Cows were reared in India even before the Vedic times for milk and the bullocks for farm labour and transport. At that time there was no ban neither on cow slaughter nor on beef eating. Differently coloured cattle were slaughtered as offerings to different gods. There was no compulsive vegetarianism either; people ate what they had and as they liked.
In the course of time the Brahmins promoting vegetarianism as Hindu way life convinced themselves and the public, against all scientific facts, that milk and milk products are vegetarian. By this the Brahmins and other high castes ensured availability of enough animal protein for themselves. Such food items were not available to the low caste people even though they looked after all domestic animals. For them the main source of animal protein was the meat of the slaughtered cattle when they became old and unproductive. Even now it is a practice in India that the best types of foods go to the upper castes while the lower castes get the leftover: invisible injustices.
Perhaps moved by gratitude to the cows for the milk they freely enjoyed, the Brahmins promoted worship of cow as “Gau Matha”. Brahmins are role models to people in India and obviously a lot of people followed this pious practice along with “vegetarianism” which slowly built up into the present anti-cow-slaughter religious sentiments. People in India could be vegetarians because they are blessed with abundance of a variety crops for food, unlike many other countries in the world where people will not be able to survive as vegetarians. That was the geographico-historical basis of the origin of Indian vegetarianism and the religious legitimacy was only Brahminic manipulation of the psyche of the common people. Milk based Indian vegetarianism is no vegetarianism at all. So too vegetarianism that includes unfertilized eggs. Indian vegetarianism is clear example of how religious fanaticism can distort scientific truths into blind mythical beliefs by which the upper castes can control the lower castes: invisible injustices.
Later on the upper castes, who got themselves elected into assemblies and parliaments, promulgated anti-cow-slaughter legislation in several states and Union Territories in our country. With this the Dalits who had animal protein from the culled animals are also caught up further in the web of malnutrition and undernourishment. The bullocks are no more needed for ploughing and transport as these two sectors are getting more and more mechanized. So too the Dalits who worked in these sectors also became redundant. Most of the traditional works, which Dalits were doing are mechanized. Anti-cow-slaughter and anti-beef eating laws have become tools to promote religious fundamentalism and for the silent elimination of low castes and tribals who depended on culled cattle for food and finance: invisible injustices. Let me explain further.
India’s economically important domestic animal population consists of 648 million poultry and 515 million cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goat, pigs, rabbits etc. totaling up to 1163 million. These are looked after by the Dalits in our country. Looking after the domestic animals day in and day out is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. They have no weekly or yearly holidays. They have to work and work till their last breath. That is the life of the Dalits who look after India’s huge population of domestic animals of which 50% are cattle while body weight wise they form 75 per cent contributing a lion’s share to the Indian economy and food system of common people.
Indian caste system is so defined and determined that there is a caste for every type of job which the upper castes do not want to do. The underlying secret motive of caste system is that the Brahmins and the other two upper castes do not want to do any physical work with soil and animals; worst still is the religious and divine sanctioning given to the caste system. All the land and animals related dirty and menial jobs are done by Dalits but the best of the land and animal products are enjoyed by the upper castes. Whatever is left over or discarded of the crops and animal products by the upper castes are ONLY available to the Dalits: invisible injustices.
Now someone may ask how substantial is the food and nutrients obtained from the culled animals? Let us do a quick estimation. As per 2014 census we have 191 million cattle; normally a minimum of 25% of the cattle are culled every year in India; that means about 47.75 million cattle are culled every year; the estimated average weight of a culled Indian animal being local breed, poorly fed and old is around 350 kg; hence the total live weight of the 47.75 million cattle per year will be 1,67,125 million kg live weight; the average dressed weight of a cattle including the edible body parts such the meat, stomach, intestines, lungs, heart, liver, spleen, pancreas, tail, head, ears, tongue, brain, sex-organs, form 65 per cent of the body weight; hence the dressed weight from 47.75 million culled cattle would be 10,863 million kg; the Dalits comprising of scheduled castes and tribes being 23% of the present population (1250 million) amount to 287.5 million; that means each Dalit will avail on an average 38 kg of edible portion per head per year which means 104 gm per day per person; but the better parts of carcass like the thigh, shoulder, rib cages and neck are sold out for money which they are greatly in need off. Hence the amount available may be around 50 gm as recommended by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) per person per day; but culling of all other domestic animals add substantially to their food and finance; the hide is very valuable by-product of the culled cattle; so too the horns, hoofs and the bones; thus the overall commercial and nutritional deal they make out of culled animals is highly advantageous to themselves; That is how the Dalits in our country have been surviving for thousands of years. With anti-cow-slaughter law a major life-line of the Dalits and certain minorities is severed off. Darwin’s theory of the “Survival of Fittest” is so subtly yet more strongly operative than before: invisible injustices.
