well? Is it not murder to force an expense on farmers, remove an alternative to loans and debt in the state that leads the country in farmer suicides? Because that is how it is, you know? Sell a bull instead of taking a loan. Buy another after harvest. Instead, the bull is now unsaleable, and the loan the farmer takes must feed it as well.

What lies in the future?

In my view, unless the oh-so-posh idealistic middle classes are willing to live without milk, the reversal of the ban is inevitable. The dwindling population of cattle if not arrested, will lead to milk shortages sooner or later and recovering from them after they are established will be far more difficult.

Unless the government has bright ideas for increasing grazing available to livestock, reducing the number of unproductive livestock is the only way forward.

There is no alternative. The government has a choice to do it on their own, or have the people kick them out in future elections. If not the immediate next, the one after that is guaranteed. Look at how the curve is going down, and this is before the government's enhanced ban.

The government has a choice here. To rein in their affiliates, to educate people and do enough social reform to allow culling of unproductive cattle, or watch their Frankenstein's monster devour the state.

Note: while this blog is licenced under a creative commons licence, publishers who usually pay authors for content or readers for access are encouraged to offer me a compensation for republishing this piece.

Note2: There are some inconsistencies in the manner in which the data has been recorded over the years. In particular for young stock, which, in earlier years had not been segregated by sex. There is a small jump in numbers where it integrates. It is similar for both cattle and buffaloes. I have deliberately chosen comparisons and examples where the impact of this would be minimal. Alas, there seems to be no other way of looking at the data long term with the criteria changing midway.

4

The last few days have seen alarming reports about culling of street animals in Kerala. "Apolitical" groups have launched a #BoycottKerala campaign. However, not everything seems to be as it appears.

Street dog attacks on children

The whole thing apparently started with increasing attacks on children (real or perceived) when 2 children 3-4 year old where brutally attacked and their faces disfigured by violent dogs and later a small girl was killed by stray dogs. In 2014-15 over a lakh dog bites were reported (this sounds pretty serious or exaggerated - merits concern in any case).  An all party meeting chaired by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to address this issue included four cabinet ministers, top officials from the animal husbandry department, district administrators and heads of local bodies.

In this meeting, it was agreed that the government was within its rights to cull rabid or violent dogs if other measures failed. Immediate actions to start an Animal Birth Control programme were announced. An update on the Chief Minister's official site confirms this as well. Misinterpreting this as an order to Kill all dogs in streets AWBI started initiating protest actions against state of Kerala. Or perhaps it was a deliberate misrepresentation inspired by China's mass culling that saw tens of thousands of animals butchered brutally.

Happy to target the Kerala government, the BJP IT CELL waded into the mess with its usual throng of wholesale trolls and the #BoycottKerala campaign reached new lows, including their signature technique of creating "proofs" to convince people of their accusations by presenting images taken randomly off the internet as the crimes they oppose.

Fake propaganda images used against kerala government
Fake propaganda images used against kerala government

 

Basic common sense makes it evident that it does not make sense to spend time and money on a large scale sterilization programme, if the government intends to kill the strays - which would be done in far less time. Clearly, it doesn't.

A post by Roshan Thomas on Facebook, provides an overall explanation as follows:

The organisers of hate campaign against Kerala are adamant about the protests they have planned in various cities across the globe. Here are a few interesting facts bout the organisers and the information they propagate:

  1. They claim that the boycott kerala campaign is against Kerala Govt's decision for mass culling of stray dogs following the all party meeting.While the truth is that Kerala Government hasn't agreed for mass culling of stray dogs. The decision is to go for Animal Birth Control (ABC) measures.
  2. Kamna Pandey, who is one of the organisers of the hate Kerala campaign is also a member of Animal Welfare Board of India. The pictures which Kamna uploaded in facebook as a part of the campaign initiated the fury and the call for boycott kerala.From a simple Google Image Search, it is evident that most of those images aren't from Kerala. Some are even from Nigeria & the United States. That raises the ethical question: Are members of a governmental organisation allowed to spread hatred by propagating lies intentionally?
  3. Some of the organisers of the event, proudly displays 'BJP Social Media Cell' tag on their facebook profile. The racial hatred spilled by the set of people were enormous. Soon after I published a status update on the same a couple of my friends informed me that they have brought the same to the attention of Kerala BJP leadership.The silence of BJP Kerala faction is highly condemnable and raises so many questions on their allegiance. Who are you with? The North Indian tourism lobby which spills hatred or the people of Kerala? ( It is to be noted that pages approved by BJP social media cell are hyper active today in defending Union Agriculture Minister's statement but doesn't seem to have any idea about the racial hatred induced by their North Indian counterparts.)
  4. The event pages and people behind the hate campaign are consistently endorsing Goan & Srilankan tourism. That alone gives a clear idea on the intentions.

