india's holy cow: the sacred and the suffering updated

Cows and their offspring on the long forced march from auction in Tamil Nadu to slaughter in Kerala...

...collapse on the way, are beaten and have hot chili peppers rubbed into their eyes to make them get up.  If they don't, they are piled into trucks...



BY Dr. Michael W. Fox

Chief Veterinary Consultant

India Project for Animals and Nature

Global Communications for Conservation Inc., New York



India has the largest concentration of livestock in the world,(250-300 million cattle, 60 million water buffalo, 120 million goats, and 40 million sheep), having one-third of the world's cattle on approximately 3 percent of the world's land area. India is the world's second largest milk producer, with over half its milk coming from buffalo. Seventy-six percent of Indian people are rural, living in some 600,000 villages. The economic and social values of cattle are so great that cattle have long been seen as religious symbols and are regarded as sacred.

In India's villages today, one can see the close relationship between cattle and their owners who have high regard for their animals as individuals, as vital family-providers, if not also actual family members. Hence the strong resistance to killing and eating such close animal allies. But this symbiotic alliance is breaking down as larger modern dairies are established and animals' individuality is lost, and as venture capitalists purchase bullocks and carts to be rented out, or leased to individuals who are complete strangers to the animals, and who have no emotional or economic interest in them.

India's "white revolution" began in 1970, a nationwide dairy cooperative scheme called "Operation Flood" that was initiated to increase milk production and to help the poor with low interest loans for purchasing milk cows. The World Bank and the World Food Program provided most of the funds, but this scheme has caused many problems, (Crolty, 1980). Less grain and lands are available to feed people since more are diverted to feed dairy cattle owned by the rich. Also, fodder prices have increased, creating difficulties for poorer cattle owners and landless cattle owners.

But now, according to Prof. Ram Kumar of the India Veterinary Council,( personal communication), that there is only sufficient feed for sixty percent of India's cattle population. This means that of an estimated 300 million calves, bulls, and bullocks, some 120 million of these animals, especially in arid regions, and elsewhere during the dry season and droughts when fodder is scarce, are either starving or chronically malnourished.

While Moslem, Christian, Sikh, and other Indians eat meat (buffalo, sheep, and goats, whose slaughter is permitted) the majority of Indians are Hindus, for most of whom the killing of cattle and eating of beef is unthinkable because this species is regarded as the most sacred of all creatures.

Cow Worship


Cow and bull worship was a common practice in many parts of the world, beginning in Mesopotamia around 6,000 B.C. and spreading to Northwestern India with the invasion of the Indus Valley in the second millennium B.C. by Aryan nomadic pastoralists who established the Vedic religion. What is remarkable is that such worship has persisted uniquely in India to the present day. Lodrick (1981) concludes that revulsion against sacrifice, the economic usefulness of cattle and religious symbolism ( especially as the Mother-provider) were factors contributing to the formulation of the sacred cow doctrine, but it was ahimsa (the principle of non-violence/non-harming) that provided the moral and ethical compulsion for the doctrine's widespread acceptance in later Indian religious thought and social behavior.

India can be seen as two nations in one: a majority of Hindus, for whom vegetarianism is linked to caste and ritual purity; and the meat-eating Moslems, who are seen as unclean and their touch polluting, (Simoons, 1961). Moslems regard Hindu worship of temple images heathen and immoral and their democratic views contrast with the caste system of Hindus. The Hindu elite abstain from eating meat. From an ecological viewpoint and an economic one, Hindus and Moslems are highly complementary when it comes to cattle. One eats the male calves while the other takes the calves' milk.

Cow protection has become a highly politicized core of the Hindu religion. What was once a compassionate, symbiotic human-animal bond linked with virtuous behavior (personal purity) that brought with it such principles as ahimsa and vegetarianism for Hindus, and for Moslems the ritual codes of animal sacrifice that helped affirm community and family ties, has now come to serve political ends.

Religious beliefs that ultimately contradict nature's reality and which see the nature of other creatures as unclean or immoral, become life-negating rather than life-affirming, and cause great harm, (Fox 1996).


