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4

When you begin with a conclusion and backfit "science" to prove it, absurd things happen.The Holy Cow seems to be one such absurdity plaguing India these days. Trumpeting the importance of the cow, the Hindutva right governments are all out to "protect" said cows by preventing all cattle slaughter. While cow slaughter is already banned in most states, Maharashtra now takes another step up the bovine ass to ban all cattle slaughter, meaning calfs and bulls that could earlier be slaughtered with appropriate certificate can no longer be killed.

This, naturally has implications statewide as the bulls get reduced from economically viable livestock to a liability overnight in addition to the cows. The idea of bans on cattle slaughter itself is economically problematic in a country with a large number of poor people. From the obvious removal of beef as cheap nutrition for economically weaker sections to the removal of specialities on menus of non-vegetarian restaurants that serve beef (buffalo meat is tougher and not completely substitutable). From the removal of the prized beef from the meat exports leaving only the tougher carabeef (buffalo meat) to instant losses for cattle owners who will no longer have buyers for their livestock.

While the move is projected as a pro-Hindu move, in reality, there is a significant number of eaters who are Hindu, but even more importantly the economic loss to the cattle owners is largely among Hindus - since Hindus are greater in population, own land and livestock in greater numbers. The largest beef exporters in India are Hindu. Meat eaters can eat other meats, it is livestock owners that are left with nowhere to dispose off unviable livestock, let alone profit from it. As drought stricken farmers take up loans to transport bulls to cattle fairs in a desperate effort to sell them, they still don't find buyers. Who would buy bulls in an era of motorized transport and slaughter bans? What would one do with the bull? Our champions of the Hindu Rashtra appear to not have thought that far. Yet as drought sweeps Maharashtra, there is going to be an urgent need to sell people further driven to ruin by the cattle slaughter ban some con about why they cannot sell their animals for slaughter instead of feeding them non-existent feed and watering them with scarce water.

Alas, the problem is, in their hurry to protect, they haven't quite figured out what to do with the cattle that don't get killed. More than that, the impracticality not being a deterrent, they are aiming to expand such "protection" across India. Jharkhand may follow suit with a similar expanded ban. But how can this be done without appearing to be complete idiots?

The efforts are relentless. It helps that the greatest defenders of the slaughter ban have never been responsible for looking after cattle and are free to expound on the merits of a live cow over a dead one. Thus they are completely free to use all their creative faculties with scant regard for practicalities. "What we don't know can't inhibit us"appears to be the new mantra. All sorts of uses for otherwise useless cattle are being found - namely dung and urine.

The premise of the Gobar economy, as I've started calling it, is that excreta is more valuable than feed. Therefore, the grass that has passed through the body of a cow is not as valuable as the dung that exits the other end. Or, more accurately, you will earn enough from dung to cover the cost of grass PLUS the money you'd have earned from selling the animal for meat. And of course they don't get laughed right off the social networks because most people there have no idea what grass, dung or cow meat costs in India. They also appear to have no idea that fertile milch cattle too provide dung and urine as additional utility and ban or no ban, no sane cattleowner butchers milch cattle because they are too profitable to be sold for the one time price of meat.

Yet, they do not seem to have hurried to construct their cow protection centers - probably because their rural staff aren't complete idiots and will be wondering where the money for care comes from once the propaganda utility is over. Still, it does not serve to stem the torrents of absurdity spewing in social media in a desperate bid to prove that an economic loss inflicted on cattle owners by those who profit from ideology and not cattle; is not actually a loss.

Here are some such statements:

Would you kill and eat your mother?

No, but I wouldn't tie her in a shed either.

A cow doesn't have to be given special feed if she isn't giving milk. Just grass and water.

Grass doesn't manifest from thin air. It grows on land, has to be cut into bales, transported, fed. Paid for. Grazing can only last so much. But of course, you can always leave your "mom" at a garbage dump for some takeout. In Maharashtra where we have drought in a fifth of the state before the monsoon ends, we are talking of an animal that drinks an average of 60 liters of water a day. Have you ever watered a cow? I have. A twenty liter bucket and half each time offered twice a day doesn't sound excessive at all. Particularly in hot weather. This would be ferrying three LARGE buckets of water PER COW, DAILY. In places like Marathwada, children are quitting school to help families find and ferry enough water to survive. There are people marrying water wives not so far from Mumbai - their only job is to ferry water. Someone want to explain how simply giving water to a cow three times a day is a minor thing for the sake of faith? How many of the loudmouth laptop jockeys would ferry three buckets of water out of respect for their real mother?

