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Protecting It From Slaughter But Torturing It For Milk: The Holy Cow’s Ordeal

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The word ‘lynching’ on the front page of a newspaper isn’t something that comes as an astonishment these days. People have been killed over allegedly smuggling cows or eating beef which has infuriated certain people. To begin with, there is a considerable degree of contestation over beef eating in Hinduism.

The Hindutva brigade argues that atrocities over cows are intolerable since the animal is venerated as a ‘mother’. This belief is often supported by referring to the Vedas.

The counter narrative to this assumption argues that ancient Hinduism has a history of beef eating and such sudden outbursts have their own politics working behind the scene. Historian DN Jha argues that the cow emerged as an emotive symbol with the advent of Islam during 17th and 18th century, followed by Dayanand Saraswati’s Gow Rakshini Sabha in 1882 that pledged to protect cows. However, it is not popular politics per se that has to be the only point of contention.

This article does not delve into the highly contentious sphere that promulgates the idea that ancient Hinduism has a history of beef eating and animal sacrifices. Rather, it undisputedly buys the narrative of the cow vigilantes which posit that the cow has forever been a ‘motherly’ figure to Hindus and beef eating maligns Hinduism. Given the stated premise, there are a few questions which need to be answered rationally rather than polemically.

Evolution is a change in the characteristics of species over successive generations. The survival of the fittest can be seen as a supplementary part of evolution. We humans, along with every other organism on earth, have been continuously evolving. The premise on which evolution is judged is on the basis of survival (as per Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest) and the ability to reproduce.

Image Credit: Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images

Now, the interesting part is that the pain and suffering involved in such processes often remain ignored. This argument can be made in reference to the domestication of animals. Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated around 13,000 to 30,000 years ago. But such domestication was not a comfortable journey for the animals involved. ‘A dog is man’s best friend’ is a misnomer in the historical context since friendship is something which is consensual in nature. But man first domesticated dog and subsequently befriended it.

DNA traces suggest that the cow was domesticated around 10,500 years ago and the Vedas were written around 3,200 years ago. Therefore, during the time of the Vedas, the cow was already domesticated.

Cows in the Vedas are regarded as venerable creatures. Killing or committing violence against them is prohibited as they are seen as motherly figures who bring prosperity. However, there is a considerable ambiguity over the consumption of beef in the Vedas amongst scholars, which, owing to my incompetence over Sanskrit, is not the argument of this article. Nonetheless, it is crucial to mention that all kinds of meat eating and killing of animals, in general, is looked down upon in the Vedas.

The domestication process, with the passage of time, got more virulent and brutal. Milk producing animals, like cows, were domesticated because dairy products benefitted human beings. This utilitarian aspect allowed the cow to be venerated as a ‘mother’ – a figure that is typecast and reduced to selflessly give, nurture and is someone who is always at one’s disposal – and thus arose the necessity for protection.

It is convenient to camouflage the cow as a ‘mother’ and then incessantly milk her at one’s will. However, milk producing animals do not provide milk round the year. Mammals like cows produce milk only when they are pregnant with their calves. A visit to any common farm in India will show that calves are generally allowed to start suckling for a moment and then are forcefully removed but kept within the vicinity of the mother cow so that it continues to produce milk. Furthermore, to continue the supply of milk, the animal is constantly fertilised by a series of unwanted and painful oxytocin injections – something which the cow did not give consent to.

‘Gau Rakshaks’ often forget that the milk they conveniently and proudly slurp down has its own trajectory of violence attached to it. Violence against animals in terms of their consumption is altogether a different set of complex discourse. But selectively choosing to venerate the cow, wherein killing a cow over meat is blasphemy but forcefully and painfully extracting milk is not, shows the hypocrisy of cow protectors.

In a nutshell, a milk consuming individual detesting someone for eating beef and citing the Vedas in their defence, while at the same time consuming the meat of other animals, shows a set of contradictory beliefs which need explanation instead of a brouhaha.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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