The Unholy Business of the Indian Cow
Indians believe that the cow is a holy animal and yet, India is set to become the largest exporter of beef this year. At first glance, it’s hard to reconcile these facts, especially considering that cow slaughter is actually prohibited in all states within India, with the exception of West Bengal and Kerala. How then do we account for 20 percent of worldwide beef exports coming from India?
It becomes easier to understand the apparent contradiction once we realize that it is only cows and not water buffaloes that are considered holy by Indians. Beef from water buffaloes is classified as carabeef and is produced without restriction all over the country. Indians love dairy and milk is obtained from both cow and water buffalo. Therefore, there is plenty of buffalo meat available from dairy animals who have outlived their utility, but very little domestic demand. The obvious solution then is to export buffalo meat, which does have great demand elsewhere in the world due to the fact that it is cheaper than beef from cows. The state of Uttar Pradesh is the countries largest producer and exporter of buffalo meat at 67%, followed by Punjab and Kerala.
Cow protection in India is definitely a Single Issue Campaign. A SIC is one that creates an arbitrary distinction between the moral worth of different animal species and is therefore actually detrimental to the end goal of animal rights and justice. Here is the perfect example; cows are to be protected but buffalo are not. While you could be jailed and most probably lynched if you are suspected to be in possession of cow meat, buffalo meat is fair game and completely legitimate.
Therefore, cow protection in India has been a failure. Because all animals, including cows, are property and resources for humans, their only worth is economic. It’s as simple as that. In India, a mafia has arisen in the name of cow protection, one that extorts money from those who smuggle cows. While the ideal of the holy cow remains strong in principle, in practice these animals continue to be exploited both for dairy, and also as slaves working our fields. The fact that the dairy industry by necessity disposes of male babies as well as the older, non-productive cows is never something that is openly discussed. In fact it is deliberately played down to a point that it becomes a non-issue. We are simply not interested in reconciling this glaring inconsistency in our position. While we may not eat the flesh of cows directly, our desire to consume their secretions certainly becomes the reason for their slaughter and abuse.
An interesting parallel to be drawn here is how women and their reproductive processes are still exploited by a patriarchal Indian society. Women and animals are both viewed as objects and subservient to men. To be an Indian male means both privilege and authority over female humans and animals. Educating Indian women on their rights so that they may take up the cause of their animal counterparts as well is an important aspect of vegan education in India. However this is a different discussion and for a different time!
Animal use as food, leather, vivisection, etc. is totally acceptable in India. And this is not surprising in the least. The problem we face is the lack of clear, abolitionist, vegan education. The elimination of the property status of animals has never been argued for. If people believe that the very concept of using animals as our property and resources is morally abhorrent, they would not distinguish between cow or buffalo meat. Nor would our government promote the farming of goat, poultry, rabbit, etc. as excellent occupations for our poor.
People imagine India to be some sort of heaven for animals. This could not be farther from the truth. There are horror stories of animal torture as cows are herded across the border to Bangladesh or walked to the Kerala border and then killed in appalling ways. But talking of treatment will achieve nothing. This is a zero sum game and one that we will loose unless we start taking about ethical veganism in a clear and unambiguous manner. I believe people in India, as in other parts of the world will react positively to such a message. The challenge is to reconcile the objective of alleviating poverty and that of changing the animal property paradigm. Given our belief in the principle ahimsa or non-violence, it is time to realize that we commit a crime against our fellow sentient beings. Until we do so, no animal, including our holy cow, will be safe!