A Modest Proposal to Protect Cows and Put Milord’s Anguish to Rest

A Modest Proposal to Protect Cows and Put Milord’s Anguish to Rest

"For the cow protectors, the cow as a commercial asset is selectively ignored & the cow as a deity is revered" | Pxfuel

It was a simple bail hearing that turned out to be a 12-page-long sermon. Eventually, bail was denied to Javed, arrested in Uttar Pradesh on charges of cattle slaughter. The hon’ble judge of the Allahabad High Court went at length to explain his anguish about the state of the Indian cow and how the grant of bail to the accused would add to that anguish.

Refusal of bail aside, there are two other ways for milord to put his anguish to rest.

Till the advent of cow protection laws, India’s cow economy had a fractured, if pragmatic, existence. It recognised that the cow that is revered as a deity by the stake-less variety of people is also a commercial asset for people who have stakes in her. She provides a cheap source of protein, makes the commerce of dairy viable, supplies raw material to the leather industry, and brings export income to the country’s coffers. Her timely replacement is crucial for the smooth operation of this value chain. Therefore, moving a cow into a slaughterhouse post her productive life was viewed as the replacement of a commercial asset.

A deity should be revered in totality and not in parts. You cannot milch her commercially and abandon her ... for the sake of reverence.

The cow protection laws disturbed this apple cart. The result was abandoned cows destroying standing crops and livelihoods, the activation of half-built gaushalas dishing out a life term of hell to cows, the rise of cow vigilantism by extra-state actors, and Javed receiving sermons but no bail. On the contrary, rearing buffaloes or goats faced no such disruption. The Indian cow might now wonder about her miserable life post these protection laws compared to the life of her siblings of a different variety.

For the cow protectors, the cow as a commercial asset is selectively ignored or not understood and the cow as a deity is revered as a symbol of an imagined past. They sing the virtues of her respiratory system and the divine powers of products made from her milk. They transform the cow into a goddess who magically dispenses milk and prosperity.

Differently put, cow protection laws, in their pursuit to protect cow-the-deity have infringed upon cow-the-commercial-asset. Herein lies the root cause of milord’s anguish. In the post-cow-protection-law era, the economy around the cow as a commercial asset is either crumbling or creating escape routes. Cows are now abandoned or smuggled out of the country instead of being legitimately sold for slaughter and exports. They run amok on standing crops, hang around garbage dumps far more than before, and suffer prolonged misery in gaushalas.

The urge of the law was perhaps to protect cow-the-deity. Ideally, this deity is an integral part of the family and produces milk for her calf and the members of her human family. This deity should live in the comforts of a home. She and her entire family (the bull and male calves included) should be tended to at par with the human family.

[C]ow-the-deity would enjoy this absolute reverence; whereas cow-the-commercial asset would be spared from abandonment and illegal smuggling and her stakeholders of sleepless nights guarding crops, lynching and sermons without bail.

A deity should be revered in totality and not in parts. You cannot milch her commercially for the part that you like (milk) and abandon her for the part that you dispel (leather and meat) for the sake of reverence. The urge to accord her a fundamental right of protection needs to be premised on an absolute act of reverence and should leave no scope for cherry-picking.

If the cow is to be reared as such a deity, her milk should not be allowed to be sold for a commercial value. Her milk and milk products should be made available in temples for yagyas and prasadam at best. It should be mandatory for priests across India to use ghee made only from her milk. She should not be subjected to artificial insemination and no industrial practice of cow rearing should touch her.

The law should set up guidelines to this end. A technology-enabled system of certification and tracking can ensure that any deviation from this desired existence will attract the full might of the cow protection law. For instance, if cow-the-deity is found wandering on the streets or hanging around the garbage dump or her owner is found guilty of selling her milk for money he should be arrested and held without bail.

On the other hand, if the cow is reared as a commercial asset, the law should equate her with a buffalo or a goat. The owner should declare as part of the monitoring system his will to rear cow as such an asset: only then should he be allowed to sell her milk for commercial considerations. She should proceed to a slaughterhouse post her productive life feeding into the leather and the meat industries.

In bifurcating the cow protection laws, cow-the-deity would enjoy this absolute reverence; whereas cow-the-commercial asset would be spared from abandonment and illegal smuggling and her stakeholders of sleepless nights guarding crops, lynching and sermons without bail.

Though the many communities who are custodians of native cow species and depend on them for livelihood would probably perish, that is a small price to pay for a doctrine seeking an imagined past to play in full glory.

If milord’s desire to protect the cow is absolute and seeks no scope to absorb the cow’s duality of existence, then the law should take the leaf from the Islamic world’s approach that shuns commerce in pigs in totality. For the diametrically opposite reason of reverence here, a complete ban on the existence of cow-the-commercial-asset will extinguish her from the mainstream as a source of livelihood and cow’s ghee will only be available in temples as prasad. Amul could ask farmers to switch to buffalo or goat rearing and use its cash reserves to fund the “temporary” disruption. The country’s political economy drawing lessons from managing other disruptions in the recent past with ease can absorb this one as well.

Though the many communities who are custodians of native cow species and depend on them for livelihood would probably perish, that is a small price to pay for a doctrine seeking an imagined past to play in full glory.

The amendment in cow protection laws to either enable the duality of cow’s existence in India or to ban the commercial sales of cow’s milk are one of the two ways to put milord’s anguish to rest. He can then start by reminding the cow protectors that they can’t have both the lassi and the malaai, and asking them to choose one of the two.

Ankur Bisen is the author of 'Wasted: The Messy Story of Sanitation in India'. Twitter @AnkurBisen1

Ankur Bisen
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