Thursday, January 15, 2009

Life of a Cow

Cows and pigs are emotive animals in India. They are what you need if you want to start a communal riot. Time tested and effective. If you slaughter a cow and throw some pieces in a temple or a pig and throw its carcass in a mosque, you have it made. A potent prescription for creating social unrest and chaos. After all, cows are sacred to Hindus and pigs are unclean to Muslims.

So it might come as some news that in Muslim Bangladesh, every third cow that is used in the country is “imported” or rather smuggled in from India. A large number of cattle worth crores of rupees from as far as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana are smuggled into Bangladesh through the porous borders of the North East. By the time the harried animals reach Bangladesh, they are half-dead while many perish on the way and the government does not receive any revenue from this illegal trade. The Rs 2,500 crore Bangladeshi leather industries reportedly thrive on cattle smuggled from India… According to BSF sources cattle worth Rs 25 lakh were seized along the Indo-Bangladesh borders in the North East in November, 2008 alone. The volume of the illegal trade involving those not caught may run into crores of rupees.

So what is to be done? Meghalaya Governor Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary has a solution; set up beef processing units in the North Eastern states. In this largely tribal part of the country, beef is widely consumed, and the cow, quite literally is now holy cow. And going by India’s weather beaten, unity in diversity” dharma, the people in the North East ought to be allowed to eat their cow, if that is what they want. So will Governor Mooshahary’s proposal that state governments should set up beef processing units in the region where cattle meat can be used for consumption and even exports to foreign countries including Bangladesh work?

Cow slaughter is a politically charged issue in India. In 1966, barely months after Indira Gandhi had become the Prime Minister; she had hiccups when a movement demanding cow slaughter culminated in a massive demonstration outside parliament on 7th November, 1966. The government is not helped much by the fact that cow slaughter is enshrined as a Directive Principle of State Policy in the Constitution. Though this is not binding, it does serve as a moral pointer. Besides, other public figures like Acharya Vinoba Bhave, who commanded wide respect supported anti cow slaughter movement.

If Mooshahary wants beef processing units set up in the North East, another group of Indians feels that not enough is being done to protect the cow. The Sankaracharya of Gokarna Peetha, Karnataka, Jagadguru Swami Raghaveshwar Bharati has just urged the Centre to declare cow as a national animal and ban its slaughter. He proposes to hold a 108-day Rath Yatra to spread the massage of ‘save cow and save village’ across the country during which signatures of about 50 crore people will be collected and it will be submitted to the President. in another part of the country, when the Khasi Jaintia Butchers’ Welfare Association (KJBWA), in its general meeting decided to hike prices of beef from the existing rate of Rs 90 per kg to Rs 100, and from Rs 100 a kg to Rs 120 for the thigh portions, the news made it to the newspapers as a matter of concern.

so there is the cow for you in India- an animal who is the object of politics and economic gain between neighbours at one end, an object of agitation by some ; an object of veneration by some other and a business opportunity for the butchers’ association and its customers. how we manage these amazing contradictions, is part of the story of incredible India.

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