RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat wants a ban on cow slaughter across the country. It does not surprise given that it has always been the pet demand of the Sangh Parivar. But coming from him at a juncture when cow vigilantism is on the rise, it is certain to make the debate over the issue more intense. Now, will the debate address the big question: Will such a ban be actually beneficial for the cause of the humble cow?
Let’s be clear on a few things about the cow debate in the country. It’s not about cruelty to animals. If that was the case, the advocates of cow protection would be sympathetic to buffaloes and other animals being killed for food and other human uses. It is not about vegetarianism. In that case the demand would be for a wholesale ban on meat. It is not for the well-being of the entire cattle population either. The male of the species — which is of little practical utility to cattle-farmers in the age of modern ploughing methods — faces shorter life spans than earlier and also the prospect of unnatural death soon after birth.
The emotion quotient in the entire cow controversy hangs from the peg of Muslims killing the animals for food. The attacks on the members of the community by gau rakshaks, on Pehlu Khan at Alwar a week ago and in several parts of the country earlier, make this clear. Take the Muslim angle out, bring in the Dalits and other Hindu groups, who find different uses for cattle, including food, and the debate assumes a separate perspective. It’s curious that the debate, furious as it is, has not touched this perspective adequately.
But let that rest. Bring the question down to the animal at the centre of it.
It is possible a countrywide ban on slaughter will hurt the cause of the cow more than benefit it. How?
One, dairy farmers would shift to buffalo from cow. Since it is a more remunerative option. Since the option of selling off cows when their capacity to yield milk dips is closed and it would be a financial burden to retain them for several years without any return, they would prefer not to own them at all. They cannot let unproductive cows roam as it would invite the ire of cow protectors or provisions of the law.
Two, there’s no ban on buffalo meat. This could become an easy substitute for beef. Earlier, the male progeny of cow were sold off by dairy farmers to slaughter houses or private persons because they were of little use in farming activities and otherwise. It fetched them decent money. As it would no more be an option, they would say goodbye to cows and prefer to rear buffaloes.
Three, according to an article in The Indian Express, the quality of buffalo milk is better than the native breed of cows; hence, is more in demand. It says buffalo milk fetches better prices because of its higher fat content. Why would then farmers stick to cow when it entails so many other problems?
Ultimately, with no one willing to rear cows, it would end up as a zoo animal. The gaushalas can only be an extended version of the zoo. Do we really want that? Or are we unaware of the unintended consequences of the cow slaughter ban? It could be an emotional matter for cow protectors but when it comes to financial implication, nobody will decide to take a risk with the humble cow.
If the RSS is serious about the issue, it should demand a hefty allocation from the government for protection of cows. An allowance to dairy farmers would also act as incentive to them. Also, there should an adoption scheme for cattle that are past productive age or male. Any suggestion on this front would be a positive move forward, not a blanket ban.
The Muslims are incidental to the cow protection debate, not central to it. Nobody should forget this.
Updated Date: Apr 10, 2017 15:02 PM