Beyond Reason: Protecting The Holy Cow, Her Progeny.

Maharashtra had a cow slaughter ban for long like many other Indian states. However, a bill passed in 1995 by the then Shiv Sena-BJP Government in Maharashtra to ban slaughter of bulls, oxen, heifers received the assent of India’s president very recently. Since, BJP, the political outfit of the Sangh Parivar, is ruling at the centre and in Maharashtra when the assent came through, an acrimonious debate ensued. Indian Cow, or more correctly Zebu or Bos Indicus, is considered sacred by sections of Hindu, who even call her, गौमाता.

Supporters of the ban extolled the virtues of milk [type A2: Beta Casein, at amino acid position 67 has proline instead of histidine in the milk -type A1 of western cows, Bos Taurus; Buffaloes, Camels, Sheep and Goat too have type A2 milk], urine [therapeutic effect], dung that Bos Indicus gives. Most claims were made without providing evidence, though it does exist for some claims, and were far taller than what facts could support. Opponents made equally weighty arguments from freedom of food choice, to Hindus ate beef in Vedic time, to sections of Hindus eat it even today and to them is an affordable source of protein, to pathetic treatment meted out to revered गौमाता, to loss of livelihood to thousands of butchers who principally come from Qureshi-Qasab community of Muslims, and so on. Opponents of the ban sought to emphasise the hypocrisy behind the politics of ban and it’s proponents ill will towards Muslims. Amidst all this crosstalk, no one missed the voices of people who actually take care of Indian cows, majority of them Hindus. Not something unusual here, right? That’s what happens when reason takes leave of debate. Let see it through a small story that has been unfolding in thousands of homes across India since past two decades.

Parvati and Shankar worked hard, pinched pennies, to educate their only son, Ganpati; found him  a capable bride in Saraswati; both got well paying jobs in software multinationals; and eventually were asked to relocate abroad. The duo was mighty pleased, but the aging parents were not. They were happy to have the couple stay in India and start a family before their eyes. But, when they saw the young couples crestfallen faces, they relented. Couple soon had a baby, and parents went to USA in turn to look after the baby while the couple was advancing on the career ladder. As the grandparents aged into the twilight of their lives, the US visits stopped. Ganpati lost his father, Shankar, and Parvati pleaded with her son to come back and stay with her during her remainder life. It would have been possible for Ganpati to do that but it was not good for their careers. Ganpati found a person, Kalika, to take care of of his mother and promised to send the needed money. Though, Parvati was sad, she was grateful to Kalika for the help she rendered. When finally Parvati too died, Ganpati returned on a longish holiday, all the final rites were conducted with due solemnity and understated splendour, he made a trip to Haridwar to immerse the ashes in Holy Ganga, a big obituary notice flashed in prominent local papers, and a huge prayer meeting was held to conclude his trip. Everyone showered encomiums on Ganpati, the “devout son”, while Kalika, unsung for her caring service, watched with misty eyes from the margins remembering her days with Parvati and grieving over the death of Parvati and the loss of her own occupation.

All one needs to do now is substitute Ganpati with the vociferous voices in the mainstream and the social media weighing against each other, Parvati with the proverbial sacred cow -गौमाता, and finally Kalika with the numerous small farmers and cow herders, who really attend to the “sacred” cow. The voices of the real care takers in this narrative are completely missing. Should that really matter? Yes, because they are the ones who really know about Indian cow breeds and the economics of keeping them.

The milk from my cows is thicker and sweeter, and good for children’s growth, It makes very tasty khowa and the ghee has richer fragrance and taste. Our milk is much better than the milk of Jersey and Holstein cows. Those animals yield more milk, but it is thinner, and not very tasty. But in the market, no one bothers. We get the same Rs 18-21 that Jersey milk fetches, It is a loss for us, you know, because the milk yield of our cows is about a third of what those cows yield.” – Vidya Bai Awathale, however, despairs of being able to sustain her herd of around 50 cows of rare Gaolao breed in the future, as getting a sustainable income from them is a challenge.

Native breeds are far more sturdier, weather climatic stress better, tolerate low nutrient feed, are resistant to diseases, and have better feed to milk conversion ratio. But the absolute yield of milk is much less, a third or lower, of the western varieties or crossbreds. Keeping Indian breeds is a low cost, low returns and low risk undertaking as opposed to high cost, high returns, and high risk business of keeping crossbreds. But, since both government and private industry went after increasing milk production rapidly to increase per capita availability, the whole dynamics shifted in favour of crossbreds. Take the case of Kerala, which is only representative.

Kerala’s cattle population declined by around 48 per cent between 1996 and 2007. And while the number of animals may have fallen between 1996 and 2007, “milk productivity of cows in the State rose in that period. From an average of six litres a day to 8.5 litres, even as crossbreeds came to account for 87 per cent of Kerala’s cattle“.

Chandran Master’s compound in P. Vemballur, Thrissur, Kerala has acquired a kind of cult status among those who would like to change this state of affairs, wherein yield per cow and fat content as the touchstone of milk’s quality came to rule.

