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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

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?

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.