Apocalypse Cow

A month ago, there was a leader in the Times of India about cows. Or more specifically, about a man with the impressive moniker of Mahamandleshwar Swami Akhileshwaranand Giri. He is chair of the executive council tasked with protecting cows in Madhya Pradesh state. He stated that “the next world war will start over a cow”. As well as causing WW3, he believes that milk and cow shit can cure cancer.

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A prominent supporter of the right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), puts cow shit on his mobile phone to prevent dangerous radiation. The Indian equivalent of Body Shop, Ramdev Patanjali, sells some ayurvedic cosmetics and beauty products which contain cow urine.

India certainly reveres the cow. Across the country there are 4,000 cow hospitals, called gaushalas, where sick cows are sheltered. The main threat to cow health is plastic bags. Each morning, well-meaning people bring plastic bags full of left-over food, rice, vegetables to feed the herd of cows that roam the dual carriageway beside my apartment. Plastic bags clog up the cows’ rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum, causing intestinal obstruction and eventual death. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is on record as saying that more cows die from eating plastic than are illegally slaughtered in India (they can only be legally butchered in Kerala and West Bengal).

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The gaushalas get a government grant of 25p per day to feed each cow, but even in India, this does not go far. Cows eat 10kg of food per day when healthy, costing over ten times this amount. Volunteers staff the shelters and often donate fodder, but this is not enough to prevent several cows dying every day in each gaushala.

When I walk to the swimming pool each morning, I attract cows because they think I am bringing them food in my shoulder bag. It just contains a towel and my swimsuit. The most cows I have counted in the street is sixteen. Although they block the road, no driver ever bumps them. Sometimes a vehicle will stop in the fast lane so that the driver can feed the cows. I have even seen a scooter slow down so the passenger can pass out chapattis to cows on the move.

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The road is splattered with cow pats and the smell can be disgusting at times. At the end of the road there is an area where people bring rubbish. It is just dumped in the road forming a series of hillocks for about thirty metres. Most of this is discarded food, coconuts, paper, vegetable peelings and inevitably, plastic bags. People often put left-overs inside a plastic bag and knot it. There are usually half a dozen cows scavenging on the piles when I walk past at 6:45am each morning. I thought that these cows were “wild”, but I recently heard that they are actually owned by someone who sets them loose to graze in the city’s roadside rubbish dumps.

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Krishna is a cowherd in Goloka (“cow planet”). Here he is playing his flute to entertain the milkmaids (“gopis”). This miniature is from the National Museum in Delhi.

There are almost 300 million cows in India, more than in any other country. Just think of their huge contribution to global warming with the greenhouse gases produced in their stomachs. Holy cow.

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