New Delhi: In our ancestral village, 59 km from Agra, we had two cows, Bhoori, spotlessly white, and Sawanri, somewhat dark. I grew up drinking cow milk and enjoying yogurt and ghee made of cow milk. Aware of the fact that in nutritional values, cow milk was next only to mother’s milk—first time mothers, not having enough milk to breast-feed their newly born children, used to bring them to our cows to let them have some milk straight from the Gaumata’s udder. With motherly love and affection, she will let this exercise take place without any throw of anger or tantrum.
After vacations, whenever I was leaving for Allahabad University, my dad insisted on giving me a tin of 10 kg of cow ghee after heating it and mixing some cardamom powder; it lasted for nearly six months for adding to daal and melting on chapattis in Sir Ganganath Jha hostel. Even after daily consumption of ghee in generous doses, I was just 56 kg, apparently it hadn’t added much fat to my body. Prabhat Shukla, a fellow traveller of the IFS, who owns around 10 cows in his farm, claims that his cholesterol level has come down ever since he started taking cow ghee very day. I have no firsthand experience so can’t vouch but who knows it might be true.
In villages, half a century back, there were no gas cookers; family cooking depended heavily on cow dung cakes and fire wood. Villagers stocked these cakes in temple looking receptacles made of cow dung; surprisingly even in rainy seasons, these cakes remained dry.
Whenever we expected some outside guests, women painted the entrance and the guest area with cow dung mixed with hay; it acted as disinfectant and smelt fresh and kept mosquitoes away.
When calves grew older, they were used to plough agricultural fields. In the 1950s and 1960s, when tractors hadn’t arrived owning strong, energetic and agile oxen were a must for good agricultural farming. When there were neither tube wells nor canal water, these oxen were used to draw water from the well to water crops.
During the harvest season, they were also used to transport their produce to the nearest markets/mandis. And in wedding season, with very little of public transport, hundreds of baratis commuted in bullock carts to attend wedding parties.
In the rainy month of Bhadon, when it rains cats and dogs, to commemorate Lord Krishna’s lifting of the mountain Goverdhan on his tiny finger to save the villagers from heavy downpour, in our courtyard, we made Goverdhan of cow dung and lit lamps with ghee for a fortnight.
Some religious myths claim that while crossing the vaitarani of life, even after committing many sins, if you caught the tail of a cow, she will help you cross the turbulent rive to safety.
Thus at one time, the entire life of a villager, revolved around the cow; it was the mainstay of his agricultural activities and indispensable for taking care of family needs. It had also become a part of social festivities. As Baba Ramdev will tell you, not only her milk, yogurt and ghee are beneficial, even her urine has many medicinal properties!!
No wonder millions of Indians worshipped her as mother and often put a tilak on her forehead and sought her blessings. But unlike the absentee owners of cows in cities today, villagers kept them in clean place, scrub them from time to time and fed them on hay, green grass & other green leafy vegetations, grains and weekly dose of salt. Obviously, constitutional ban on cow slaughter is understandable.
Cow had become an integral part of the family, loved and respected; she usually got attached to a family and its members and reciprocated their sentiments. Once my uncle, in dire need of money, sold Bhoori to a farmer from a village 20 km away from ours. She was visibly distressed and agitated missing her old home and ate noting that was offered. Her new owner secured her with a strong rope in front of his home. Next morning when my uncle went to our cowshed, Bhoori was standing at her usual place giving an enigmatic smile and wagging her tail!
But times have changed. So have methods of agricultural and dairy farming, irrigation, means of transport, and mediums of cooking and whole economics of farming. India has around 76 million adult cows compared to 56 million adult buffalos (bhains). For the agricultural sector in distress witnessing farmer suicides, maintaining cows isn’t easy. Rather many farmers all over India complain that stray cows cause considerable damage to their crops. Naturally, their love and respect for these crop damaging cows isn’t very high.
With ever-growing urbanisation, millions of Indians are lured to cities and towns in search of jobs. A large number of cattle are also brought in. It’s saddening to see scores of unattended, unaccompanied cows rummaging in the piles of garbage in search of food in some parts of Delhi! Is this the way we look after our mother? Is it healthy? Is it hygienic? Where have their owners gone?
As a law abiding and taxpaying Indian citizen, when I drive, I assume I have a right to safe passage. While driving with utmost care and following all traffic signals, I take a right turn and suddenly, from nowhere, appears a gaumata ,nonchalant, my hair do rise.
When on Noida-Greater Noida Expressway where speed limit for cars is 100 km/hour, I am driving only at 80 km/hour but unexpectedly 2-3 cows just plunge to run across the express way, hair of my entire body rise as I am afraid of losing my life in a car accident? Who will take care of my wife and my children? And if I am miraculously saved but the cow is injured severely, will the Gaumata Bhaktas spare me? Most probably not; they will lynch me on the spot! When I am coming down from Akshardham flyover and driving towards Noida sector 15, suddenly I notice three cows lazily sitting in the middle of the road. Not only the hair on my head rise, but even my heart beat rises to a breaking point! Those who have never experienced these daily ordeals as they live in Lutyens Delhi, Lodhi Road/Estate, Akbar road, Chanakyapuri where stray cows aren’t allowed, are incapable of appreciating the daily plight of citizens like me.
Let the individuals and gaushalas to whom these cows belong to stake their ownership and accept responsibilities. For every wrong turn of the cows, their attempts to run across the road, sitting in the middle of the road and rummaging in garbage, the owners must be punished. And if the authorities can’t find the owners, the authorities themselves must be punished. They have no right to endanger the lives of the law abiding citizens of Delhi.
(The writer is a retired diplomat and expert on strategic affairs.)