See this Vadakara Dwarf,” says Chandran Master. “I doubt I spend five to ten rupees on her feed daily. Still she gives me three to four litres. But the quality of her milk is highly prized and I could get Rs.50 a litre for it. There is no high standard of feed required either. Kitchen scraps and leftovers can be used. And they don’t require special sheds or anything….  Before I switched to local breeds in 1994, I had three crossbreds, including one Swiss Brown. I had to spend up to Rs.400 a day on each. The feed was very costly and over Rs.200 a day. Pellet feed, rice powder, wheat powder, oil cake, green grass, it’s endless. They would fall ill all the time and the vet was here every week, with each visit costing me Rs.150 apart from the expense of arranging a vehicle for him….  Since making the switch: No vet has attended my cows for 17 years. And I have not even insured a single one of them. These are hardy, healthy creatures“.

IIM Bangalore conducted the study about the price of milk and it has these two tables reproduced below that tell the state of milch cattle in India and milk contribution of each type, indigenous and crossbreed cows, and buffaloes.

In the under 3 years population, except buffalo both crossbreed and indigenous cows population have registered declines in growth rate between 2007-2012 period as compared to 2003-2007. That means in the next census the proportion of buffaloes would be higher in the adult milch cattle. In the adult [>3years] population, growth rates of all have declined, crossbreds down by 1.43% and buffaloes have halved to 0.95%, but not unsurprisingly native breeds have shown not just decline but Negative growth rate or Decline rate of 0.66%.  Governments and industry’s efforts to shore up the per capita milk availability have impacted the populations of milch cattle significantly. This becomes clear from the following table.

The milk yield of crossbreds is three times that of native breeds of cows [above are national averages]; and the former even beats buffaloes at this “game”. This doesn’t account for economics of having each type of milch cattle; but from Master Chandran’s testimony it is pretty clear that crossbreds or European breeds are suitable only for industry level operation in Rearing, Collection, Processing, Distribution, and Marketing of milk and milk products. Milk availability too varies seasonally, and only economies of scale allow for converting excess milk to SMP and reconverting it back to liquid milk in periods of scarcity. On the other hand, bulk of the native breeds are owned and raised by farmers -small/marginal and cattle herder communities. They have the wrong end of the stick in this unequal competition, though their cattle are source of milk better suited to human needs. Just like all other human endeavours, here too, economic utility of the cattle -indigenous or crossbred- is of importance to the owners. Here too they are faced with uphill task.

  1. The common grazing lands and pastures are being rapidly fenced off and claimed for lucrative real estate development or infrastructure projects. This cuts off access to cheap source of feed to cattle and the soil to is deprived of nutrient replenishment through dung manure. This is an unsustainable blow to raising indigenous breeds.
  2. Whatever the extolled virtues of the milk from their milch animals, when it comes to pricing the milk, it is treated on par like any other. Therapeutic value of native breeds’s urine is tom-tomed. But, has one heard of any efforts to pay remunerative prices for the milk and urine of these cows?
  3. Often the cows of indigenous breeds seen on the streets of Indian cities are let loose to fend for themselves either because they are barren or are expected to rummage on the garbage dumps or the scraps of food few गौमाता devotees may feed. Here गौमाता has to endure either getting hit by a vehicle or ingest plastic or such other inedible matter to have her guts blocked; the outcome would be same either way -slow, painful death.  
Master Chandran has shown the way to possibly turn the situation around; but everyone is not MC and it would require a policy effort to shift the momentum. It is not the butchers who are responsible for the decline in the population of native breeds, but it is plainly the government’s quest to increase per capita milk availability and the economics of rearing native breeds turning against them. The bans on cow slaughter are not going to help, and in fact, make the situation worse. Butchers in fact pay for the animals whose utility value is over and by slaughtering them remove the drag on the economy. In India, unlike the west, cattle is not raised for the table. The only cattle that owners would be willing to part with for slaughter in normal times are those whose economic value is well passed, such as old or sick animals. In times of distress, when there is drought that leads to fodder and water shortages, there could be sale of younger animals. However, if the calculus of the BJP government is that this slaughter-ban will hit the Muslims selectively, then it has read the situation plain wrong.

Indian farmer Nitin Tarode wants to sell his old bull to help pay for his sister’s wedding after his income was hit by patchy rainfall. But he has struggled to find a buyer who will pay a decent price because of a ban on slaughtering cows, bulls and bullocks in Maharashtra, the western state run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. Tarode had hoped to pocket 12,000 Indian rupees ($190) from selling his bull. But prices of buffaloes and cattle have fallen by 20-30 percent in Maharashtra due to the ban and could drop further if more states follow its lead.