In other words, it is yet another invented outrage. Move on.

With inputs from Sharath Sathisan

Mumbai, 5 December 2014: Shocked by online reports of the plight of birds, snakes and other creatures housed in Culcutta Snake Park located at Kolkata’s Madhyamgram area, Mumbai animal activist Shakuntala Majumdar (09322271966, thanespca@hotmail.com) sent independent investigators and later made a detailed complained to the Animal Welfare Board of India. The Animal Welfare Board, in turn, wrote a complaint to the Central Zoo Authority on 17 November 2014 that pointed out, “The snakes are kept in a small cage and monkeys were kept in metal rusting bars in a smaller cage, tortoises locked in rusting boxes, crocodile swimming among plastic bottles and birds in cages are very small (sic). It was also alleged that the place may well be a holding place for trafficking of wild animals.”

“It was also reported that several dogs are being held in Kennels behind the birds enclosures. The kennels were soaking wet, and many different breeds were in a single kennel with little personal space or shelter,” said the letter addressed by S Vinod Kumar (98848 81355), Secretary of Animal Welfare Board of India, to Bishan Bonal, Member Secretary, Central Zoo Authority, Janpath (9868100169). See the attached letter.

The complainant, Shakuntala Majumdar, is herself an active member of Maharashtra State Animal Welfare Board.

The Kolkata Snake Park is owned by showman and entrepreneur Deepak Mitra (See http://www.dipakmitra.net/cnp_dipakmitra.htm). Mr Dipak Mitra is a member of the West Bengal state wildlife advisory board, and may be contacted on 09831404379 and 033-24632425.

“While we hope that the allegations are exaggerated, we would request that a thorough investigation be made with immediate effect,” wrote Ms Majumdar in her complaint, citing page 44 to 48 of an earlier report by Canadian NGO Zoo Check (http://www.zoocheck.com/reportpdfs/indianreport1.pdf ) and also a blog

https://adiplomatsdaughter.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/i-visited-the-worst-zoo-in-the-world/

“Snakes are kept in tiny boxes with no environmental enrichment and many of them had dry skins flaking off their bodies. At least twenty Water Monitor Lizards were observed, all malnourished and dehydrated, with ribs showing and dehydrated. These animals had insufficient access to water and were in overcrowded conditions. Investigators were told by reliable sources that they were collected from the wild in very large numbers by misusing permits provided to the owner for conducting reptile research,” says Ms Majumdar, who is Chairman of Thane SPCA.

“The investigators noticed many animals in Calcutta Snake Park in tiny, stygian and filthy cages. Monkeys were also observed in very small cages with signboards saying, ‘Rescued on Behalf of the Chief Wildlife Warden of Bengal. Birds have been kept in cages hardly bigger than they are and their feathers were observed twisted and broken. This facility has been reported repeatedly for inadequate conditions for animals and also for its involvement in alleged illegal wildlife trade for many decades now but surprisingly, the West Bengal Forest Department has continued to send wild animals to this place, despite the fact that many animals have been reported to die here. The Indian Zoo Inquiry suggested that this place be closed down for numerous serious deficiencies and the animals be relocated elsewhere to more appropriate accommodation elsewhere.

“Calcutta Snake Park is abusing wildlife along with West Bengal Snake Park. Animal Welfare Board of India has already requested the Central Zoo Authority to act to take action against the owner, Dipak Mitra. The same also applies for the West Bengal Snake Park. Wildlife and animal welfare activists alike fervently urge enforcement authorities, the West Bengal Forest Department and the Central Zoo Authority to take necessary action to close down these captive animal dungeons and relocate the abused animals to more appropriate facilities.

