Can the real cow vigilantes please stand up? Unwanted cattle in thousands need your care

Cultural traditions across the world prohibit consumption of meat of certain animals due to various reasons, ranging from religious reasons to sentimental values. In India the cow, specifically certain native breeds have been brought under the Article 48 of the constitution. The article in simple terms states that cattle which provide milk along with cattle that are used for agriculture are banned from being used as meat and it is the responsibility of state governments to enforce the law.

At the time of Independence, Indian farmers were heavily reliant on cattle to plough their land. Cattle dung was both the prime fertilizer and a free source of cooking fuel, while milk from bovines was a source of protein and a means to an extra income. The founders of our nation accepted this reality and recognized the importance of cattle not only in the religious context but also from the point of economics and animal husbandry, as the propagation of native breeds were encouraged through the establishment of Indian Veterinary Research Institute in 1946.            

In 2018, nearly 80% of our farm holders use tractors and other mechanized farming equipment, while the production of fertilizers has crossed 30 million tons with near complete distribution across the nation. Since 2014, LPG subscribers have also increased due to central government initiatives and added incentives provided to rural households in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana. As these developments were unfolding, India also emerged as the leading producer of milk in the world, while the population of draught cattle is decreasing; the population of milch cattle has steadily increased and cattle are now exclusively bred for dairy farming. Bearing this in mind, does article 48 have the same relevance today as it did in 1950? And if so, how do we dispose 3, 00, 00,000 unproductive cattle that are in essence a corollary of dairy farming?

With a nation as huge and diverse as India, a single action such as the one on cow slaughter causes multiple ripple effects. To maintain our position as the leading producer and exporter of leather goods, our factories need a constant supply of raw hides. India is also the leading exporter of buffalo meat in the world, mainly from unproductive farm animals and excess calves that need to be disposed to maintain best practice animal husbandry. Farmer incomes were supplemented through the sale of these cattle, which in turn enabled them to part fund their new cattle purchases. In fact, Hindu farmers were thankful for the presence of Muslim butchers, for they got rid of their unwanted cattle and got paid for it.

Throughout our history, we have witnessed social reformers and religious thinkers who have transformed our society through the simple act of understanding the reality of the present and encouraging people to embrace and adapt changes. Today, we have social actors who term themselves as cow protectors and enforce their ideology through force. The protection of our cows is a noble endeavor, if pursued with the practical realities of the current situation in mind. The economic and social impact of such a move should have been discussed in depth before the announcement. Cattle will always remain an emotive issue in India and it presents an opportunity for politicians of all shades to exploit and drum up rhetoric during their campaigning. While leaders await any opportunity to exploit the issue, none have so far come forward with a viable solution. In this case it is plain to see the double standards.

What we need is a holistic understanding of cow as an animal and its benefits to the wider society. No doubt there are sensitive issues which give rise to violent incidents, but we have to bear in mind that the victims of these acts of violence are mainly from low income families who rely on the transport and movement of cattle for their livelihood. Farmers of all communities abandon cattle when they are no longer productive. Aren’t they guilty of cruelty to animals? And what of the poor cow, it gives birth to a calf and the calf feed is diverted for human consumption at commercial gain. Once the cow becomes unproductive it is neglected and sold for its meat and hide, often to finance a new purchase. If the cow protection vigilantes are really serious, then the target of their movement should be everyone who exploits cattle for commercial gain. Then, the only question that remains after rescuing all the unwanted cattle from all over India,

What DO You Do With Them?  If not what is already being done