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Not Cow, But Bull Slaughter

Murad Ali Baig is the author of 80 Questions to Understand India and Ocean of Cobras
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It is the males of the species that are threatened

In the prevailing climate of hostility to eating meat, especially beef, it may be useful if all the passionate Shiv Sainiks, BJP gau rakshaks and others knew the terrible consequences their crusades could have. Their religious passion has the potential to unleash a storm.

There is nothing remotely spiritual in the things people eat but beef has become a symbol of Hindu verses Muslim identity. It is now rapidly becoming a symbol of Dalit verses upper caste conflict igniting communal fury.

The Hindu bigots need to however understand that there is much more to beef than just religious sentiment.

Many Hindus and other opponents of cow slaughter would be shocked to know that cows account for only 12% of all the bovines in India. Female buffaloes account for 66% of India’s milch cattle that produce about 75% of the milk.

The 19th Livestock Census of India, 2012 shows that the number of cows surprisingly increased by 7.16% to 216 million since the census of 2007. This shows that it is the males of the species that are threatened. Their numbers declined by 18.6% to 84 million in the same period. As male bovines today account for only 28% of the cattle it clearly shows that it is the bulls and not cows that are being butchered.

Cattle are a major economic asset to almost every rural family and the meat industry including bovines, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry put money into the pockets of nearly every rural household. Some 40% of the value of livestock comes from the meat. Farmers will suffer great economic loss if the India’s legislators ban or restrict the slaughter and sale of meat products.

Beef, that costs a third of mutton, is also the poor man’s protein and is mainly consumed by some 200 million Dalits and other tribal communities. While there are many Muslims in the meat business the majority are Hindus.

The livestock census not only shows that two-thirds of India’s cattle are female but that male bovines are no longer valuable as animals for ploughing or transport. The gender imbalance is increasing rapidly and a recent report from the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Bhopal, shows that the share of draught animals for farm power on Indian farms declined from 44% in 1971-72 to a shocking 4% in 2012-13 as tractors, electric and diesel pumps and motor vehicles had replaced them.

It is the male animals (or birds) that are mostly used for meat as the females are more valuable as breeders and for milk or eggs. The census data clearly shows that millions of male animals have actually been culled. Male buffaloes declined 17.8% to 16 million while females increased 7.99% to 92 million. There are therefore nearly 6 female buffaloes to every male.

The female bovines are valuable and the males are worthless but they still need food and fodder that costs over Rs. 100 a day. They are therefore killed for meat where it is allowed but in other states they are callously driven away to be devoured by dogs or wild animals. Meat from such stray cattle is a very cheap food for the poor.

India also has a serious problem with millions of old and unproductive cattle that are callously driven away until they die of hunger or illness. They raid farms and face the wrath of farmers who mercilessly beat and even kill them. If states legislate against beef consumption if will add many more unproductive cattle demanding land that is not available.

There is no Hindu scripture that is opposed to the eating of meat or even beef. In fact, Indra, the tawny bearded supreme Vedic god, was specifically offered the best sides of beef. The Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharat, Ramayana, Shastras and other ancient texts have many examples of eating meat and beef was even specified as the daan, offering, reserved for Brahmins.

Cow protection became a religious statement when the first movement to protect the cow was started by the Sikh Kuka (Namdhari) sect in 1870. In 1882, Dayanand Saraswati founded the Gaurakshini Sabha that challenged beef eating provoking a series of communal riots in the 1880’s and 1890’s. These led to further communal clashes where many were killed in Azamgarh in 1893, Ayodhya in 1912 and Shahabad in 1917.

Beef eating thus moved from being a matter of diet to a defining icon of Hindu versus Muslim identity. It is however, also becoming a symbol of Brahmin tyranny over Dalits for whom beef is their main protein source.