Cattle Welfare Concerns

Because of a seasonal and regional lack of fodder (and water), and because of overstocking and overgrazing, many cattle suffer from chronic malnutrition. This in turn weakens their immune systems and makes them susceptible to parasitic infestations and other diseases. Large numbers of poorly nourished cattle create a potent medium for outbreaks of infectious diseases which necessitate costly vaccinations, which are too often ineffectual due to inadequate refrigeration.

There is also the widespread belief that there is no real cattle surplus, and that India would do better with even more cattle because their organic manure is so valuable to agriculture. The environmental damage in some regions from overgrazing is especially caused by "scrub" cattle that are kept simply as manure-makers before they are driven to slaughter or die. Their sad existence in semi-starvation, often also chronically sick, will continue without mass public education and government assistance.

The overall cattle population must be reduced; and health and productivity enhanced through genetic improvement, and by better nutrition by establishing emergency fodder banks and sources of water to see them through the dry seasons; and alternative sources of income provided for farmers who are reliant upon cattle manure as a major product, as by raising milk-goats and producing more fodder.

According to India Today (January 11, 1996), "As long as 1955, an expert committee on cattle said in its report: 'The scientific development of cattle means the culling of useless banning slaughter...the worthless animals will multiply and deprive the more productive animals of any chance of development.'"

Shepard (1996) criticizes one anthropologist who wrote a long article defending the sacred cow on 'ecological' grounds as a consumer of weeds and plant materials that otherwise went to waste, because this view of the sacred cow is a flagrant but familiar abuse of the concept of ecology as maximum use instead of a complex, stable, bio-centric community.

Seeing the increasing desertification of pasture lands caused by overgrazing, and cattle having less and less grazing land as good land is put under cultivation, environmentalist Valmik Thapar foresees that if the cattle problem is not soon corrected, "Finally there will be a clash because the land mass of the country can't sustain the growing human and animal population. Then the question will arise as to who is going to eat. Man or cow?" (India Today, January 11, 1996)


Cattle Shelters


The first animal shelters in India began with the advent of Buddhism, to whom King Ashoka (269-232 BC) converted. Ashoka ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent, converting millions to accept Buddhism, and was the first to set up shelters and animal hospitals, although some historians believe that Buddha himself was the first to do so. Ashoka put compassion into action, by caring for animals in need, and into the law also, setting up wildlife preserves and punishments for those who abused and killed animals.

Gowshalas and pinjrapoles are located throughout India and are supported by taxes and charitable donations from the business community. Gowshalas are refuges for cattle, often linked with the Hindu cult of Krishna, while pinjrapoles serve as a refuge for a more diverse animal population, including birds, other wild animals, and even insects and microorganisms in collected piles of household dust. A 1955 government census found there were 3,000 animal shelters maintaining some 600,000 cattle and thousands of other animals from deer to dogs and camels to cats.

Even though Indians know that the buffalo is a better quality milk producer than most varieties of cows, buffaloes are rarely found in gowshalas because they are considered unclean and not worthy of the same respect as cows.

The Gowshala Development Scheme implemented in the 1957-1961 five-year plan to provide subsidies to improve existing gowshalas were more successful during some periods than others since their implementation.

The prevailing view that such a fate as starvation is better than having cattle defiled by the butcher's knife, does little to encourage local public support. Levying a tax on milk, hides, manure, bone and meat meal fertilizer, and taking a percent of the profits from wholesalers of these cattle products to help defray the costs of running a gowshala that serves the community, is the kind of initiative that is needed, but which politics in many regions would preclude. (Bone meal from urban cattle who live in high density traffic areas, where leaded gasoline is used, becomes potentially toxic with accumulated lead.)

According to Lodrick's study (1981),all gowshalas that keep dry cows and cattle that cannot be rehabilitated for draught work, operate at a deficit. Attempts to make them more productive are not likely to significantly reduce this deficit and so without adequate community and government funding, as is the case throughout much of India, cattle suffer a fate surely worse than the butcher's knife.

