Instead of extending a ban on cow slaughter, the government needs a rational policy on preserving cow species, tapping their economic potential, and incentivising the creation of animal shelters all over the country.
Individuals who believe the cow needs protection can be given tax breaks for donations to such causes.
It is good that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has made it clear that violence in the name of cow protection “defames” the cause. But he also called for a law to ban cow slaughter all over the country. It will not work.
It is time to move away from bans, and shift to persuasion and incentivisation. Liberals may argue that nothing should be banned, but no society operates on this principle in all cases. Most societies do end up banning something or the other (drugs, prostitution, jaywalking, etc), and they enforce it effectively. But they seldom ban things they can’t do anything about, and may end up having perverse consequences.
Bans defame a cause as much as vigilante violence, for it is about the state telling its citizens “you cannot do this, or see what we will do to you…”. A ban is an admission of defeat. It amounts to an acknowledgement that you cannot get someone to do something based on reason and convincing argument. On the contrary, a ban gives rebels a cause to defy authority. At worst, it aids the rise of vigilante groups, for they derive their moral authority from the fact that they are batting on the side of the law!
The rise of extortionists and vigilante groups calling themselves gau rakshaks effectively defames the thousands of genuine gau sevaks, who work tirelessly to further their cause without seeking publicity and reward.
Vigilante groups find legitimacy precisely because of ineffective bans. Some 20 states have banned cow slaughter, but the smuggling and slaughter of cows continue, if not in the state of the ban, then across the border. Since smuggling needs corrupt officials to connive with those moving cows to where they can be slaughtered, the ban effectively promotes opportunities for corruption in the name of the cow. And in the absence of an opportunity to sell “dry” cows (those that yield no milk), farmers will end up abandoning the cow altogether, as economist Kirit Parikh points out in a Times of India article today (10 April).
This is evident in the growing preference of farmers for cross-bred cattle and buffaloes, which offer higher quantities of milk and moreover escape the slaughter ban. Trying to impose a ban that makes no economic sense to the humble farmer will ultimately subvert the cause one is espousing.
The simple point is this: gau seva is a sentimental issue, but sentiment must be backed by reason and sound economics to succeed.
The arguments favouring the preservation of cows are many.
One, we need biodiversity in India’s native cattle species, and protection of cows of different breeds is important for achieving this objective.
Two, Indian cow breeds may sometimes not be as prolific as cross-breeds and buffaloes in yielding milk, but their milk has nutrients that are unique.
Three, cows have utility beyond milk, including the use of dung as fertiliser, and the urine for some medicinal purposes. While this logic may apply to cross-breeds and buffaloes, too, in the case of the cow the benefits are more widely accepted in India. Ayurveda uses cow urine in many cures.
Four, establishing cow farms and shelters constitutes an economic activity of its own. It can create rural jobs and employment opportunities just as well as creating slaughter houses, especially if one can agree that cows that die a natural death can also be skinned and used for leather and other purposes.
Five, the strongest case that one can make for avoiding cow slaughter is the ethical one: cruelty to another sentient being. Humans bond with animals of all kinds. So raising them only for slaughter is avoidable. Some of India’s super-sophisticated elite may scoff at this love for the cow, but is loving this animal any more scoff-worthy than those who love dogs or cats or parrots? There are people who fight for the rights of rabid street dogs, but think cows are somehow infra dig. It is time to point out this hypocrisy. Most people (except in the north-east) may not like the idea of eating dog-meat, so a sentimental avoidance of beef is hardly a weird practice.
Instead of extending a ban on cow slaughter, the government needs a rational policy on preserving cow species, tapping their economic potential, and incentivising the creation of animal shelters all over the country. Individuals who believe the cow needs protection can be given tax breaks for donations to such causes.
This will serve the cause better than letting loose scores of vigilantes or demanding a ban on cow slaughter.