Ruminations of a Holy Cow: Satya Sagar

Guest Post by SATYA SAGAR

I am a humble cow from India and writing this to clear up some of the bull being propagated about me and members of my family for a long time.

I am not using the term ‘humble’ out of some false sense of modesty but only because this reflects the true status of most cows in this country. Irrespective of the propaganda about our ‘exalted status’ cows in India are an oppressed lot, on par with the ordinary people of India.

In fact cows, have been the template for exploitation around the world, being among the first animals to be ‘domesticated’ by the human species. Once cows, along with dogs and sheep, were enslaved it was only a matter of time before the male of this evil species thought ‘how wonderful it would if I could also domesticate women, children and members of neighbouring tribes?’

The rest is history. Of course, the history of human ‘civilisation’. The four terms ‘captured, tethered, milked, butchered’ – which is what has happened to cows over millennia- can neatly describe the entire march of ‘progress’ of human societies from feudalism to modern day financial capitalism.

I laughed out loud reading Marx the other day ( I found his book while rummaging for food in a garbage bin) where he talks of ending the ‘exploitation of man by man’! Well before all that came the exploitation of cows by man!

Marx could have figured this out if he had cared to look up the origins of the term ‘cattle’, by which we are commonly referred to. It  is derived from ‘chattel’, which means ‘personal movable property’, which is where the term ‘capital’ also derives its meaning from. The book Marx should have written perhaps is ‘Das Cattle’ and not ‘Das Capital’ (…. Marxists have so few animal instincts!)

Well, coming to the main theme of my rant now – the situation of the supposedly ‘holy’ cows in India or as a good Commie would put it the ‘Cow Question’. You may have noticed that I refer to myself as a ‘cow from India’ and not as an ‘Indian cow’.

The reason for this is very simple, there is no such thing as an ‘Indian cow’. Except, that is, in the fertile imagination of those who have never dealt with any real flesh, blood and milk cow directly but only fantasised over pictures from a Ravi Varma inspired calendar.

Let me explain. Did you know there are over 800 breeds of cows globally and at least 26 distinct breeds in India?  Just to give you some names, these include Gir, Sahiwal, Red Sindhi, Tharparkar, Amrit Mahal, Nagori, Malvi, Hallikar, Khillari, Kangayam, Krishna Valley, Ongole, Nirmari, Hariana, Deoni, Kankrej, Dangi …So, there is no one standard model and some of these breeds look as different from each other as a Kashmiri does from a Malayali, of course all of them being equally beautiful!

Many of these breeds, though found in India for a very long time, are not native to this land either, having been brought by nomadic cattle herders from all over  Asia. In recent times there are of course several breeds from Europe that have been imported into India and are hugely popular with dairy farmers. Similarly the snooty Ongole Brahman bulls are found all over the world today (you can call them Non-Resident Bulls or NRBs if you like).  What’s more, at least two breeds, the Red Sindhi and Sahiwal are originally from what is current day Pakistan.

All of this raises the intriguing question, ‘are European and Pakistani cows also sacred to the Hindus?’  And if it is only the cows from India that are ‘holy’ then which of the 26 plus breeds are on this list- does the caste system apply to cows also? Don’t snigger now, as these are serious questions that had me chewing the cud for months and whose answers literally mean life or death to me and my fellow cows.

Suppose you want to define the ‘holy cow’ as any cattle found within the political/administrative boundaries of the modern Indian nation then what happens if a cow from Bangladesh strays (or ‘infiltrates’) across the international border? Will the government set up a ‘Cattle Tribunal’ to deport the ‘foreign cows’ and give Aadhar cards to the ‘Indian ones’? Will they allow import of beef from other countries where the cows are not ‘holy’ like the Indian ones?

Well, the fact is that when some of the Vedic texts  talk about the cow being ‘aghanya’ or ‘not to be killed under any circumstances’, they did so in generic terms. It was not in terms of the cow’s ‘nationality’ or breed so that really makes all the world’s cows ‘holy’. This in turn implies that the current cow-loving Indian government should break diplomatic ties with all beef-eating nations!

Frankly, I have no problem with being worshiped but I don’t think cows should be singled out for this privilege. Either all animals on this planet, including humans, are holy or none of them are. The exclusive attribution of holiness to us only adds to our burdens in so many ways, including making us unpopular with other animals of allegedly ‘lower status’.