The antipathy toward cattle slaughter can have absurd and cruel consequences. For example, according to the Indian Express (Coimbatore, February 25, 1997), local authorities "tied up a huge wild bull on the rampage." It was decided to auction off the creature for slaughter, which fetched much opposition from the devout. Someone killed the bull with some poison during the night to "save it from being defiled by the butcher's knife."

In spite of the excellent research, scholarship, and dedicated field work visiting animal shelters throughout his homeland, Lodrick says nothing about the suffering of cattle in gowshalas or of other species in pinjrapoles. Lodrick sees, in spite of their economic inefficiencies, gowshalas and pinjrapoles persisting in India because cows are held to be sacred and because of the principle of ahimsa that prohibits killing, even for humane reasons. This prohibition is motivated less by compassion than by the belief that to kill is to make oneself spiritually impure.


Cattle Death Drives


Millions of old, spent cows, exhausted bullocks, and young male calves are driven on foot up to 300 miles, or are crammed into trucks for transit into Kerala, or in railroad cars to West Bengal, the two sates where cattle slaughter is legal. Their often bleeding, worn down hooves make hardly any sound as they pass by. Veterinarian Dr. Ghanshyam Sharma from Sikkim, in the Northeast of India where cow slaughter is also legal, sees cattle coming in from Jamma, Kashmir, Bihar, and Nepal. He observes, "Often entire hooves of these animals are snuffed out and gunny bags are tied around the wounded stumps and this way they walk." Many sustain injuries being loaded and off-loaded during part of the journey or die in transit. Some collapse on the way, are beaten, and even have salt and hot chilies rubbed into their eyes and have their tails hammered, twisted, and broken to make them get up and keep walking. Some of those being transported get trampled and suffocate, or have an eye gouged out by another's horn. Water and fodder are rarely provided during their long journeys, and even at rest stops. An estimated one million cattle are taken every year into Kerala from other southern states to be slaughtered", (India Today, January 11, 1996).

Journalist Subhashini Raghavan, in his expose of these cattle death marches, found a complex network of middlemen traders, "who are calloused by constant exposure to cruelty" and they develop the attitude that "if an animal is slotted for slaughter, it ceases to be a living being with pain, hunger and terror." Raghavan found that vast numbers of cattle are made to walk hundreds of miles through pedestrian side-roads to escape checkpoints, en route to regional markets from local markets and then on to transfer points where they may then be put into trucks. He concludes his article stating that, "throughout the length and breadth of this birthplace of Ahimsa, the tragic march of the condemned continues unabated -- a poignant symbol of our callousness, in even denying the last comforts and dignity of those who lived their lives serving us."(The Hindu, April 16, 1995)

Cattle shelters -- gowshalas and pinjrapoles -- cannot possibly absorb all the unwanted cows, calves, and bullocks, since the cattle population is constantly increasing because a cow must have a calf to produce milk. The ecological damage of overstocking, overgrazing, and of millions of low-yielding milk cows and "manure" cattle is turning some parts of India into desert, devoid of trees, topsoil, and wildlife. India's 40 million sheep, 120 million goats, 60 million buffalo, and expanding human population now estimated at 930 million, further compound this environmental devastation.


Cattle Slaughter


Belief in ahimsa (not harming) and in aghnya (not killing) possibly arose as a reaction against the Vedic religion and social order that sanctified animal slaughter, the Brahmins being the highest priestly order in the Hindu caste system that supervised the killing according to Harris, (1991).

Between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C. a new wave of philosophical treatises emerged that included references to ahimsa, and also reincarnation and karma, that were not included in the Vedas. These treatises, along with the emergence of the religious traditions Buddhism and Jainism that espoused ahimsa, were a challenge to orthodox Hinduism and may have led to the Brahmins prohibiting cow slaughter and promoting ahimsa. Yet still today thousands of animals -- buffalo, sheep, and goats especially -- are slaughtered in Hindu temples.

