By Devesh Narayanan:
Have you ever felt as if your Union Ministers are turning their noses up at you?
Well, now they literally might have a reason to do it.
Recently, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi urged her colleagues in the Council of Ministers to switch from the “chemically bad” phenyl to a new surface cleaner called Gaunyle – that uses cow urine as its primary ingredient.
Yes. You read that right. It just became more difficult to tell apart a Government office from a cowshed.
“I would request you to replace phenyl, which is currently being used in your ministry and is chemically bad for environment, with Gaunyle,” said Maneka Gandhi in the letter sent earlier in March. This, at the first glance, seems like a thoughtful message from a concerned environmentalist; except that it probably has nothing to do with the environment at all.
Cow urine has historically been used for a wide range of medical, spiritual and hygiene purposes. The animal is so venerated in Hinduism that even its excreta is considered to be holy, and many people turn a blind eye to the mountains of scientifically backed alternatives to embrace this unconventional solution. I’ve even read “research papers” suggesting that cow urine could cure cancer. And powerful people believe these stories. BJP MP Shankarbhai N recently said, “If you want to save yourself from cancer, there is a need to protect cows on a priority because cow urine is effective in curing cancer completely. It can cure cent per cent. I can vouch for it. Nobody wants to hear this”.
Of course no one wants to hear it! It couldn’t be further from the truth. Actual research papers have shown that ingesting cow urine has no positive benefit, but significant side effects including convulsion, depressed respiration and death. Cow urine can also be a source of harmful bacteria and infectious diseases, including leptospirosis. And so when Modi tries to glorify the efficacy of Gaunyle by saying, “The product has been certified ‘excellent’ by labs in its pest-removing abilities. We have already submitted the certificate to the government and they have approved it”, I am inclined to take his words with a pinch of salt.
I feel that the word “scientifically” has been used very loosely as far as Gaunyle is concerned. Desperately, even. Holy Cow Foundation, the appropriately named NGO that markets the product, has been very evasive about the cleansing properties of the solution, but repeatedly reassures us that Gaunyle is made “most scientifically”. Personally, I believe that Gaunyle is simply a concoction of a variety of Hinduistic ingredients: Cow urine, neem, tulsi, you name it. It is several times as expensive as phenyl, but only half as effective. And I can’t imagine the average household switching to this ridiculous alternative. I believe that Gaunyle is tailored for a very specific group of religious zealots, but it is quite alarming that our Government has fallen so readily for the bait.
One of the major economic arguments in favour of using Gaunyle is that the trade will generate income for the gaushalas that house cows, translating into better care and comfort for them. And frankly I think that it is quite amazing how cows can now urinate for a living! It must be so good to be a religious symbol.
I believe that while it is perfectly normal for people in the Government to maintain their own religious beliefs, they should be brave enough to declare their true intentions. There are hundreds of alternative environmentally friendly options that are far superior to Gaunyle as cleansing agents. Yet we’re sticking with an ‘udderly ridiculous’ option. Cow urine isn’t any more effective than the Union Ministers urinating in their own offices. And it’s okay to hold a particular animal as sacred, but we need to know where to draw the line.
Our inexplicable obsession with cow urine needs to stop before things get out of hand. It is particularly disturbing to see how corporations are readily monetizing on religious beliefs to market various kinds of soaps, drinks, digestives, incense and other products that contain the sacred gau-mutra. Religion might give you a moral compass, but it is not going to give you anything materialistic like a cleaner house, blemish-free skin or a clean colon. And I think that it is absolutely crucial that we realize that.