The sacred cow

Amal Chatterjee
7 min readJun 15, 2017


Source : Google photo

Synopsis: The common perception that cows are sacred to Hindus is a fallacy that originated during the Buddhist period in India when most of the population followed Buddhism and when any animal slaughter was banned in the country. The vegetarian diet is still practiced by the millions but the Hindus ate beef and other meat long time ago during the Vedic period.

Scientists tell us that we descended from apes long ago when we used to survive eating wild fruits and roots just like the apes today and we were essentially vegetarians. Later as humans started to live in communities, they needed a steady source of food so started agriculture and animal husbandry when wild animals were domesticated for this purpose.

Humans also hunted for food when wild fruits and roots were not available so they started to eat meat and used the animal hides for clothes and bones for tools. This was before the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry.

The domesticated animals like cows, goats and sheep gave man plenty of meat,milk and hides where the supply was assured. The domestic animals multiplied on their own so there was no need for hunting for them in the wilderness like their ancestors did. Those who did not stay in one place like the Native Americans did not practice agriculture so essentially they followed the herds of wild animals and hunted them for food and clothings.

But the settled humans developed flourishing communities everywhere and produced enough food for themselves and lived comfortably if not in prosperity in the modern sense of the word.

Then came a period of religious upheaval where a new religion like Buddhism came into being long before Christianity and started to spread slowly through many parts of Asia bringing with it the idea that violence done to all animals to obtain food and hides must stop. It started in India that was populated by meat eating Hindus who switched to Buddhism in large numbers at a certain period of its long history so the sacred cow was born. Throughout the country, the slaughter of all animals was banned by the order of the king .

The Hindus by and large became vegetarians and remain so even today although Buddhism as a religion has waned so hardly a few Buddhists remain except in a few small areas of the vast country and yet their non violence tenets have not only remained but have become deeply ingrained in the Hindu culture.

However, a percentage of the Hindu population always remained non vegetarian and obtained their protein from meat of goat, sheep , fish and poultry but not from cows or buffaloes although in Nepal which is a Hindu country, people eat the buffalo meat because in their logic buffalo is not a cow so can be eaten but not the cow. This logic is quite interesting.

Recently there has been an outcry throughout India to ban the slaughter of cows nationwide so laws are being promulgated to this effect and the abbatoires are being shut down. Behind this movement are the hard core vegetarians who want to go back to the era of Buddhism when there was a total ban throughout the empire but that was a long time ago.

In the mean time millions of Moslems, Christians and also meat eating Hindus clamored for beef so the slaughter of cows and buffaloes continues in various parts of the country even today where majority of Moslems and Christians live thus putting them at odds with the strict vegetarians.

In some states the ban is absolute where people suspected of killing cows and eating beef are beaten up and even killed by the angry mob.In other states vigilante groups stop any truck transporting cows or buffalows and drivers are beaten up because people think that they are transporting the animals to the slaughter houses. The slaughter houses are run by Moslems so a large section of the beef eating population is affected. Meat sellers are closing shops and their livlihood is disappearing.

But here lies the dichotomy of Hindus. They will not kill a cow but beating a cow mercilessly that has damaged a farmer’s crop or vegetable patch is allowed and quite normal. They really do not venerate a cow as much as some people believe so to them a cow is not holy as portraid in the western press but just an animal who is not beefsteak on four legs. This notion is vehemently contested by a few die hard vegetarian Hindus who bow down in front of a cow chewing cud just to show how pious they are. I suspect it is mostly for public consumption.

India is home to the world’s largest cattle population and they are multiplying at a fast rate so the government does not know what to do with the millions of cows that roam the streets to find food because their owners have abandoned them. They cause traffic jams, accidents and some die on the streets creating big health hazards. A cow died in front of our gate one day that made such a mess that people were in panic as the animal started to decompose in the 40 degree celcius heat rapidly .The stench was unbearable until some untouchables came and carted it away

If you travel in India, you may find such animals rotting by the side of the road and being shred to pieces by hundreds of vultures. They are the real janitors in India and believe me they render a service. People just pass by and cover their nose. To them it is quite normal to see such things.

India is also the largest exporter of beef, hides and live animals but they have to compete with Brazil or other cattle exporting countries so the market is quite competitive.There is a huge leather industry that employs millions of people so you will see international brands like Hushpuppies making quality shoes in India because of cheaper leather price and skilled labor force that works for low wages.Bata has built a city around its factory in East India where they make very good shoes.

All these industries are now affected because of the ban on cow slaughter so they are not happy. People get very angry when their livlihood is in jeopardy so a political storm is brewing in India with uncertain outcome.

The government often does silly things just to placate the vegetarians so they have started to pick up roaming cows from the streets of the capital and elsewhere and transport them to a pound. They insert a tracking microchip into the animal and can trace where it has been and who is the owner but I think it is just for show that they are doing something. So who feeds these animals in the pound and how long can they keep them there?

Some are brought to forests and released but a cow is a domestic animal that can not survive in a forest.India does not have millions of hectares of grazing land like in Africa where animals can survive. The pressure of the population is so great that the wild life in restricted forested areas are under tremendous pressure from human encroachment. On top of that you have millions of cattle everywhere so it is a huge problem.

In Japan beef is so expensive that the returning Japanese tourists bring home beef as a gift for their loved ones. They only shake their head in disbelief that beef is such an issue in India. My American friends can’t believe it either. I once told an American woman who was arguing with me about this issue that food is what people eat. The beef is not food to most Indians because they do not eat it no matter how much you appreciate a huge steak.

It is true that India has a great dairy industry so cow and buffalow milk is available everywhere so the milk cattles are raised in the city or in the outskirts to be near the consumer. This means there are thousands of such animals living in the cities creating a stench that is skyhigh but it is good business so mayors can do nothing about it no matter how many laws they pass. It cannot be implemented and the animals cannot be moved out.

The cattle population is also the largest emitter of methane gas that goes straight up into the atmosphere. You and I know what that means. One can only visit a country like Denmark or Holland to see how they manage their beef and dairy industry. The Americans have turned it into an art so efficient they are in their beef and milk production. I am sure India could learn a lot from them in the management of the industry and bring the clean animal husbandry practices to India.

You don’t see animals roaming the streets in America or Europe or anywhere for that matter except in India but they are the quality producers of meat and milk products . But India is mired in the politics of cattle because of its wider implication .Any one who supports cow slaughter is booted out of the office by the vegetarian voters who number in millions so the politicians do what they have to do to get their votes.

India can solve its cow problem by exporting cattle on an industrial scale even at a discounted price to earn revenue and buy back the processed leather later to supply to its industries. This will eliminate the slaughter houses and placate the large vegetarian population.

It can concentrate its effort in modernizing the dairy industry by learning from the Swiss or the Danes to bring it at par with the international standard.

It can eliminate all roaming cattle from the streets in every city which will be a highly popular move and will earn the politicians great dividents.

It can promote the improvement of the dairy breed of cattle through breeding program so that they give more milk. India has some of the outstanding breeds of cattle known for their high milk production but limited to certain states like Punjab.

It can promote an alternative to beef by encouraging production of mutton that come from goat and sheep that non vegetarians prefer and even beef eaters like. The poultry industry is still primitive so there is great scope there for modernisation and improvement.

If the government has the will, it will find the resources needed to solve the cattle problem in India. Otherwise the vigilantes will roam the streets instead of cattle and that can mean only one thing. It is not good.



Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.

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