West oriented post-modern intellectuals have been rather distressed with the fresh stress on the ban of cow slaughter and related laws, though the laws have been around since 1955 in UP and for long periods in other states too. A few BJP ruled states have adopted it recently. Internationalists and progressive intellectuals feel that these moves tend to pander to Hindu religious sentiments and force the Hindu majoritarian views on minorities, forgetting that cow protection is also a part of our Directives Principles under the Constitution.
For many of them, vegetarianism is a matter of joke and saving the cow is a sign of religious orthodoxy of the worst order. Saving stray dogs is fashionable, but saving cows is communal. However, permit me to submit that cow protection is not a religious issue. I will not talk of competitive pork nor will I talk about the Hindu concept of sattvik, rajasik and tamasik food.
Hindu culture has a tendency to treat any living or non-living entity that helps human beings sustain their lives as sacred, so that these entities are not harmed. Harming them could prove to be a disaster for humanity. We see environmental disaster already staring us in our face with global warming, changing weather patterns, etc. So, Hindus worship nature and all her elements. They worship and seek pardon from “Mother Earth”, before putting their plough to it, or digging it for building over it. None of this is superstition as many of us believe, but an idea ingrained in us about the sacredness of nature and the importance of preserving it. How our greed can lead to disaster is illustrated in Cuba, where they banned cow slaughter in 2003 (ET, 13 September 2003) because lack of dairy products had led them to slaughter cows for food after which they faced an acute shortage of cattle.
Nearly all Indians (of whichever religious persuasion) worship the river as mother so that we care for her just as she cares for us. We worship forests. The Chipko movement for forest conservation caught on like fire because it was rooted in traditions. Bishnois in Rajasthan are well known for their devoted protection of the blackbuck and other animals. It is an environmental issue taught as religious duty.
Many cynics ask, why have our people polluted rivers to unrecoverable levels? Yes, that’s human folly, in spite of the culture that our ancients have ingrained in us. It is the result of unfettered and blind copying of the Western model of industrial and agriculture growth. If we educate people to hark back on our traditions, they will understand this issue much easily. See how people are slowly adopting environment friendly ways of worshipping Lord Ganesha.
Worshipping the cow and seeking her protection flow from this tradition. In an agrarian society, a cow not just gave milk but provided fertilizer, pesticides for home and farm and also provided medicinal benefits through its byproducts, all of this without harming the environment like modern pesticides and fertilizers that have played havoc with the environment. While organic farming is a rage the world over, our progressives here smirk at the very idea of using the cow dung as organic fertilizer. Our modernists fail to see the disaster of the soil turning saline and barren due to sustained use of artificial fertilizers. Just look at Punjab and Maharashtra.
Ayurveda talks of the beneficial values of panchgavya, or five products from the cow — milk, urine and cow dung — and secondary products like curd and ghee. People from a rural background know that houses that used to be layered with cow dung would rarely have pests. But for many literate people, this is a joke. It will remain a joke until these things get certified and patented in the West! It will be news to many that distillated cow urine has been patented in the United States by two “gaushalas” from India for its medicinal benefits. Biogas plants for energy are picking up slowly across India. Thus, a cow not only pays for itself if all her products or by-products are utilised well, but is truly a nurturer of a farmer and his home. This is the reason why she is treated like a sacred mother, and this love has religious overtones.
We are pleased when Tu Youyou gets a Nobel for research on malaria in the traditional medical system of China, but in India, researchers making steady progress on Ayurgenomics have to suffer a defamation campaign run by sections of the media. They sneer at the research being done by Ayurveda specialists like Dr Mukherjee and Dr Thelma, while people overseas are poring over our Ayurveda texts and getting patents.
A pound of potatoes takes 99.6% less water to produce than a pound of beef, and 97% less than a pound of chicken. A whole year’s worth of showers takes about 5,200 gallons of water, but it takes 5,214 gallons to produce a single pound of beef. It takes 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. (Vegetarian Guide, Michael Bluejay, also quotes Food Revolution, John Robbins, 2001.) Interestingly, beef consumption is going down in the US. Novelist Vamsee Juluri refers to the work of Jeremy Rifkin, who found that the potato famine in Ireland was a result of potato-monoculture that resulted from overgrazing of lands by cattle that went for slaughtering. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation shows us how the seemingly cheap burger that is consumed by so many around the world actually carries a crippling environmental price-tag.
A study by UNEP study group notes that both intensive (industrial) and non-intensive (traditional) forms of meat production result in the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs), contributing to climate change.
Recently, the US banned horse slaughter. The Humane Society and Equine Advocates have been lobbying for ending the killing of horses for food for a long time. On the other hand, conservatives claim things like, “Our forefathers honoured the horse as a ‘favoured’ animal like dogs and cats when this country was founded. Dog, cat and horse slaughter are not part of our culture or heritage. We should no more be slaughtering our horses for export than we should slaughter our dogs or cats for export to countries where their meat is eaten” (DNA, 10 October 2015). Earlier in history, Iran banned cow slaughter on the request of Seth Merwanji Framji Panday (HitXP webzine, 28 June 2010)
In 2009, researchers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency published their projections of greenhouse gas consequences if humanity came to eat less meat, no meat, or no animal products at all (Business Insider, 3 May 2014) — basically, what global veganism would mean for the planet. Dutch scientists predict that 2.7 billion hectares (about 10.4 million square miles) of grazing land would be freed by global vegetarianism, along with 100 million hectares (about 386,000 square miles) of land that’s currently used to grow crops for livestock. The researchers predicted that universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17%, methane emissions by 24%, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21% by 2050. We find that vegan and vegetarian food are gaining in popularity in leaps and bounds in the West. Having understood the environmental disaster due to over fondness for beef, meat etc., the Norwegian army has introduced “Meatless Mondays”. The UAE government, too, has declared Monday as a “meatless day” recently. Although our intelligentsia may have been stunned, they have not yet spoken about or against it.
In short, the human health implications of a reduced meat diet may need further exploration, but it is clear that humanity will see major benefits from lower consumption rates in many developed and some developing countries. The global perspective about beef eating and its environmental impact highlights the ancient wisdom of our seers who put the cow on a high pedestal — not as a binding religious duty, but an economic necessity cloaked in ritualistic, semi-religious undertones for our people to understand this easily.
Ratan Sharda is a writer and editor of several books, a political analyst and ERP consultant. He is an RSS member since his early years.