If I were a cow worshipper, I would make it a serious criminal offence for someone to allow his cattle to roam city streets unattended and also consider it my god-given duty to put every single cow, particularly the aged and infirm which have been put out to grass by their owners, in socially or publicly funded goshalas, says Subir Roy.
The sprawling upper middle class neighbourhood of Delhi’s Vasant Kunj has well-laid-out streets and pavements, which are indifferently swept by the municipal staff. Near to where I am visiting, there are several overflowing garbage containers, which should be towed away and replaced with clean ones every day. But they are not.
It is the same sight every evening well after nightfall. Several cows forage in the garbage, which on being stirred up exudes a fair degree of stink, indicating the rot that has set in.
It is painful to watch the cows harming themselves by consuming the putrefying stuff and also bits of plastic. Who would let them harm themselves in this manner? Surely no animal lover.
As if this was not enough, the other day, well into the evening, one of the cows stood utterly confused and motionless in the middle of one side of the carriageway just next to a crossing. The cow did not know which way to go with cars piled up on all sides and honking to no end. Even going over to the other side of the road was difficult for the cow as the divider was rather high.
This is not a scene peculiar to Delhi. I have come across an identical scene well into the evening at the crossing right in front of Metropolis Mall at one end of Kolkata’s Eastern Bypass in front of a large upmarket housing development. The poor animal there was equally confused, hemmed in by honking cars. I feel strongly about this because I consider myself an animal lover with a particular sense of affection for domesticated animals -- dog, cat or cow.
Maybe I picked up some of it from my late mother. Among the many stories she told me when I was a child about life in her extended family was about the cows in the goál (cow shed).
They were as affectionate as the women of the household who looked after them. She particularly recalled with much amusement how, come feeding time, as one of the women approached the goál, they knew food was at hand and would start mooing gently, as if to say, here here, me first.
My mother was affectionate to every soul, but cows were different. The cow was both a dumb, domestic animal -- looking after it was the duty of its owner -- and also holy.
She thought poorly of those who did not properly look after the domestic animals they owned.
One of the heartrending stories she told me before I could read and write was the celebrated short story of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Mahesh, which was all about how it broke the heart of the impoverished farmer, Gofur, when in a fit of rage (both he and Mahesh were starving from the drought) he hit and killed his emaciated favourite animal.
As an animal lover I cannot figure out how those who worship the cow and make a public policy issue of it can allow cows to roam on streets well after they should have come home and while roaming city streets through the day be exposed to the danger of being hit by passing cars.
These are not ownerless animals. They belong to goalas (milkmen), who consider it cost effective to let the cows roam city streets and eat whatever they can, thus reducing the cost of feeding them.
The contrast between India and developed countries is stark. They don’t worship their cattle but there is none to be seen astray on their streets. They are all in farm sheds, well fed and looked after.
If I were a cow worshipper, I would make it a serious criminal offence for someone to allow his cattle to roam city streets unattended and also consider it my god-given duty to put every single cow, particularly the aged and infirm which have been put out to grass by their owners, in socially or publicly funded goshalas.
As anybody with a minimum knowledge of India’s public finances will know, the money needed is not the issue, finding enough socially-committed volunteers is. The last thing you should do, as is being done, is to put goshalas in the hands of government servants. For them it is just another job.
There can be more than one explanation for this contradiction between worship and simultaneous social neglect of the cow. To kill is a sinful act of commission, to neglect is an act of omission which does not attract religious sanction.
It is part of a value system under which maintaining personal cleanliness is all important, social cleanliness (not littering a public space) is a non-issue.
Another explanation is that legally sanctifying cow worship by making killing a cow an offence that can lead to life imprisonment (Gujarat), or putting the utmost social sanction against it by threatening death penalty on those who kill the cow (Chhattisgarh chief minister), while socially neglecting the cow stems from the entire public posture being part of a political agenda.
Building up public hysteria over killing a cow is a way of getting votes. Who cares if the cow eats rubbish and plastic and harms itself! No law enforcer will catch you for allowing that.
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