Save the Indian cow: The quiet obliteration of gau-mata

The greatest danger to the Indian cow is not slaughterhouses but cross-breeding. We are hurtling toward a future where gau-mata may soon be extinct.

FP Staff January 29, 2013 15:26:40 IST
Save the Indian cow: The quiet obliteration of gau-mata

Our national symbols are venerated as icons but they don't do quite as well in the flesh. The tiger has been hunted into near-oblivion, while the numbers of peacocks dwindle in the face of pesticide and poaching. Now comes news that the holy Indian cow, gaumata herself, may soon be no more.

"In the run up to India’s 66th Republic Day, here’s a really sobering thought: the indigenous Indian cow — one of the country’s biggest assets — will soon cease to exist and we will be forced to import milk within a decade," writes Jay Mazoomdar, in Tehelka. [Read Mazoomdar's excellent, in-depth reporting here]

Save the Indian cow The quiet obliteration of gaumata

Cows in Varanasi. AFP.

The disappearance of native species of Indian cows dates back to the 1960s government policy of using foreign bulls and semen to improve milk yields. The ever-escalating reliance on this "solution" over decades has created two problems: one is the extinction of native species, the other is the creation of expensive hybrids that require air-conditioned stalls, costly feed and medical care.

The old stereotype of the small farmer whose cow sustains the family with its milk has now become a romantic myth: "Rearing cattle, therefore, is fast becoming unviable for small farmers. Lakhs of them are facing a loss of livelihood; soon their families will not have access to their basic daily glass of milk — unless they can afford to buy it from big dairies with deep pockets."

In contrast to the overheated debate over FDI, we are quietly and without protest hurtling toward a future where we will rely on foreign sources for not just our milk but also semen and cattle feed for these cross-breeds. "By controlling these key inputs, foreign markets will eventually decide the price we pay for exotic milk," notes Mazoomdar.

This dismal story of the disappearing holy Indian cow gains greater irony and poignance in the backdrop of the battles over beef. Last year, Hindu groups like Aaawaz and Gopal Dham Gaushala Hindu Mahasabha launched a 'Gau bachao andolan' to institute a ban on cow slaughter. They also proposed the establishment of a 'cow memorial', the construction of which was supposedly approved by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The same Badal who is spearheading a drive to import high-quality semen from the United States, and is presiding over a state where tens of thousands of these cross-bred cows have been abandoned by farmers who can't afford their care.

Rather than fret about mini-skirts and beef burgers, perhaps it's time that the custodians of Bharatiya culture paid more attention to "foreign elements" invading our sacred not-so-Indian cows. And maybe those foreigners ought to be a little less enthused about photographing their own cows on our city streets.

Jokes aside, Mazoomdar's meticulously researched "The Desi Cow: Almost Extinct" is a must-read for all of us oblivious of the high price of that daily packet of milk.

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