Except in West Bengal and Kerala, where cattle slaughter is permitted, the Cow Slaughter Act prohibits the killing of cattle under 16 years of age. The penalty for illegal slaughter of cattle is rigorous imprisonment for two years and a fine. Article 48 of the Constitution of India, Part IV, Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 48--Organization of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, says: "The State shall endeavor to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle

According to one government study, 50 percent of small animal slaughtering and 70 percent of large animal slaughtering is illegal, taking place in clandestine facilities where there is no supervision of hygiene, animal welfare, or meat safety inspection,( Report of the Expert Committee, 1987).

Of the 3,600 licensed abattoirs in India, only two are mechanized and hygienic, and these are facing strong public opposition (India Today, January 11, 1996).

Article 51-A (g) of the Constitution of India states, "It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment ... and to have compassion for all living creatures." This is not in keeping with the predominantly religious sentiment that interprets compassion for living creatures as "rescuing" cows and other abandoned cattle from slaughter and putting them into death camps where they starve to death or die slowly from infections and parasites.

Euthanasia of suffering animals, according to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, is allowed if "it would be cruel to keep the animal alive" but only if the court, other suitable persons or police officers above the rank of the constable concur. Because of the religious opposition to euthanasia, even of dying animals in severe pain, there is no legal requirement that the owner of such an animal should have it killed. Many orthodox Hindus and Jains oppose the killing of animals for any reason because they feel it is wrong to interfere in any way with another's karma or destiny. It would seem that the doctrine of ahimsa as it relates to the treatment of cattle has been corrupted to serve the interests of social status, caste distinctions and politics, since lower Hindu castes, tribal peoples and others do kill and consume cattle and other animals, be they healthy or in a condition that calls for immediate euthanasia.

Indians have reasoned with me that killing a sick cow is like killing your own mother and that is unthinkable, (see also Simoons, 1961).

The Animal Welfare Board of India, the chronically understaffed and under-funded government agency without any power to enforce animal protection laws, does help subsidize local Blue Cross and SPCA animal shelters and hospitals. But without more support from the central government and from foreign animal protection organizations, the plight of India's animals will worsen as the human population increases and resources become ever more scarce and costly.


Vegetarianism, Religion and Politics


Vegetarianism in India, like ahimsa, has as much, if not more, to do with concerns about reincarnation, one's personal degree of spiritual purity, and place in society (caste) than with immediate concern for animals. But it is not total vegetarianism, since dairy products are consumed by most Hindus and Jains. Few are pure vegan (eating no animal products.) Some Jains have agreed with me that to be consistent with their religious beliefs and with the ecological and economic dictates of the current situation, veganism is an ethical imperative. Abstaining from all dairy products would be more consistent with the principle of ahimsa that they hold so dear, than "saving" spent dairy cows, calves and bullocks from slaughter and condemning them to slow death by starvation in gowshalas or pinjrapoles.

Yet it is in Jainism that the principle of ahimsa was first espoused, most notably is Mahavira (599-527 BC), a contemporary of Buddha, although earlier Jain leaders (tirthankaras) well before the time of Buddha, like Parsvanatha (circa 840 BC), renounced the world and established an ascetic community that practiced ahimsa. Some contemporary Jains get around the problem of ahimsa by becoming land owners and having others do the farming, clearing the land and killing wild creatures, ploughing the land and killing worms, and using all manner of pesticides.

Jainism reached its peak between the 5th to 13th centuries AD, spreading across much of India, then was superseded by Hinduism, and then by Islam following the invasion of the subcontinent by the Moguls in the 11th century. Moslems killed and ate cattle, which was anathema to the non-tribal, upper castes of Hindu society. Cow protection and worship then gained political importance and popularity in opposition to Moslem rule and influence. Hindus and Jains will confide today that it is better to put a calf in a gowshala than have a Moslem eat it.

Cow protection became a political icon for Hindus in their conflicts with Moslems and also when under British rule. Moslems settled in India around the 13th century and can trace their roots to Mogul pastoralists and Arab-Islamic values. Their ritual slaughter of buffalo, sheep and goats is looked down on by Hindus, some castes of which, nonetheless, eat meat. According to Srinivas(1968), the whole Brahminic caste is vegetarian. Of the non-vegetarian castes, fish-eaters look down on those who eat goats and sheep, who in turn look down on eaters of poultry and pigs, who look down on beef-eaters.