2

When the idea of animal sacrifice was born, livestock were wealth. The world has come a long way from that point, and your wealth is now in banks, in expensive possessions like vehicles and laptops. Few Muslims own goats as any investment anymore. It is no sacrifice to kill a goat. There is no emotional attachment, and the "sacrifice" value is at best whatever the price of the goat is, not the animal itself. [Tweet "Why must an animal lose its life for little more reason than an exhibition of worship?"]

It is something Muslims must think about. Do they feel they have sacrificed anything at all of value in taking that life? What did that life mean to them? What was their right to take it, when there is hardly any scarcity of meat on this day?

Muslims object when I bring this up. They say that people distribute excess meat to the poor. To the best of my knowledge, this is at best something people believe because it makes them feel better. I have yet to see Bakri Id gain reputation as a day when poor people can count on being fed well, or at least being certain of having meat to cook for dinner for the next few days. Or perhaps those who know go to places to beg for it. Undoubtedly, a few needy do have full stomachs that day, but to believe that no meat is wasted and it goes to the needy requires a blindness that comes at the cost of countless lives. So what if they are not human? They die for waste in a religion that makes a virtue of simplicity and frugality.

What happens to the left over meat? Some Muslims diligently do distribute it to the needy. Others probably donate it to someone handy waiting to take it with little guarantee that it actually reaches the needy. Still more make a point of distributing meat to the poor to the extent that they will kill more goats just to be able to distribute.

By and large, a large part of the meat ends up as garbage. Homes cook far more than they need to eat. The poor who do avail of the donated meat get far more than they need to eat. People get gifts of meat to add to what they already have. And the fact is, no one can eat so much.

I am not against eating meat. I object to killing far more than you need to eat. If Muslims could eat all the goats they killed, I wouldn't be writing this article at all. It is the same with animal sacrifices in temples, which happen on a smaller scale, and the temple meal itself uses up the meat, but I have objected to the slaughter of a buffalo in a temple once, because it would not be eaten. To any outraged Hindutvavadis, that would be the annual fair of the Hidimba mata mandir in Manali. They can verify. Every year, of the five animals sacrificed, the buffalo gets wasted. No idea if they still do it.

In addition, when families were large tribes and clans with large households, killing and eating a goat made sense. A family of four or five people cannot consume a goat and a thousand families of four and five people cannot even find enough people needing meat on that day without making some serious effort that would take time they don't have, because they will be busy celebrating.

And we aren't even talking here of health risks from lack of hygiene and improper waste disposal, which is common in poorer localities. We aren't talking about sacrificial animals being kept tied in cruel conditions. (FYI, it is cruel for a goat to be tied next to an unfamiliar busy street or be harassed by neighbourhood children and dogs.)

Everything eats something else to live. I imagine a leaf of spinach, by not dying on being plucked gets cut alive right till the point it gets cooked. In comparison, one animal dies on being butchered and at least doesn't get cooked alive. Grains and milk probably are the kindest in that sense, but surely we deprive a calf of its rightful nutrition too? All consumption has an impact on other life to some extent and it is the nature of life. I am not objecting to eating meat. Note. I am objecting to cruelty.

To take life without reason is unjustified cruelty. Is this what you wish to offer your God? The killing of an animal that means little more to you than the price of a phone at a time when you will easily get meat without killing it? That, to my eyes is cruelty. I am an atheist, but I do understand the limited utility of religion as a means of promoting better thought among masses not used to questioning the larger meaning of life, so to say. Every religion claims to promote respect for life and kindness. So does Islam, at least the interpretation people I know insist is the right one.

If Mohammed were alive and looking at Muslims today, would he really say that "sacrifice" - the idea of giving up something you value and need for the larger good - is goat murder?

Perhaps some Muslims still believe that the proper expression of that sacrifice is still a goat and they do not feel comfortable sacrificing anything else. There would still be ways around taking life needlessly.

Several progressive Muslims now get together and slaughter a goat for their entire community, which provides an appropriate amount of meat that can be consumed with lesser waste.

But such thinking requires a willingness to take a good hard look at your own actions and their larger meaning, as opposed to insisting on doing things in a manner that they have been done regardless of whether circumstances around the situation have changed.

For those who believe in the spiritual value of sacrifice, it would make more sense to give up laptop to a poor student, make space in your home for the homeless. That is sacrifice. Not something that does not bother you to give up. Nor is there any "giving up" in eating the "sacrifice" till you have meat coming out of your ears and at no point does anything happen that makes you suffer in the least.

