According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomenon [sic] in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond his species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realise his identity with all that lives….Protection of the cow means the protection of the whole creation of God….Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live as long as there are Hindus to protect the cow. Hindus will be judged not by their tilaks, not by the correct chanting of mantras, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observance of caste rules but by their ability to protect the cow.”
Indian scriptures tell us that the cow is a gift of the gods to the human race. It is a celestial being born of the churning of the cosmic ocean. Guias, the cow is called in Hindi, is symbolic of Earth itself (similar to Gaia,the Greek goddess of earth). It follows that the cow represents the Divine Mother that sustains all human beings and brings them up as her very own offspring. Much as a mother shows the highest mark of affection for her young, the passion of the cow for her calf is just as legendary and often referred to in Indian literature. The ancient texts describe how the gods run to the succour of a devotee like a cow hastening to feed her calf. In fact, the cow is even more than a mother in the sense that it fulfills all the needs of her children as well. It is in this conception that the cow is understood as Kamadhenu, the wish filling mythical cow, abode of the 330 million Indian gods and goddesses.
So intimate is the cow’s association with the lives of Hindus that in all the rites of passage of life, almost from conception to cremation, the cow is connected to ceremony and ritual.
Perhaps the most significant tribute to the cow is paid during havan or the formal fire ritual conducted by a priest. No havan is said to be complete without the presence of panchgavya or the five gifts of the cow, namely milk, yoghurt, ghee, gobar, and gau mutra. In the Hindu world view, to give cow clarity or gau daanis considered the highest act of piety. Paeans of praise is reserved for cow’s milk and ghee which is considered to be an elixir.
Dr. D. Bhandari, the former Director of Animal Husbandry in Rajasthan said, “You see it is the wonderful bacterial flora of the cow’s stomach that imparts this matchless quality to its milk ideally balanced for humans. Buffalo milk may be richer but it is the cow’s milk that sharpens intellect, gives swiftness of body, stability of emotions and a serene nature to the one who drinks it.”
Also taken, but in measured quantities, is cow urine or gau mutra which has a unique place in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine? Commenting on the chemistry of gau mutra, Dr. C.H.S. Sastry, Director of the National Institute of Ayurveda said, “Cow urine is used to produce a whole range of ayurvedic drugs, especially to treat skin diseases like eczema.” Besides, gau mutra is a well known disinfectant. Anti-septic property is also the attribute of cow dung or gobar which is mixed with clay to form a plastering medium for mud huts. It is a proven fact that mud huts plastered with gobar that keeps insects and reptiles away. This is the reason why people in the countryside still store grain in huge earthen pots plastered with gobar and gau mutra to keep it free from insect manifestations.
Gobar and gau mutra is also mixed with mud and straw to make dried cakes that fuel kitchen fires. Traditional wisdom says that in burning these cow dung cakes, the temperature never rises beyond a certain point, ensuring the nutrients in the food are not destroyed by overheating. Besides, the smoke of gobar clears the air of germs. Gobar has also been successfully used to produce bio-gas and generate electricity for consumer use. Scientific studies show that gobar has been found to be resistant to solar radiation. And of course, gobar mixed with gau mutra makes for excellent manure and a natural pesticide. Modern day ecologists are saying that as compared to chemical fertilizer which damages the land in the long run, gobar actually improves the health of the soil. It is not hard to see why Indian mythology says that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, resides in cow’s gobar.
Usefulness of the cow forms the subject matter of an essay and every child in India gets to write in primary school. The children are told that even in dying, the cow gives us its hide which is prized for its softness. Besides the leather, the cow also gives its horns and bones and other parts of the body like intestines which have various uses. However, there are other benefits of the cow which are beyond the purvey of scientific scrutiny.
Cow slaughter is already banned in all but a few states, yet it continues rampant and unabated in illegal, unlicensed abattoirs all throughout the country, including in the states where it is banned. In fact, according to one estimate, there are approximately 32,000 unlicensed abattoirs in operation in India today. Moreover, countless cows are reportedly transported in gruesome conditions and smuggled across the West Bengal border into Bangladesh to be killed. A total ban on cow slaughter will not have any real effect unless unlicensed abattoirs are also closed and transport is monitored. As it stands now, most police and government officials turn a blind eye to the thriving illegal slaughter trade.
Millions of old, spent cows, exhausted bullocks, and young male calves are driven on foot up to 300 miles, or are crammed into trucks. Many sustain injuries being loaded and off-loaded during part of the journey or die in transit. Some collapse on the way, are beaten, and even have salt and hot chilies rubbed into their eyes and have their tails hammered, twisted, and broken to make them get up and keep walking. Some of those being transported get trampled and suffocate, or have an eye gouged out by another’s horn. Water and fodder are rarely provided during their long journeys, and even at rest stops. An estimated one million cattle are taken every year into Kerala from other southern states to be slaughtered”, for transit into Kerala, or in railroad cars to West Bengal, the two sates where cattle slaughter is legal except in West Bengal and Kerala, where cattle slaughter is permitted, the Cow Slaughter Act prohibits the killing of cattle under 16 years of age. The penalty for illegal slaughter of cattle is rigorous imprisonment for two years and a fine.
Article 48 of the Constitution of India, Part IV, Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 48-Organisation of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, says: “The State shall endeavor to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle
Article 51-A (g) of the Constitution of India states, “It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment and to have compassion for all living creatures.” This is not in keeping with the predominantly religious sentiment that interprets compassion for living creatures as “rescuing” cows and other abandoned cattle from slaughter and putting them into death camps where they starve to death or die slowly from infections and parasites.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation made a passionate appeal to ban cow slaughter in India. He wrote with great depth of feeling for the cow and called it a “poem of compassion”. He said that the cow is the representative of the mute world of animals. With the language of its eyes the cow seems to be saying to Man that “God has not made you our master so that you could kill or eat or mistreat us. Instead He made you to be our friend and protector”. Such a fine thought can only emerge from this land where the cow is a symbol of its civilization. The songs of glory of the cow is a priceless gift of India to the rest of the world.
So, the need of the hour is to protect the cow and cow should be declared as national animal.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, University College of Law, MLSU, Udaipur.)