Uses of cow dung and cow urine

The uses of cow/bull dung and urine are the same whether the cow is a productive one or non-productive one. Makes no sense to maintain a non-producing animal for the sake of excretion. Additionally, buffalo dung is practically interchangeable with cow dung as fertilizer or plastering floors and walls of mud homes.

The government has jumped in with all its four feet to make cows more useful.

Maharashtra is now promoting organic farming

This is no doubt a very welcome step, except the government is also promoting GM crops. Organic farming depends on a very robust ecosystem of organisms that keeps pathogens and pests at bay. Genetically Modified crops have a high dependence on chemical inputs - which destroys the ecology. When push comes to shove, is the government that betrayed their largest supporter group to push GM crops, going to create the chemical free space organics will need? Let us see. If they do, it will be great. Unfortunately a cynical part of me believes that the farmers will be pushed toward the two opposite goals simultaneously and left to deal with the results and absorb consequences on their own.

Cow urine disinfectant

This is probably the most alarming of the lot. The idea is not entirely impossible. Cow urine is used in some organic pesticides already. However, the idea that because it is non-toxic for humans and can be safely used to control several pests does not automatically mean that it will work to prevent vectors of infection among humans. Inherently, there is nothing in cow urine that would prevent organisms that decompose living matter to thrive - cow urine, for example can be happily added to compost heaps without any harm to the decomposers in it. For that matter, so can human urine. Excellent sources of nitrogen to get a compost pile hot fast. For someone into organic farming, the idea that anything that can be added to a compost pile will prevent growth of microorganisms is a little difficult to digest. No pun intended.

Still it is possible that the cow urine is processed in a manner that enhances its action against pathogens. Not impossible. There are many other organic products that have proved safe for medical use - for example sphagnum moss for absorbent dressings or maggots to clean infected wounds.

There appears to be no conclusive research that would indicate its suitability in an environment where humans in fragile health would be kept. To run a trial of such a disinfectant in the ICU of a hospital - monitoring or not treads into several problematic areas.

  1. To begin with, trials are best conducted by scientists and not politicians.
  2. Trials conducted without consent are ethically problematic.
  3. Even utility in a human environment would not establish safety in a situation where sterility is a requirement. Many pathogens occur naturally in the environment but are rarely a problem unless they manage to find a host. Examples would be Fusarium wilt in plants or tetanus among humans. Given that hospitals often have patients with injuries and the target use appears to be sterilizing instruments in an ICU (of all things!), the risk also needs to be assessed in terms of safety around open wounds.

By default, organic and sterile have a problem co-existing and while I am all for organics, it is important to recognize that hospital treatments are often not organic to begin with. The need to promote a cow urine based product, with dubious and currently unproven safety directly in a high risk environment stinks of "research" invented by PR departments. A scientific mind ought not to have a problem with systematic testing for target use before deploying in real life situations.

A scientific mind ought to have a problem with human trials without consent and a scientific mind ought to be asking who is responsible if irreversible infections happen.

All this STILL will not explain how unviable cattle can find an alternative viability that is greater than the input into their care. It still will not explain how cattle dying horrible painful deaths from plastic ingested in garbage heaps where these "mothers" are abandoned by their "sons" is more pious than cattle well cared for till they are finally butchered. It does not explain how cows abandoned at garbage dumps but buffaloes and bulls (till recently) being fed well for slaughter respects cows. It does not explain how it respects cows for them to be turned into an economic liability for owners, nor does it explain what the government's right is, to pay public funds for the passive upkeep of thousands of animals that could feed people, while people die of hunger.

Even Savarkar had recommended allowing cattle slaughter if that made economic sense.

But is our cow infested right wing willing to relook at the gobar economy and allow the poor to make choices that sustain them?

Facts have published an article by Prashant Sudhakaran called "Sonia Falerio's sleight of hand in the New York times" which refers to an article by Sonia Falerio in the New York times and debunks it.

Disclosure 1: I have not read Sonia Falerio's article and am not planning to. Not even read Prashant's article properly.

Disclosure 2: My sole issue is that I'm touchy about bogus statistics.

Prashant Sudhakaran for some reason uses meat prices from USDA and IMF as "evidence" to prove that beef is more expensive than pork, instead of prices from India:

Unless of course, if Sonia Faleiro’s contention is that Indian commodity prices are an island, and that they are significantly cheaper than global prices—in which case she has uncovered a massive global arbitrage opportunity.

Beef is expensive worldwide, because it is among preferred meats. In India, beef prices are indeed lower.

