The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
- Not killing cows does not mean that they are kept alive

I find Indian cows more attractive than foreign ones. They have nice big eyes. In many countries cows are violent, and kept inside fenced meadows; it would be foolish to try and cross the meadow while they are watching you. Here in India you can go and stroke the cow; it would not even raise an eyebrow in surprise. It may be surprised if you find it sitting in the middle of the road and try to make it move; but it will probably forgive your impertinence and continue its regurgitative cogitation. Indian cows are also more shapely, with nice, long curved horns and a dainty little hump; foreign cows are stocky, short and have big bottoms. (I should perhaps qualify the term, Indian cows. Once I landed on an airstrip in a remote valley in Colombia, and was overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of what I thought were Indian cows. Apparently, Brazil imported Ongole cattle some decades ago, and Latin America now has many more of them than Andhra Pradesh, for they are slaughtered and hence are more profitable there than they are to cow-worshipping Andhras.)

So I can understand people who want to ban cow slaughter. Digvijay Singh is such a likeable chief minister. He goes to a hairdresser, speaks English, and is usually quite rational. How did he suddenly go overboard on cows' I suspect it is because he shares my aesthetic views on the cow, and not being an economist, can afford to take them to absurd lengths.

So what is wrong with banning cow slaughter' One cannot join the ban movement without joining the company of such characters as Philip Foqatia, Mashuk Single, Acharya Little Mountain King and so on. But one cannot decide such questions on the basis of company alone. If something is right, it remains right even if Bill Thackeray says it. The chances are very small that he will say anything right, but one must never give up the hope.

Cattle censuses are held a year after human censuses; but whereas the first results of human censuses are released after two months, results of cattle censuses take 5-6 years to see the light of day. So we have a long wait till the results of the 2002 cattle census are released. Fortunately, the number of cattle does not grow nearly as fast as that of humans — because of death control, not birth control — so the 1992 figures will do.

In 1992, there were roughly 200 million cattle. Of these, 64 million were cows, 75 million were bulls or bullocks and 65 million were calves. It is inconvenient to keep saying bulls or bullocks, and after all, we Indians treat the cow as mother. So I shall call cows females, bulls or bullocks males and calves children.

The first thing to notice is that the bovine sex ratio is even worse than the human. There are 91 women for 100 men, whereas amongst bovines there are 85 females for 100 males. Amongst humans the adverse sex ratio is believed to be due to infanticide, neglect of girls and other sordid practices; can it be otherwise amongst bovines' The sex ratio worsens as we go northwards in India, and ownership of cattle increases; would you expect north Indians to follow one practice for their own children and another for their bovine mothers’ children' No; except that the adverse sex ratio amongst bovines is not due to dowry or cows’ preference for male progeny, but because their owners do not allow females to live as long as males.

Next, consider the ratio of calves to cows; their numbers are almost equal. Calves are under 3 years old; so roughly, a cow has a calf once every three years. Now, Indians have a lot of children; but even by Indian standards, to have a child every three years sounds excessive; if every Indian woman had one, she would end up with about eight children — instead of the 2.5 she currently has. Cows do seem to spend a lot of time and energy bearing children.

Why' Not because they enjoy it. Not because bovine males are more virile. It is because their human owners keep impregnating the cows all too often — with the bulls, of course. And they do so for sordid commercial reasons: a cow bears milk only if she bears children. If she stops bearing children, she will go dry; that is elementary. Cows’ human owners have discovered that a cow will keep giving milk all the time if she is impregnated once every 18 months. So whether she likes it or not, a cow has to keep bearing children every 18 months.

Now, any first-year student would point out that there is an inconsistency: a cow cannot have a calf every eighteen months and every three years: it has to be one or the other. The discrepancy is a measure of the magnitude of the crime: females do have children every eighteen months, but only half survive, or are allowed to survive. The rest are slaughtered, or simply starved to death.

If they are allowed to live and are female, they must start breeding every eighteen months when they get old enough. When they get too old and can no longer bear children, they too suffer the fate of half their children — they are slaughtered or starved to death.

And their men' Most of them are castrated by the most cruel methods when they reach manhood. Then they are put to work, hauling carts or drawing ploughs. Whereas Indians continue to consume increasing quantities of milk and so value cows, they no longer need so many bullocks. India has two million tractors. Each is capable of work of roughly 70 bullocks; that makes the equivalent of 140 million bullocks — twice as many as there are live bullocks. In addition there are power tillers, pumps, threshers, harvesters — all of them have replaced bullocks. We have only about a sixth as many bullocks as we would need if we banned all these mechanical substitutes. And the ones we have also get too old; when they do, it is curtains for them.

You may not kill a cow (the failed prevention of cruelty to cows bill included all her progeny including bulls and bullocks in the cow). But you do not have to keep her alive. The farmers do not, once the cattle have ceased to be useful. Some of males and females learn to keep themselves alive, usually on the alms of urban traders; hence the congregations on cows on major roads. But most just die of neglect and starvation. And so they would have continued to do if the cow bill had been passed.

There is a solution to this problem, however. Let us make a law that anyone who wants to get rid of a bovine can take it to the nearest office of any organization of the Hindu joint family — Bharatiya Janata Party, Shiv Sena, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal or whatever — which would be under legal obligation to accept the said bovine. Let us enact further that the animals would be equitably distributed amongst the members of the said organizations, and that they must take good care of them till they — the animals — die naturally. That will give the Hindu joint family something useful to do.

Email This Page