I believe the Quran also insists that Muslims learn.

As Muslims have learned to enjoy photographs and music, as even the most radical Islamic clerics have learned to tolerate passport and driving licence photos at the very least, if Muslims are able to see the larger community as a family, it shouldn't be so difficult to save lives and prevent waste.

By: udeyismail

[Tweet "After all goats are people too!"]

18

 

I have been thinking about this on and off beef debate raging in our country, and I realize it is a very complex, multi-dimensional thing. Each side of the table has its own considerations and they are all important. Trying to explain how I see the situation. Beginning with religious perspectives, because they seem loudest these days.

Hindus

[tweetthis]We can't argue that we used to burn widows, so we should now. We can't argue we used to eat cows, so we should now.[/tweetthis]

painting of two women with sacred cowHindus see cows as sacred. While not specifically a deity, a cow has its place in religious rituals and customs. There are many who argue that Hindus did eat beef in the Vedic period, or that the ban on eating beef where it occurs is for fertile cows. And the documentation seems fairly convincing. However, I disagree that this means that the same rules apply today. One big difference between Hinduism and Abrahamic religions is that practices have evolved and been different in different times.

Just like we can't argue that we used to marry kids and burn widows, so we should do it now, we can't argue that we used to eat cows and we should do it now. The fact is that whatever the past, the present holds a deep reverence for the cow and an aversion to cow as food. This must not be ignored. It is not enough to say minorities have rights if that means violating very deep rooted beliefs of the majority. This is my opinion based on a purely social understanding.

So, I see the validity of the stand of the Hindus that they oppose beef as food.

Christians

Not much to say here. Christians eat beef. At the same time, most are also fine not eating it out of consideration for the community at large.

Muslims

[tweetthis]Beef eating by Muslims rarely happens in front of Hindus. It is more often in Muslim areas, where it is not offensive.[/tweetthis]

The same with Muslims. Most Muslims I know in India don't actually eat beef. Islam has no problems with eating beef, but they do it out of a cultural understanding that it is offensive to those they live among. Whether this is a fear of being targeted for eating beef, or it is a genuine respect and willingness to not expose fellow Hindus to such actions may vary from place to place. Any beef eating is mostly done in Muslim areas - where it is not offensive - culturally.

Dalits

[tweetthis]Dalits find beef an affordable and nutritious food, which their beliefs don't prohibit them from eating.[/tweetthis]

I have heard this on and off. Dalits eat beef. Dalits also are interested in legitimizing beef as a source of food, because the very fact that most Hindus will not eat it, in a country of Hindu majority means that it is significantly cheaper. This is important to them. Considering that an majority of dalits are under the poverty line, and that beef is indeed nutritious, this is no trivial consideration.

Also, I can understand their need to openly eat cows, instead of hiding it as a shameful thing. They have lost enough dignity over the ages. If they eat something, hiding it for social disapproval of upper castes would be a return to that same thinking. They are legitimate people of the land, eating food that is not forbidden to them. There is no need for them to be ashamed of it.

Cows as domestic animal - relationship

[tweetthis]Unlike goats or chickens, cows are often part of a household and it becomes uncomfortably like eating someone you know.[/tweetthis]

A friend brought up an important point. Unlike a goat or a chicken, the way a cow is housed in a home, the daily interaction with owners, and so on means an emotional bond. She would find eating a cow about as appealing as eating a cat or pet parrot.

Another friend in the same conversation remarked that cats and parrots eat very little and are not domesticated for their economic utility.

However many love their goats dearly, specially those who own one or two for milk, families who have children, etc as compared with shepherds with large flocks intended for consumption. On the other hand, there are communities that will eat dogs too.

It is a difficult boundary. I have once unknowingly eaten a goat I had been friends with on an earlier visit. During the post [delicious] dinner conversation I asked my hosts how Chulbuli was doing, and they went "uh...." I wouldn't have had dinner if I had known. I'd have asked for vegetarian only food if I could have saved her. Though I know she would still have died on another day. The worst part is that dinner had tasted very very good, and I was feeling horribly guilty for enjoying it.