Here is the products page for Meat Products of India. Surf prices to your heart's content. Beef is indeed more economical than pork. Will Prashant reverse his argument on beef in light of the fact that Indian commodity prices for beef are indeed an island and he was merely ignorant of the "global arbitrage opportunity" already being profited from that makes India the largest exporter of beef?

Does Prashant or India "Facts" have the courage to publish a correction?

5

Identity is a fundamental part of our being. We have many simultaneous identities. Some are circumstances of birth or life, others are conferred by something we do, still others fall somewhere in between.

These identities indicate similarities among certain groups of people and are broad stereotypes that help us understand and relate better. For example, it would be absurd to ask a vegetarian if he eats chicken, and then separately for fish, beef, eggs and more. We understand the stereotype "vegetarian" to mean that this person we have just met will not eat any kind of meat. There are exceptions, which are notable for not following the pattern, but the patterns help us function amid the diversity of people and their circumstances and habits in the world we inhabit.

An identity in itself is merely a description of traits. The problem arises when some identities are treated unfairly by or in comparison with other identities. These identities are not just caste. Woman, child, leper, homeless, beggar are examples of identities that often face a default disadvantage in terms of social power. Other identities face a deficit of trust - politician, lawyer or money lender, for example.

Social identities we get from birth are not a choice. You aren't a Brahmin because you chose to be one, any more than you are a dalit because you chose to be one. It is a descriptor of how you are seen by those around you.

It is fashionable these days for people from upper castes to pretend to not know their caste or "abdicate" it. The problem with this is that it means nothing. I speak from experience. I am atheist. I have denied being a Brahmin many times. NOTHING changed in how I was treated. I stopped denying my caste, because I realized that all it achieved was for me to pretend that I don't profit from privilege, when in reality, I do.

Our centuries of conditioning of caste is such that the minute you open your mouth, accent and diction brings instant recognition. A surname completes the picture. Entire cultures and communities revolve around castes and sub-castes. There are a thousand subtle behavioral markers that make it instantly evident to one who values caste and many who don't realize how much they unconsciously register. To stop "being a Brahmin" with any real difference in how I was treated would take un-knowing many things Brahmins grow up conditioned with. It would take eating food differently, speaking differently, forgetting countless Sanskrit verses I grew up hearing. It would take going back and refusing all the various opportunities I received - would the new girl me have to struggle to get an opportunity to learn?

Would I even be the me I am now, if I hadn't grown up with that sheltered ignorance of dangers to girls that did not see an unsurmountable challenge in a young, single girl living as a nomad in remote rural India? Would I have been able to pull it off safely and have a profound, life changing experience if my speech, behavior and presence itself didn't save my reckless butt with the proclamation that I wasn't a category of person you could fuck with without consequence? Perhaps I would. Perhaps not. Perhaps, I wouldn't have grown with the foolish belief that no one would harm me that led me as a girl barely out of teenage into thinking that living in the Himalaya and being a nomad on my own would be feasible. What does it mean to deny caste without also giving up every unequal advantage you continue to enjoy because of it?

I remember my horror to discover for the first time that "Shastra puja" actually involves ritual worship of weapons - as in swords and such - among warrior castes. In our household, my father used to worship his electronics tools, and I worshipped my books!!! Till then, the fact that "shastra" means weapon or instrument (at its most benign interpretation) had completely escaped me. Naive? Definitely, but I had the luxury of having a functional world without learning practices of others because I lived at the top of the social food chain of what is acceptable. I suppose the world also needs some people naive enough to worship books as weapons :p

I had once, briefly stayed as a paying guest in the home of a Muslim. It ended rather abruptly when I praised ham sandwiches and invited their daughter to try one and worse, when asked not to do it, argued that it was delicious and that they should try it instead of just refusing without having ever tasted. I had never heard of a taboo about pork and thought it was their family eccentricity. I was Hindu Brahmin, studied in a convent, had some Muslim friends, I thought I knew religious diversity. (No, they didn't kill me, merely asked me to find another place to live when my ignorance and argumentative nature simply wouldn't accept a taboo.) It took me over a decade to understand the full magnitude of the offense I had unwittingly rendered.

I once had a kunbi maid. One of the sweetest persons and willing workers I have ever met. I had asked her to churn the dahi to extract the butter. She just stirred it a bit and brought it back. So I sent her back to churn it properly. Again, the same. Eventually I got angry at her "laziness". Why not just churn the damn thing till she could see the butter instead of trying to escape the task? Turned out, she wasn't trying to escape the task. She had no idea how butter was made. She was fifty years old without ever having made butter at home. They didn't even have milk daily. I learned how butter was made in early childhood. It was a routine process in the household.