The organized anti-cow slaughter movement was started in India in the year 1882 by Arya Samaj and its founder Swami Dayananda Saraswati. But only on October 26, 2005, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by different state governments in India. Now 27 out of 34 states and Union Territories have regulations prohibiting either the slaughter or sale of beef. Under the present “Anti-Cow-slaughter” legislation the Dalits are deprived of the most important food and financial source in their life. Looking after the cattle a major part of their work in life became almost rewardless. The matter becomes all the more serious under the scarcity situation of pulses and their high prices. Under the “Anti-cow-slaughter Law” the Dalits are more prone to suffer from sicknesses like kwashiorkor and marasmus, besides anaemia, tuberculosis, poor mental and physical development. Findings of many surveys on health and economic situation of the Dalits in India corroborate these facts.
Sumita Menon & Qudsiya Contractor (2001) in a study on ‘Dalits and Health’ concludes, “The decision to ban beef hits at not only Muslims and Christians but much more the Dalits”. According to Kancha Illaiah (1996) anti-cow-slaughter legislation would mean depriving Dalits of their food habits and forcing them to give up their culture to get Brahmanized. In rural India 50% of the SCs and STs fall below the poverty line and the prevalence of tuberculosis recorded among them is very high….. For millions of Scheduled Castes beef is the only protein-rich food they can afford…… Veena Shatrugna of the National Institute of Nutrition reports, that beef contains 21 per cent proteins whereas rice contains only 6-8 per cent proteins. In most vegetables the protein content does not go beyond 10 per cent. This has been one of the reasons why the poorest of the poor have continued to eat beef despite the fact that Hindu ritualistic society condemns it. According to her ban on beef consumption is one of the examples of how a dominant group exercise control over another affecting their life-style and health: invisible injustices.
Amit Kumar, from Kurukshetra reports, “Before independence, we Dalits were gathering garbage, cleaning drains, scavenging, being abused and tortured and denied our human rights. After independence things have changed for the worst. In the future most of the manual works would be done by machines: not by Dalits. Household milch cows are being replaced with huge commercial dairy farms of highly mechanized multinational style. Buffalos which are better milk yielders will take over the poor yielding cows. Eventually “Gau Mathas” will be restricted to the loss incurring ‘Gaushalas’; Worship of cows will not improve them genetically or economically”.
Anti-cow-slaughter is a socio-political tool to weaken and slowly eliminate people of minority religions who are traditionally engaged in meat related small businesses. The strong anti-Muslim and Christian agenda is vividly clear in the anti-cow-slaughter move. The followers of anti-cow-slaughter are conveniently forgetting the words of Gandhi, “How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here.”
Incidences like what the ‘cow vigilantes’ committed at Alwar in Rajasthan on 1st April shows irrational and murderous behaviors of unemployed and frustrated youths (NDTV-24/7, We the People, 16th April 2017). Moral police is a blanket term used to describe vigilante groups which act to enforce a code of morality in India. Similar is the nature of Anti-Romeo Squads, Yuva vahini squards constituted by Yogi Adityanadh the present Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Such efforts are only to divert the attention of the masses of the country from key issues like unemployment and worsening economic condition of the people: invisible injustices.
Indian express on Sept 29, 2016, reported that according to the fifth annual employment-unemployment survey at all-India level, about 77 per cent of the households were having no regular wage/salaried person. The paper further reported that according to the survey report of Labour Bureau the unemployment rate in India has shot up to a five-year high of 5 per cent in 2015-16, with the figure significantly higher at 8.7 per cent for women as compared to 4.3 per cent for men. The figures could be an alarm bell for BJP-ruled governments at the Centre and the states. The jobless frustrated youth are cleverly used as ‘cow vigilantes’, ‘Romeo Squads’, ‘Yuva vahini’, ‘moral police’, crowd for frequently held road shows, crowd for protest marches, motorcades for VIP political processions, demonstrators for various political conventions; in short the unemployed youth are literally used by religio-political nexus: invisible injustices. Secondly the cutting off the only protein source (beef) of the lower caste people the present government and its ideologues (brahmins) want to get rid of them in the course of history because due to accelerated automation in all types of works including sweeping (government is planning to introduce machines for sweeping the roads) the lower castes/manual workers are no more needed for them (brahmins) nor to the country: many are the subtleties of the law on cow-slaughter ban: invisible injustices.
(The writer is Retired Professor, Envt & Natural Resource Management with Justice at XIM, Bhubaneswar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Published on 26th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 26)