Dear gau rakshaks, don’t lynch, instead help India’s cows live a life of dignity
I’m a Hindu vegetarian by choice from Kerala, the land of Hindus who delightfully eat meat, be it beef or pork. Meat-eaters don’t gross me out; what churns my gut is the brutality of clobbering people to death for eating what they like, all in the name of cow.
There seems no end to targeted lynching of Muslims for allegedly killing cows. On June 29, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “killing in the name of gau bhakti is unacceptable”, a mob of more than 100 people in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district lynched a 45-year-old Muslim trader for allegedly carrying beef in his car.
It will be advisable for these self-appointed gau rakshaks to take stock of the life of cows than taking offence to their killing.
Before gau became mata
I turned a vegetarian after I witnessed a goat being killed for a function in the neighbourhood. I was 10 years old. An ardent animal lover, I was frozen and couldn’t turn away from the scene. The cut on its neck, blood oozing out, the animal’s last frantic efforts to escape, its limbs falling silent, the severing of its head, the skinning, pulling out of internal organs… I watched it all.
But it never prompted me to ask others to stop eating meat. Years before we were ordered to take care of gaumata, we had cows at home and we treated them as family members; in the very state where hardcore vegetarians, non-vegetarians of all faiths as well as Hindu beef-eaters and pork-eaters co-existed peacefully. We had names for all our cows and gave them a share of what my father brought home after work every evening; be it jalebis, laddoos or vadas.
Our routine was dependent on them and all of us at home could fathom their emotions - whether they were unwell, angry, sad, playful or happy from their drooping ears or the way their eyes lit up. I would come back from college and spend at least an hour with them, petting them and talking to them. The adorable calf, Kalyani, with deep blue eyes, would lay her head on my lap and fall asleep. We gave them the leftover food that was not served; never the half-eaten portion from the plate.
Is it just Muslims?
As teenager, in one episode of Heads and Tails in Doordarshan’s first satellite channel, DD Metro, I happened to watch a cattle sacrifice in a Hindu temple. Devotees who looked savage, queued up to cut open the neck of a hapless animal tied to a pillar. One person came forward, landed a hard blow on its neck with a machete and collected the warm blood in a bowl even as the animal was quivering. Then another cut by another person and it went on till the animal could wobble on its limbs, with its neck half open. Couple of more cuts and the animal collapsed.
Devotees reveled consuming the warm blood. I shuddered and cried aloud only to get rebuked by my mother for watching such programmes.
Years later, in Bengaluru, I saw cows feeding on garbage on the streets. Once I tried to pull out a plastic cover, which the cow was chewing down along with some edible inside. She registered a firm protest by shaking her huge head, making me retreat. It was painful to leave her die a slow death.
In Delhi, where cow slaughter is banned, cows seem to survive just on garbage. They gather around heaps of filth to have their fill. I have never seen a single gau rakshak feeding some fresh grass to them.
Their pain, no one’s worry
The reports that came out from across the country after cow vigilantism took centre stage were even more disturbing. States that have banned cow slaughter are seeing a problem of plenty - of barren and unproductive cows. Gaushalas are functioning many times beyond their capacity and organisers are struggling to feed the cows.
Worse is the plight of cows that come under vehicles. If it is a minor injury, the animal would manage itself. In case of grievous injuries, even the owner would abandon the animal with broken limbs or severed parts on the streets. The hapless animal is left to die a painful death.
In dairy farms where the cows are said to be taken care of, they are abused through crude artificial insemination that make them productive through the year, without giving any gap between calf-births. Hormonal injections to increase productivity add to their woes.
Whose mother anyway?
Calves are denied their mothers’ milk and are often left dehydrated in the initial days of birth itself so that most of the milk could be sold. Most of the times, male calves with no assured returns in the future, are left to die inch by inch unless it is sold for meat.
In Delhi, in a house where they sell cow’s milk once had the severed head of a calf in the cowshed. A colleague who went there to buy milk was appalled by the sight and inquired what it was for. The calf died, probably of dehydration, and the head is preserved so that the mother cow would give milk! This happened in a Hindu household.
Burden of old animals
In Dehradun, villagers around Rajaji National Park are abandoning their old and unproductive cows for tigers to feed on. Sometimes, forest officials find them and inform the villagers but nobody accepts the sterile cows or impotent oxen. And, if a cow is eaten by a leopard, the villager turns up at the forest office for compensation.
In August 2016, over 500 cows died at Jaipur Municipal Corporation’s Hingonia cow rehabilitation centre, located 36 km from Jaipur, in two weeks after 266 contractual workers at the establishment went on strike demanding their payment dues.
The bovines starved to death after they were caught neck-deep in cow dung and fodder that turned slushy due to rainwater seepage. The cows died after being trapped for days on without food and water.
Dignity in death
Dignity in death is what they require. Help them live a life rather than just survive each day.
They are crammed into trucks and transported, during which most of them suffer multiple fractures. The half-dead cattle go through excruciating pain before they reach the destination.
As a school girl I was distraught at the sight of bulls made to walk - perhaps hundreds of kilometres - to Kerala in the most inhuman way. The person who was herding them was poking their back with a sharp stick and twisting and fracturing their tail to make them walk fast. The animals were weak and frothing from their mouth. There were bubbles of blood clots where they were poked and a wet mark of tear stream down their eyes.
Do our cattle really wish to live? Help them from dying a hundred deaths before they actually stop breathing.
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