My current maid is Malwani with a dialect that is simply enchanting. You want her to make the fish curry and not me. My balcony garden would not have been half as thriving as it is without another kunbi maid's years of practical experience working crops. "You don't need to do anything, just thin the seedlings. They need space." when I was googling up fertilizers for why my damn plants wouldn't grow as advertized.

Every culture, every caste, every lifestyle comes with a wisdom and experience of its own distilled into houshold practices, heirditary professions, rituals, methods, arts, heroes, reformers, philosophers and more. The problem is that we have reduced our understanding of caste to the "caste hierarchy" and discrimination or agreement or disagreement with reservations. Our efforts to combat it attempt to wipe out everyone's roots and render them into anonymous people that will be vaguely "same". I don't see this as either useful or respectful. What we are saying is that underprivileged people are too shameful to be respected for who they are and we have to somehow hide it. It may be well meaning, but it is an insult. We do it with many things, not just caste. We blur faces of rape victims - in effect saying, "If people knew who you are, they wouldn't respect you." It is not empowerment, it is not respect. It is a declaration of inferiority that says respect can only happen if you hide who you are.

I'd rather respect the diversity of cultures without seeing them or me as superior or inferior. Possibly because love taught me to respect the wisdom of many castes and tribes. The home that felt more home than the one of my birth were Buddhist tribal nomads. I lived as a tribal nomad for seven years. I saw the wisdom in their ways, though it took a while for my naive entitlement to register it initially. I would not wipe out that learning by pretending there was nothing special about them and we were same. I do not see the need to anonymize centuries of experience, traditions and knowledge and wipe them out in an effort to pretend that discrimination is not my problem just because I have abdicated it.

Identity is not always a choice, but actions are a choice. I can choose not to discriminate. I can choose not to rank individuals higher or lower on the basis of identity.

[tweetthis]The need is not to wipe out castes, but to knock the hierarchy down.[/tweetthis]

I oppose discrimination on the basis of identity. I KNOW I have enjoyed disproportionate favor, but I will not perpetuate it. I may not follow Brahmin practices or beliefs, but having still enjoyed the privilege, I will also use my identity as a Brahmin to acknowledge that it was unfair and ensure that THIS Brahmin does not allow discrimination. It is not enough for Brahmin voices to say the wrong thing or fall silent. The need is for Brahmin voices to say the RIGHT thing instead of falling silent.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles="true"]I will add my voice to those I see treated unfairly - even if they are treated ill by an identity I belong to.[/tweetthis]

At the same time, I don't see how it is useful to sneer at Brahmins for existing, if sneering at dalits for existing is evil. I see this in a lot of people who fight caste discrimination. This monolith Brahmin who can only be evil and unless you want to be known as evil, stop calling yourself Brahmin. Counter-prejudice is not noble either. Fight discrimination, fight injustice - that is where the war is. Attacking an entire identity of people just because you associate them with oppression makes you no better than those you object to. A default of hate for Brahmins makes about as much sense as a default of hate for shudras.

The struggle needs to be for dignity and inclusion of all. Today, it is "upper" castes that define popular culture. This needs to change. A shared space needs to be created. If being called a man or woman is not an insult, being called a dalit or Brahmin ought not to be. It is merely identity. It is actions that merit contempt or respect, regardless of identity. We need to create social acceptance for self determination of caste and speak up against impunity to caste crimes. We enjoy the power, we must bear the responsibility for setting matters right within our spheres of influence as well.

What the caste system needs is not Brahmins with a sense of fairness quitting caste and leaving it the sole domain of those who discriminate, but Brahmins who are aware of injustices and change the living culture into one that refuses to discriminate. There is no rule that states that Brahmins must perpetually be inhuman and if you are humane, you must pretend to not be one. If enough Brahmins oppose discrimination, it may just become possible to have Brahmins offering society what they are good at, instead of seeking their status in pushing others down. Which many do, but they abdicate their caste, leaving the caste stereotype still mired in primitive injustices and perpetuating them. What we need is "entitled" castes who don't subscribe to discrimination to oppose the practice and refuse to include it in their social norms. Then perhaps we will finally have generations that see diversity as enrichment instead of threat.

Many may batter at gates demanding access to wells of dignity, the ones on the inside who believe it is wrong that the gates are closed must throw them open instead of pretending they don't exist.

 

Note: In this post, Brahmin can be substituted by any caste that does not suffer social discrimination and dalit can be substituted by one that does. My use of the words merely reflects the caste that I was born to and the identity most mentioned when these questions come up in discussions.