Moslems, under British rule, fought successfully to have their religious freedom of ritual slaughter upheld. The British wanted pre-slaughter stunning for humane reasons, but this was not part of sacrificial ritual slaughter under Islamic law. Pre-slaughter stunning eliminates the need to cast the animal onto the ground prior to having its throat cut, thus eliminating much fear associated with being cast.

For Mohandas Gandhi, cow protection was an important aspect of Indian independence from British colonial rule, figuring in the return to traditional values. He wrote:

The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection. Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomenon [sic] in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond his species. The cow to me means the entire subhuman world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives....Protection of the cow means the protection of the whole dumb creation of God....Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live as long as there are Hindus to protect the cow. Hindus will be judged not by their tilaks, not by the correct chanting of mantras, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observance of caste rules but by their ability to protect the cow ( Gandhi 1954).

Srinivas (1968), believes that humanitarianism (or what I would call compassion without self-interest) is a Western value not evident in his country because India cannot yet embrace a value embodying concern for all human beings irrespective of caste, religion, age, sex and economic position; and for all beings irrespective of species, economic, religious or other human-centered value.

Lodrick,(1981), in reviewing this history of animal care and shelters in India, concludes that, "Buddhism, although the major vehicle for the spread of the ahimsa concept throughout India and indeed throughout much of Asia, never carried the doctrine to the extremes of Jainism. In Buddhist thinking, ahimsa became a positive adjunct to moral conduct stemming from the cardinal virtue of compassion, rather than the all-encompassing negative principle of non-activity of the Jains."

Humanitarian concerns over animal slaughter and attempts to modernize slaughtering facilities to make them more humane, sanitary, less wasteful and causing less pollution have been opposed by both Moslems and Hindus for religious and political reasons. Moslems see it as threatening their religious freedom (by the adoption of pre-slaughter stunning) and many Hindus see slaughter modernization as a threat to traditional values, totems, taboos, and even national identity and security.

Such opposition is reminiscent of the Hindu cow protection movement that arose in opposition to British rule and the proposed slaughter of cattle as part and parcel of economic development and modernization. Now under the pressures of trade liberalization and an emerging global market economy that is being pushed by the World Trade Organization, efforts to modernize livestock slaughter are being renewed; and opposition intensifies.

The Indian veterinary profession needs to have full government support for developing the livestock and poultry sectors not primarily to produce meat for export and urban consumption, but to integrate humane livestock and poultry husbandry practices with ecologically sound and sustainable, organic (chemical-free) crop and fodder production: and in the process enable the rural poor to become more self-reliant. It is unwise economically and ecologically, and also socially unjust, to raise any species of farm animal in India (or in any other country for that matter) primarily for meat, eggs or dairy products, (FOX 1997). More animal fat and protein for the rich means less bread or grains for the poor. A major goal should be to reduce the overall livestock population to facilitate ecological restoration. Increasing the productivity and health of milk cows and goats through selective breeding and husbandry improvements also needs more concerted and effective attention, and financing. Meat from male offspring and non-productive females ought to be a by-product rather than a primary product, and either be consumed locally or marketed to the meat-consuming sectors. The tempting rationale to raise livestock and poultry for their meat to supply urban markets and for export to gain foreign exchange revenue -- a rationale being vigorously promoted by multinational banks and transnational corporations as the way to prosperity for India and other developing countries - must be resisted, because it is not sustainable, even in the developed world.

The flaw in the principle of ahimsa, when it takes precedence over compassion is that it becomes a contradiction. By excluding compassion from ahimsa and refusing to accept humane killing of incurably sick, injured and suffering animals, the principle of ahimsa is violated. The reason for this is purely selfish (i.e., to avoid defiling oneself by defiling the animal in taking its life). This aspect of India's "sacred cow complex" cannot be subject to the light of cool reason and compassion when broached to orthodox Jains and Hindus. After all, it is against the law. Though many will accept that the economic inefficiencies of India's livestock and dairy industries are in large part due to the dilemma as to what to do with millions of nonproductive cattle that compete with productive animals for feed, water, and veterinary care, and are short-changed for economic reasons, the resistance to killing nonproductive cattle who are suffering, or have no feed, results in great suffering.