To begin with, it has made many cows in India complacent about their survival and take life for granted, with tragic results. For example, while cows expect to be fed, given shelter and looked after in old age by their ‘devotees’ the reality is that once our usefulness gets over we are left to fend for ourselves. You can judge from the number of old and sick cows on the roads of any Indian town shooed from one vegetable shop to the other.

Worse still, we are unable to look after ourselves too, as all the common lands we used to graze on earlier have been fenced off as ‘private property’. The grass used to be green on the other side once but now there is only one side left and that too belongs to the Ambanis. On top of all this the hay we get is poisoned with pesticides and the plastic bags we eat out of sheer hunger ends up killing us prematurely.

The myth of the ‘holy cow’ is also bloody dangerous as many cows mistake being ‘holy’ for being immortal or immune to traffic laws or even the laws of physics.  The number of cows that die in accidents, routinely run over by trucks while crossing Indian highways probably numbers in the thousands every year.

Yet another problem with our ‘holy’ label is simply that it hides the fact that it is not fair to buffalos, which produce much of India’s milk or meat and yet are demonised by Hindus because they are dark skinned. In an extension of racism among humans to the animal kingdom, the Hindus depict the buffalo as nothing less than the vehicle of Yama, the God of Death!

One more reason for my opposition to declaring cows as ‘holy’ is simply because this is just a ruse by some to keep milking us for benefits other than mere nutrition. This entire ruckus about banning cow slaughter for example is a clear case of a section of political extremists who want to use us to steer national politics in the direction they want. Fellows who don’t hesitate to mix beef tallow in vegetable oil and sell it to devout Hindus are leading this clamour to stop killing cows for meat!

Do they really care about whether cows in this country live or die when they don’t bother about their own fellow human beings dying of malnutrition, disease and poverty? Obviously not and it is the poor cow that has been made a scapegoat in this campaign of sectarian hate and political ambition.

So what are my own views on cow slaughter and eating beef? Well, my argument is a bit more complex than the usual knee-jerk responses from both those oppose or support beef eating – so those with closed minds can stop reading at this point.

My contention is that I don’t see any difference between beef or mutton or chicken or  fish. In fact I don’t see any difference between a ‘vegetarian’ and a ‘non-vegetarian’ either! Both plants and animals are made up of the same material – essentially various hydrocarbons put together in somewhat different ways. Fundamentally speaking (but not speaking like a fundamentalist) they are just hydrocarbons. Go check out your basic science textbooks and tell me if I am wrong .

Ok, I know some of you are already jumping around like a red rag in front of a bull pointing to the various qualities that animals have but plants don’t but all that is humbug. Plants are obviously living creatures and exhibit all the abilities and qualities that animals are supposed to have including that of communication, or emotion – check this out – Do Plants Think?  (Yes, this cow surfs the net too.)

By that logic in fact there is no difference between a cow and a cucumber, so what the heck is the controversy all about? Every human being who gets buried in the ground upon death comes back as grass which I eat, so technically speaking cows can also be accused of eating human beings. There is a legend among us cows in India, that after the Mahabharata war ended, cows grew extraordinarily fat eating all those fueding patriarchs turned to fodder in the battlefields of Kurukshetra!

Look at the way the human population on this planet has trebled in just the last hundred years from around 2 billion to 6 billion people. Where did all the hydrocarbon to make those extra human beings come from? Of course from the killing of trees, animals and other species and converting their hydrocarbon into human flesh and blood. In fact, every time I see a mob of humans go by I think, ‘what a wonderful bloody forest they could have made’.

There is an interesting theory that says the Hindus, who used to eat beef in Vedic times (Yagnavalkya, the Aryan sage of Upanishads fame, when asked about eating beef, even crooned like Elvis, ‘Love me tender…), stopped doing so after they discovered that certain highly psychoactive mushrooms grow well in cow dung. When consumed these ‘magic mushrooms’ gave them divine visions that in turn led to the cow being declared a ‘holy animal’!! If that was the case then it is these mushrooms that need to be worshipped and not cows.

I am joking of course. The truth is that like most poor Indians we cows are also there to be used and discarded. Calling us ‘holy’ and manipulating our public image is only meant to prevent the ‘domesticated’ human beings from revolting against the existing order of things. We will accept being ‘sacred’ only when all forms of life on this planet are also given the same status. Till then, stop bullshitting.