Kangayam breed will become extinct if ban on jallikattu, rekla race continues. Rekla race enthusiasts said that the Kangayam breed cows yield a maximum of five litres milk a day. The cows are grown only for breeding as their calves fetched good money. K.S. Akilan (32) of Kaliyapuram said that a pair of untrained calves bought for Rs. 80,000 to Rs. One lakh when the races were conducted are now available for less than Rs. 40,000. But there were not many buyers. I had three pairs of race oxen and sold five animals for butchering as they needed special care and attention that comes with a price. I have only one ox to remind me that I organised such races“. [This was quite an unexpected find of likely specie depletion -गोवंश ह्रास- due to Supreme Court order].

Like every government action at macro level, this slaughter ban to has spawned opportunities that sharpshooters are eyeing. Some NGOs have come forward to look after the “destitute” cattlethe cattle that would be made destitute because of the slaughter ban as farmers and herders who can’t sell  and can’t look after the old/ sick cattle would simply be forced to abandon them. But this “service” – भूतदया- is offered for a price. The price is allocation of land [a novel way to grab land] to run shelters and funds for upkeep. Some NGOs offered to do it for free; that is at no cost to government. But, once they have built large enough scale of such cattle, who is to stop them later from making demands and forcing government to accede because after all it is a matter of गोवंश संरक्षण.

Meanwhile, the state has applied for grants from Centre, which will be distributed through ‘Go Gram’ scheme. “The government is considering to start three cattle shelters across the state on a pilot basis. Rs 30 crores grant is applicable for each shelter from the union animal husbandry department,” said Mr Khadse. He also added, “Each shelter will have the capacity to shelter 1,000 animals.” The state will allocate funds to run such shelters if required, he said. As per government norms, state can spend Rs 65 per day on big cattle animals and Rs 35 on small ones in drought-like situations“.

That means Maharashtra government accepts that it has created “drought” like situation in perpetuity by imposing this silly ban. That is additional burden on the exchequer, who all the time make noises that its coffers are empty whenever the issue of provisioning of education, healthcare or sanitation for people comes up. Moreover, the three shelters that Khadse promised would barely account for only 3000 “destitute” cattle, when Deonar Abattoir alone saw 500 Oxen/Bulls and 40 Buffaloes slaughtered daily, turning his proposal into a mockery of गोवंश.  Just to take care of animals that will not be slaughtered at Deonar for a year, the government would need to shell out over Rs. 450 crores  [@Rs. 65/cattle-head/day] every year and the figure would keep mounting unless the “shelters” created for the “upkeep” of such cattle act also like speedy death-camps. Sectarian politics is indeed a “costly business” [pun intended] in more sense than one. Moreover, it is going to hurt far wider audience than the chosen target.

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PS: Interesting Reading.
1. “As per the statistics   the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA)—the government’s gatekeeper for exports—the production and export of red meat have registered a steady jump during the BJP Government. The figures being collated by the APEDA, under the Commerce Ministry headed by Nirmala Sitharaman, says that the country has exported red meat to the tune of 15,91,581 MT (metric tonnes) till February. The figure for the same period last year was around 10,56,118 MT, which is lesser by 5,35,460 MT. In terms of revenue, there is a 19 per cent increase compared to the previous fiscal year. ‘Red meat’ includes the meat of both cows and buffaloes. The meat of sheep and other poultry are being exported under a different category. “The export of red meat is steadily increasing this year and it may even go beyond an increase of 25 per cent compared to the previous fiscal,’’ an official with the APEDA told The Sunday Standard. According to him, the figures are showing a steady increase in the first two months of this year as well. This is the first time that meat export from India has surpassed the export of basmati rice for the first time.
The APEDA was planning to publish this huge jump as a “success story’’, but put on the brakes to its publicity exercise following the recent controversy“.
2. Most Hindus are vegetarians is a simple baloney. Many may not eat bovine meat, but certainly relish other forms. “Across India, the great majority of people consume meat and fish, and a large number cannot because of economic reasons, but the fact that a small minority of the Hindu population has successfully managed to cultivate a vegetarian image of India in India and abroad is an amazing feat which merits serious academic attention. non-vegetarian food “.
3. Vinoba Bhave’s demand for banning [only] cow slaughter in Kerala and West Bengal received noted economist, K N Raj’s, scrutiny in an article he wrote for EPW in 1978. He examined the demand both on the basis of supreme court judgment in 1958 that upheld a law for such a ban passed in UP but struck down one passed in Bihar that banned all cattle slaughter and on economic grounds. The portion of the SC judgment he quotes [reasoning of the judges] and his insightful analysis are both an eye opener even after passage of so many years. The observations are relevant even today. A must read.
4. I was astonished to read a report of Department of Animal Husbandry, dairying and fisheries that looked like a blue print for nationwide slaughter ban. When I saw the authorship, the puzzle was over. It was prepared by National Commission on Cattle [in Hindi,राष्ट्रीय गोवंश आयोग ] under the chairmanship of justice Ghuman Lal Lodha. The year of preparation was 2002, when परम पूजनीय अटलजी, as Lodha addresses him in the preface, was the PM. Especially, Chapter -III must be perused.
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