People also tend to confuse ahimsa with aghnya, the doctrine of non-killing. In the name of compassion, incurably ill and injured animals, those creatures suffering because of old age, and sometimes even those who are newborn, but can not be provided adequate food, should be humanely killed. Compassion must take precedence over both aghnya and ahimsa, otherwise India will never develop a humane and sustainable agriculture her sacred cows will continue to suffer until humanity evolves into a more empathic state, or the entire system collapses.

There are ecologically valid and humane reasons for India coming to accept the humane slaughter of cattle as a vital population-control measure, and to see the wisdom of establishing small slaughterhouses in states where cow slaughter is prohibited. There are no simple solutions to the plight of India's cows and their offspring, but with reason and compassion, much suffering could be alleviated.


Agricultural Modernization, Politics and Cattle Welfare


As India shifts to a more capital-intensive industrial agriculture, countless native cows become surplus and urban scavengers for their impoverished owners, and rare breeds become extinct. Many native peoples have been made landless by agricultural "modernization" and migrate in increasing numbers to the cities along with their few animals and possessions. The high cattle population in the nation's capital Delhi is evidence enough. In 1995 some 50 cattle per day were killed or severely injured by traffic, ( Kare Newsletter, 1995).

The Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act of 1955, which allows the slaughter of cattle that are diseased, disabled, or more than 15 years old, allegedly resulted in young, nonproductive cows having their legs hacked and broken so they could be legally slaughtered. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banned all slaughter of the bovine species when it gained control of Delhi in 1994, purportedly to tighten various laxities in the prohibition of cow slaughter. The BJP voiced Mohandas Gandhi who told all India in 1921 that, "Hindus will be their ability to protect the cow."

During the tumultuous 1996 elections, the Vishnu Hindu Parishad (VHP) party, "ignoring the facts and problems" of cattle overpopulation, starvation, disease and suffering, according to India Today (January 11, 1996), launched an anti-cattle slaughter campaign. At a rally one sadhu exclaimed, "We shall cut off the heads of those who shed a single drop of cow's blood." Another party leader proclaimed, "The blood of cows has polluted every river."

According to India Today, the VHP claims that:

! The trembling and wailing of the cows being slaughtered lead to earthquakes.

! Cow urine can cure cancer, impotence, sexually transmitted diseases, liver problems, tuberculosis, polio and obesity.

! Eating red meat causes blindness, skin diseases and heart attacks.

! It also results in divorce because eating red meat causes precocious sensuality in children, which later leads to impotence and ultimately divorce.

Opponents believe the VHP/BJP should do something to protect starving cows that wander the streets and get killed and injured by motorists in cities like Delhi where they are in power and remember that beef is an important protein source for the poor. According to a 1992 Indian Market Research Bureau survey reported in this article, 74.2% of urban households are non-vegetarian, the majority consuming mutton, fish, and chicken, and some 12.7% beef. (How much is buffalo meat is not clear.)

When the BJP won control of the central government in May 1996, the new President Shankar Sharma announced in his opening of Parliament address a total ban nationwide on cow slaughter as one of the new government's policy agendas. One member of the opposing Congress party rose to object, saying such a policy contravened India's secular constitution, which guarantees equal rights to all religions.

India is now at a crossroads where the choice is between rural sustainability and industrial growth and productivity. It is clear which road India is now taking. India exports much animal produce -- millions of tons of dairy products, hides, bones, horns, hooves, meat, poultry and eggs -- even to developed countries like the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The toxic chemicals that most of India's tanneries continue to discharge into rivers and watersheds cause serious ecological and human health problems. While some 200 million people are malnourished in India, the country exported US$625 million worth of wheat and flour, and US$1.3 billion of rice in 1995 (Lappe et al 1998).