Being a cow owner

[tweetthis]Non-productive cows are an economic drain on owners. It is no small expense to feed a cow you have no hope of earning from.[/tweetthis]

I have lived a rural life for many years and have experienced the realities of owning a cow among those who aren't particularly rich (which is a heck of a lot of people in India). A cow has significant requirements. Most cows today being hybrids for greater yields of milk, they are not as hardy as the cows of old, who could weather the climate of their place through natural evolution. Cows today live in sheds. This not only means the structure itself, but the bells and whisltes that go with it. Cleaning it, airing it, etc. A cow is a lot of work. The cost for a day's feed can easily cross Rs.150 without getting into anything special. If a cow gives milk worth Rs.200 or more, that is rewarding, but when she doesn't... things get ugly.

[tweetthis]Taboos around slaughter lead to cows and bullocks being abandoned on the streets to feed at garbage dumps.[/tweetthis]

Barren cows and bulls are an expense. And not a minor one. While it is true that it is callous to value an animal for its economic merit, it is also a fact of animal husbandry - even for dairy. A barren cow is also difficult to sell. With a ban on cow slaughter, it will be impossible. Who would buy an animal to feed massive quantities of grass daily for no gain?

I have heard of families wishing their cows dead, I have heard rumors of someone poisoning their cows because they were barren - unverified village gossip. I have seen with my own eyes the ration of cows go down drastically when they are not lactating. It is simple to blame the cow owner for cruelty. But the fact is many simply cannot afford. If you go to Manali in late November and visit the Rohtang pass, keep an eye out for many, many calves dotting the frigid countryside along that winding road. I don't know where they come from, but every year, there are cattle driven to certain death on the slopes of that and other passes - to die of cold when the snow falls or at the hands of wild animals. Get out of your car, approach them. They are mostly friendly - domestic animals. Used to humans. Look carefully. All of them will be male.

[tweetthis]Taboos against slaughter make cows economically unviable and population of cows grows much slower than buffaloes.[/tweetthis]

Few people need to plough fields anymore, and with calves not eaten, and of no other use than their dung (which fertile cows also provide), they get abandoned. Abandoned cows are also a reality in cities, at garbage dumps, eating plastic, often dying of it. You call animal helplines, they will be blunt. They don't know what to do with them either. An NGO can't possibly own, house and feed all the retired population of cattle! They don't have that kind of resources. No one with a stake in cows has, except some of our larger temples who also have an interest in cows not being killed and with massive donations in charity (and the possibility of raising more to save cows) they definitely could afford it, but I haven't seen temples keen on adopting cattle they would like to save.

I would use and call a number if provided.

cow in a pasture

Economics of the cow

India is likely to become the world's largest beef exporter by 2013 - believe it or not. Wait, before setting my blog on fire. The beef India exports is buffalo meat. You never get to hear this, because of the extreme volatility of public opinion on this issue. No one wants to talk about the beef industry here. Naturally, we also have a flourishing leather industry, which is an even more hidden matter. I think most people think that leather goods manifest out of thin air, because when they see the reality, they go insane enough to murder five people just doing their jobs. Those men got angry and the place being Haryana, they fixed that by lynching to death all the five dalits who skinned the carcass of the cow. I have no difficulty understanding why dalits are not impressed by reverence for a cow, when their own lives are considered cheaper.

No more, no less. Why? Because our diaper changing, religio-political thought hijacking leadership has simply erased many facts of life from public consciousness. No one thinks of where cows go when they die. I suppose most imagine a cow heaven with green grass, fresh water springs and calves gamboling like freaking deer in a Disney film. In reality, there are thousands and thousands of stomachs being fed handling dead bodies of these "mothers" no one wants to think about. Collecting carcasses from highways and streets and parks. "Processing" them. Not a single "son" of these "mothers" shows up, to avoid any inconvenient expenses or effort. If the dalits had any worshipful thoughts, most tanners being low caste and looking at how unwanted stray cows are would tell them the truth anyway. Why not feed starving people?

And does banning cow slaughter actually result in the well being of cows? If their economic worth is reduced to only milk and dung, their viability itself suffers - in other words, a slow genocide of these 'mothers'. Particularly if a non-productive animal can not only not be sold for money, but can't actually be killed or done anything with except worship. Better to not have and breed cows than incur expenses many times worth the milk they produce!

A case in point are official animal census figures.

