Gandhi and Cows
Purushottama Bilimoria, PhD
The Gandhian spirit lives on in India, and is ably translated into civil-society or NGO-initiated intervention of mobilizing people’s voice against the excesses of state-backed and investment-brokered erosion of people’s rights in the interest of technocultural developmentalism.
There are numerous other civil-society groups and movements working at the grass-roots levels that invoke traditional wisdom and practical ethics in their expression of resistance to and concerns for radical transformations of the local environment. Revamping the supply of safer drinking water to rural areas, conserving rain water, utilizing dead water from hydro-electric dams, redirecting and consolidating disparate sources and trapped channels of water, have become joint initiatives of NGOs, religious leaders and some State governments as well (e.g. the southern taluks around Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh).
The challenges of industrialization, modernity, globalization and a rapidly expanding liberal economy, present Gandhians with a very different set of circumstances and contexts from those that Gandhi was aware of or could possibly foresee. These call for quite different sorts of responses on the environmental front and they can only be forthcoming case by case.
Still, there are a number of Gandhian followers who are prepared to ‘risk their all’ in order to meet these challenges for the sake of non-violent truth and to bring greater welfare to all beings on planet Earth.
A contemporary Gandhian ethical argument for discontinuing the slaughter and consumption of the cow (ox, bull, buffalo, or cattle) would look something like this:
- The cow has been regarded as sacred sentient creature or has been a symbol of holiness in a number of traditional societies (the sacrificial offering and partaking of the remains of this animal notwithstanding);
- Of all animals the yoked cow (ox, etc.) has provided the most and best of supplementary labour for human needs, particularly in agriculture, farming, moving water-wheels, pounding pulses and pulling carts, etc.;
- the living cow has provided a huge quantity and variety of products for human nutrition and ritual and daily consumption – milk, and from this daily milking, cheese, yogart, sweets, cream, confectionary, medicine, etc.,
- even the excrement and urine of the cow has been used in societies for fertilizer, construction (adobe and floor paste), medicinal purposes, fire and cooking;
- the cow has been (and remains in some societies) an important part of the social and cultural fabric, whether as chattel, asset (measure of the family’s wealth), exchange items, gifts, dowry, a live exchange, good-will offer, ring-games, and this is why the cow is honoured colourfully on Pongal/Sankranti day celebrations across India, and in Africa in other ways, etc.,
- in the modern West and the modern world more widely, the cow is the most consumed and considered consumable ‘delicacies’ — as meat, beef, steak, fat, hamburger pattie, stock, gelatin (which ends up in 20% of all dairy and cooked products, ice-cream, yogart, cream, gelly, etc., on the supermarket shelves); its skin as tanned hide, leather; and its bone and blood in fertilizer and fodder for other animals (processed ‘pet food’; meat for zoo-encaged animals) (no part of the animal is spared these days for one or other commodity-in-the-making) (of course, chicken and pig are used in the same way also, but we are arguing for a paradigmatic case, ceteris paribus);
- the cow and its products (derivative or direct) is the most imported and exported of animals in the world today (not the sheep) — hence the most commodified of sentient creatures;
- the cow is not among the animals adopted as human pet (despite all of above);
- the cow is subjected to among the most horrendous ill-treatment, confinement, and virtual torture in the increasingly mechanized and ‘paddock-free farming’ or rapid engineered breeding (mal)practices in OECD countries (the chicken perhaps too, but comparisons of suffering are not the point here: one ought rather to apply the same argument across all the species that turn up on the human supermarketed palate);
- the amount of intensive labour, grazing space or pasture, fodder, and supplements fed to the cattle for the meat this yields is in inverse proportion to the amount of alternative protein and nutritional sources, such as soya bean and tofu, etc., that the same intensives used could suppy and which would fed ten times the number (in countries that are desperately in need of such food);
- the cow is perhaps the most biologically bred-and-in-bred species on earth (in vitro experimentation, genetic engineering, cross-sperming, ‘special breeding’ have invariably involved cows, as the former Vet-turned IVF-avatar, Dr Alan Trounsend, would vouchsafe);
- the amount of excessively fertilized fodder, hormonal ‘beefing-up’, chemically-based processing of the meat and by-products, freezing them in blood, slow decomposition and delayed consumption, and so on, serve only to increase health risks for their human consumers, and generate low vibrational environment internally that possibly weaken the human immune system, in the short and long run (excessive consumption of meat has been linked to body-weight gain, cholesterol risks, fatty acid build up in the abdomen, possibly also to certain forms of diseases and tumours;
- so-called mad-cow disease that resulted from a callous human intervention to change the evolutionary-determined diet of cows in an attempt to bred ‘fatter, more meat-yielding’ cattle, threatens the future of the species and may even led to its extinction, apart from the harm caused to human consumers of that ill-gotten ‘product’;
- hence, under the principle of human utility, the cow is the single species that has borne the largest burden in helping to maximize the ‘good’ of the greatest human number; like the cosmic RgVedic Purusa (who the desacralized cow has now replaced), the individual cow is sacrificed, its every part dismembered and distributed across the planet [in a variety of aprasads, sultry remainders], to help sustain the human and other species [pets, and zoo animals], population; the ritualized sacrifice is now transformed into an unquestione dinstitutionalized killing and in-animated consumption praxis (Brahmanical tradition that used cows in sacrificial rites at least showed some conscience and argued about the practiced);
- therefore, it would be morally prudent and an objectively rational act, at this juncture of human evolution and given the persuasiveness of the above premises, to change our behaviour towards the cow once and for all;
- thus, in more practical ethical terms, on a par with ‘affirmative action’ policy (among human disadvantaged groups), the human community ought to condescend and collectively forego exploitation of the cow, consider (once again) the cow to be a ‘sacred (not just another secular) animal’, show greater care for the species that continues to provide immense amount toward human nutrition and supplements (other than through its flesh); and foster practices of ‘pet culture (not simply vet and appetite culture)’ (with the same attitude that folks in villages and towns in India show – where cows sit freely on footpaths and nature-strips on the roads): each urban family could well afford to ‘adopt a cow today’ and pay the farmer not to dispose of the cattle (as an already declared ‘dead chattle’) destined for the slaughter house and the dinning tables in near and distant sites
- in time one generalizes and universalizes from the benefits gained in this restraint to other animals; at least in the minimal Kantian sense, the virtue of practicing non-violence may be the greatest gain in this moral stance.