A letter dated June 20, 1994, addressed to me from the Secretary of the Akhil Bharat Krishi-Goseva Sangh Society of Bombay, which claims to be engaged in the preservation and protection of the "cattle wealth" of India, states:

"Our efforts towards preservation of cattle wealth at the political level are not meeting with the desired success in our country in view of the thick skinned bureaucracy and politicians who are hell bent on destroying the cattle wealth of our nation at the behest of the meat lobby, which finds enormous wealth in this activity as also at the behest of FAO, an organ of United Nations which dictates policies in third world countries, aiming at total destruction of the cattle resources of third world countries.

"However there is a silver lining to this otherwise discouraging scenario and that silver lining is in the form of our judiciary. Some time back a case instituted in a court in New Delhi involving shifting of a slaughterhouse from one area of Delhi City to another area, the Learned Judge who delivered a judgment in this case has made an excellent analysis of the whole issue and established the legal rights of animals as well as the need for conserving animals for conservation of environment. He has established that the human race, the environment and the animals are interrelated and extinction of animals will spell doom for environment and mankind."

Contrary to this Learned Judge's views on environmental conservation, an almost insoluble problem has been created by the ecological damage caused by over-gazing of cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats and their diseases and hunger, problems compounded by a lack of fodder and vital grazing land that has been taken over to grow feed and fodder for intensive modernized dairies, buffalo calf meat production and egg and poultry factories, and for cash-crops. The root of the problem is ideological, and the ideological conflicts between the reasonable and the less reasonable must be resolved. India's "cattle wealth" is first and foremost a family and community matter. The above Delhi judgment is based more on historical tradition than on reality. The expansion of the domestic animal and human populations in India will spell doom if they are not controlled. The monopolistic capitalization of India's "cattle wealth" by developing export markets that are not based on humane, sustainable and socially just methods of animal and plant production,( FOX 1997) is unwise and bioethically unacceptable.

What is called for is a unified sensibility that integrates the symbolic, material/economic, emotional, social and spiritual components of the human-cow/cattle relationship into a mutually enhancing symbiosis. The human side of the relationship is more balanced and equitable when the rights, interests, and welfare of animals are given equal and fair consideration. The ethical inconsistencies in the religious and secular communities' attitudes toward and treatment of cattle and other animals is more evident in India than in other countries precisely because India is the birthplace of the highest spiritual principles pertaining to animal welfare and yet they are not always put into practice, creating an essentially schizoid situation between the ideal and the real.

Caring for animals and caring for people, for the poor and the hungry, go hand in hand as part of the humane agenda of any democratic society. While this article focuses particularly on India's cattle, the plight of these creatures mirrors the plight of the poor. There are no miracle remedies for hunger and poverty from advances in technology, science, or medicine. The miracle will come not via genetic engineering of animals and plants but through the transformation of humanity into a compassionate, empathic, and responsible life form. A mutually enhancing symbiosis with the Earth community of plants and animals, both wild and domesticated, is our only viable future. Our hope lies in our capacity to reconnect empathically with all living beings and to use sound science and policies as our instruments, and compassion as our compass.



Crolty,R., !1980) Cattle, Economics and Development. New York. Oxford University Press.

Fox,M.W. (1996) The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation. Wheaton, IL. Quest Books.

Fox,M.W. (1997) Eating With Conscience: The Bioethics of Food. Troutdale, OR. New Sage Press. See also Fox, M.W. (2001) Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society.Albany, NY. State University of New York Press.

Gandhi, M.K.(1954) How to Serve the Cow. Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, pp.3-4.

Harris,M.( 1991) Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. New York, Vintage Books.

Kindness to Animals and Respect for the Environment (KARE)( 1995) Expose Newsletter. New Delhi,4/1, July.

Lappe,F.M, Collins, J., and Rosset,P.( 1998) World Hunger: Twelve Myths.Second edition, New York, Grove Press.

Lodrick,D. (1981) Sacred Cows, Sacred Places.Origins and Survivals of Animal Homes in India. Berkley, CA. University of California Press.

Report of the Expert Committee on Development of the Meat Industry.(1987) New Delhi, Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operation

Shephard P. (1996) The Others:How Animals Make Us Human.New York, Island Press.