Satya Sagar is a writer, public health activist based nowhere. He can be contacted at sagarnama@gmail.com

6 thoughts on “Ruminations of a Holy Cow: Satya Sagar”

  1. I know that you are trying to make a point and all, and i quite agree with you that this whole holy business is b.s. But on my visit to some villages in UP, i found that cows are actually treated very humanely and it does seem to have a positive impact on the humans caring for them, dare i say the cows make them humane :)

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  2. “”My contention is that I don’t see any difference between beef or mutton or chicken or fish. In fact I don’t see any difference between a ‘vegetarian’ and a ‘non-vegetarian’ either! Both plants and animals are made up of the same material – essentially various hydrocarbons put together in somewhat different ways. Fundamentally speaking (but not speaking like a fundamentalist) they are just hydrocarbons. Go check out your basic science textbooks and tell me if I am wrong .””

    While it’s true that there cannot be morality regarding food one cannot use specious arguments such as this to make a case for the consumption of the cow. This argument can be used to justify the slaughter of sharks for shark fin soup or the poaching of tigers for tiger penis soup. The cow can be eaten because it is available plentifully and is thus a cheap source of high quality protein.

    “”Ok, I know some of you are already jumping around like a red rag in front of a bull pointing to the various qualities that animals have but plants don’t but all that is humbug. Plants are obviously living creatures and exhibit all the abilities and qualities that animals are supposed to have including that of communication, or emotion – check this out – Do Plants Think? (Yes, this cow surfs the net too.)””

    I once heard Zakir Naik, the ersatz version of Deedat Ahmed make an argument for meat eating that ran on similar lines. Plants can “think” and “feel” as modern research has shown and so the plant eaters are just as culpable of murder as the meat eaters. Plants respond to external stimuli as does all of life but the intrinsic quality of the subsequent response is qualitatively different from those of higher life forms. Hydrocarbons we all are but higher life forms are distinguished by the increasing complexity in the arrangement of the same hydrocarbons and other molecules characteristic of life.
    Meat eating can have other justifications but the one above is a case of hitting below the belt, so to speak, especially of someone who gives up meat eating on ethical grounds, which is a perfectly rational reason for giving up meat eating.

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  3. Though Satya’s satire, like all good satire, has savage undertones, I don’t think he really believes in the moral equivalence of eating cows and cucumbers. There are, as Vinay Kamath points out, ethical grounds for not eating any living thing that has sentience and autonomy which, I assume, are functions of “the increasing complexity in the arrangement of the same hydrocarbons and other molecules characteristic of life.”

    Vinay writes, “The cow can be eaten because it is available plentifully and is thus a cheap source of high quality protein.” Actually, the cow is available plentifully *because* it can be eaten. If the tiger could be eaten, there would be plenty of tigers; docile and tasty is a better evolutionary strategy than mean and dangerous. At least, there are some 1.5 billion heads of cattle in the world, compared to less than 5000 tigers in the wild.

    This, of course, is not an argument for selling tiger meat in INA market. (Or is it? My moral certainties have been cowed into disarray by Satya’s article. I’ll never eat a cucumber again with my earlier insouciance).

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  4. Thanks Sajan for clarifying my position on cows and cucumbers so well and my apologies for disturbing your ability to eat salad with a clean conscience! The point about all of us, plus animals and plants, being hydrocarbons I was trying to make is that we are all part of great ecological cycles on this planet and no one has the ‘right’ to eat anything from nature at all (not even a cucumber) without the responsibility of giving back as much as they take. At the same time, whether it is a plant or an animal there is nothing inherently ethical about eating one form or hydrocarbon and sparing another. In other words those who don’t eat meat or beef on any grounds do not become holy and have no right to impose their tastes on others (I am not suggesting that Vinay does this but there are plenty of people who do).

    The problem with modern civilisation is that we seem to be just consuming endlessly and giving back only toxic wastes of different kinds and not contributing to the sustenance of life in any way. A clue to how things can be done differently comes from indigenous communities who eat a wide variety of living organisms generally but do so in a way that is both respectful to these organisms and also responsible in the sense they give back as much as they take. Indigenous communities also don’t build ‘permanent’ structures of any kind that destroy other life forms and their habitats leading to the mistaken notion that since they don’t have any spectacular ‘ruins’ from history to show they are not ‘civilised’! The fact is that theirs is the only way to live properly on a planet that belongs to all species, big and small and not just the primate-come-lately called homo sapiens sapiens.

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    1. ‘Holy’ cow or ‘unholy’ pig…the story is essentially the same…Interestingly for decades the only source of insulin for diabetics was from either cows or pigs…and no one seems to have had any problems using them when needed. Something to think about…

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