Livestock Population in India by Species
(In Million Numbers)
Species195119561961196619721977198219871992199720032007$
Cattle155.3158.7175.6176.2178.3180.0192.5199.7204.6198.9185.2199.1
Adult Female Cattle54.447.351.051.853.454.659.262.164.464.464.573.0
Buffalo43.444.951.253.057.462.069.876.084.289.997.9105.3
Adult Female Buffalo21.021.724.325.428.631.332.539.143.846.851.054.5
Total Bovines198.7203.6226.8229.2235.7242.0262.2275.7288.8288.8283.1304.4
Sheep39.139.340.242.440.041.048.845.750.857.561.571.6
Goat47.255.460.964.667.575.695.3110.2115.3122.7124.4140.5
Horses and Ponies1.51.51.31.10.90.90.90.80.80.80.80.6
Camels0.60.80.91.01.11.11.11.01.00.90.60.5
Pigs4.44.95.25.06.97.610.110.612.813.313.511.1
Mules0.10.00.10.10.10.10.10.20.20.20.20.1
Donkeys1.31.11.11.11.01.01.01.01.00.90.70.4
YakNCNC0.00.00.00.10.10.00.10.10.10.1
MithunNANANANANANANANA0.20.20.30.3
Total Livestock292.9306.6336.5344.5353.2369.4419.6445.2470.9485.4485.0529.7
Poultry *73.594.8114.2115.4138.5159.2207.7275.3307.1347.6489.0648.8
NC : Not Collected;  NA: Not Available    * Includes Chicken, ducks, turkey & other birds
$ Provisional derived from village level totals
Source : Livestock Censuses, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI

Almost every animal on this list has nearly doubled their population from 1951 to 2007 with the exception of cows and animals used as transport. The decline of animals of transport is to be expected with the decline of their use for transport.

[tweetthis]Animal census data from 1951 to 2007 shows that the population of cows grew by 34% while buffaloes by 159.2%[/tweetthis]

The cows? From 155.3 to 199.1 - an increase of 28% for cattle in general and from 54.4 to 73.0 - an increase of 34% for adult females (cows) in 57 years. They have been strangled off through protection - even as demand for milk has increased manifold from the increasing population.

Buffaloes offer almost identical uses, but buffalo meat is eaten and exported for food too. From 43.4 to 105.3 - an increase of 142.6% for buffaloes in general and from 21 to 54.5 - an increase of 159.52% for adult females in 57 years.

Who calls this protection or even respect?

The politics

Religious hyperbole and exclusivist pandering have made a monkey out of all religions by encouraging the least practical and most flamboyant statements of special favor. While the Muslims are slowly waking up to the fact that quotas and doles did them more harm than good, it will be a long while by the time Hindus realize that they have been conned into the most visibly exclusive and intolerant practices as a statement of their unique superiority for the exact same reasons as the Muslims.

[tweetthis]"Would you eat your mother?" "No, but I also wouldn't tie her in a shed."[/tweetthis]

My words have little value for a Hindu fundamentalist, therefore I borrow from a hero they do respect - Veer Savarkar.

Animals such as the cow and buffalo and trees such as banyan and peepal are useful to man, hence we are fond of them; to that extent we might even consider them worthy of worship; their protection, sustenance and well-being is our duty, in that sense alone it is also our dharma! Does it not follow then that when under certain circumstances, that animal or tree becomes a source of trouble to mankind, it ceases to be worthy of sustenance or protection and as such its destruction is in humanitarian or national interests and becomes a human or national dharma?

~ Veer Savarkar (Samaj Chitre or portraits of society, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 2, p.678)

Without spreading religious superstition, let the movement for cow protection be based and popularized on clear-cut and experimental economic and scientific principles. Then alone shall we achieve genuine cow protection like the Americans.

~ Veer Savarkar (1934, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.171)

I don't know what the right answer is on cow slaughter. I disagree that it should be banned. At the same time, there needs to be consideration for the sentiments of those who are emotionally attached for religious (or other) reasons.

Perhaps the answer lies in a mix of live and let live combined with clearly marked and separated areas that cow lovers can easily avoid. Areas with a large religious significance or places of pilgrimmage could be barred, etc. Another big help on this front would be in making slaughter more humane - for all animals. Will go a long way to know that animals may die for food, but they did not suffer for it.

Like all things democratic, we ought to find a middle way rather than an uncaring imposition that is absolute in any one direction.