Simoons, F. J. (1961)Eat Not This Flesh. Madison, WI. University of Wisconsin Press.

Srinivas, M. (1968) Social Changes in Modern India. Los Angeles, University of California Press.

Deanna Krantz, (founder and director of India Project for Animals and Nature since 1996 under the auspices of Global Communications for Conservation Inc., New York, a not-for-profit organization), who was a co-investigator in this report, tending the bullock 'Ramu' after surgery to remove an eye pierced with a nailed club by a vendor when the starving animal tried to take some of his produce.




A highly controversial, but plausible hypothesis that the mad cow disease epidemic that devastated the UK’s cattle industry, harmed many other countries and infected people with this fatal brain disease, actually originated in India was published by Drs. Alan and Nancy Colchester in the British medical journal Lancet(2005,vol.366,  pp 856-861). Since cases of C-J disease have been reported in people in India, the exposure of cattle to potentially infective human remains, especially along the banks of the polluted Ganges river, is a high probability, especially considering the co-mingling of cattle and people everywhere. Often poorly incinerated human remains from funeral pyres are scattered over the Ganges river, and the entire, un-cremated bodies of children, saints, religious leaders, and people who have died from various diseases, weighted down with stones or banana trees, are also thrown into the water (see K. Tillotson,, Jan. 16, 2006, pA9 and A13). Frequent exposure to, and ingestion of human remains increases the statistical probability of the emergence of a zoonotic disease, as is  proposed in the case of C-J variant disease in humans of bovine origin. It would take but one cow to develop this disease from the remains of an infected human, and for the remains of that cow to be processed and exported to the UK or any other country to start an epidemic, because the agent responsible for this disease, a prion, is resistant to extremely high temperature processing and desiccation.  Bone meal and other cattle parts, horns, hides, hooves, blood, etc are major Indian export commodities, (along with dairy products and now increasingly popular prepared foods and sauces for human consumption), the bone meal being used in livestock feed and as a human dietary supplement or food additive.

Cruelly overcrowded buffalo in a truck en route to slaughter.


In October 2011 the USDA forecast that Australia and Brazil would remain the largest exporters of beef in 2012 with exports of 1.38m tonnes each, followed by India at 1.28m tonnes and the US with 1.25mt. But now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s international marketing forecasts and India’s own Financial Express (April 8th, 2012) India is poised to become the world’s largest beef exporter by 2013. Factors other than price would also help to expand Indian buffalo meat exports, particularly to North Africa and the Middle East.

Meat is slaughtered following Halal standards and the lean character of buffalo meat has several positive blending characteristics sought by processors, the USDA reported. But when I observed buffalo slaughter in a large facility in India these standards were in question and were pointed out to me by the concerned Indian veterinarian who accompanied me. The prone animals were having their throats hacked while they struggled.

India has a herd of 185m buffalo. Ample supplies and relative weak domestic demand mean that it relies on export markets to absorb increased production for the valued buffalo milk.

The rising demand for low-cost Indian buffalo meat by ‘price sensitive’ importers such as Vietnam, Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia resulted in some 1.52 million tones of buffalo meat being exported in 2012. Further market expansion may be limited by trade restrictions being placed on India because of Foot & Mouth Disease. The export of meat and other foods from India where millions are malnourished is an inescapable irony. Raising buffalo calves for this new export market may soon be challenged by an informed and concerned public raising questions about how these surplus buffalo calves can ever be fed and watered sustainably in a country where land, feed and water are in ever shorter supply. Also what safeguards if any are in place to prevent the mingling of this meat from buffaloes with the meat from illegally slaughtered calves and bullocks from dairy cows? The buffalo beef market is another tempting opportunity for the cattle mafia of India.

 According to a 2013 United Nations Children’s Fund report, some 61.7 million, or 48% of all children in India, are stunted stunted physically and immunologically and mentally impaired because of pre-and postnatal malnutrition. It is a tragic irony that India is now leads the U.S. and Argentina as the world’s leading exporter of beef (from buffalo).