Phoren Cows and Desi Cows

“When was the last time you saw a desi cow either foraging on garbage heaps in Bengaluru or on the grassy hills of Malnad?” That was the opening line of an article I read last year in a national daily headquartered in the south. Knowing the question to be rhetorical I could have stuck my neck out and said, “Well, umm, err, not in a long… correct that…very long time.” I didn’t. As a strict believer in vouching for only that which I have seen and heard at first hand, I needed to quickly change Bengaluru to Mumbai before answering with perfect honesty, “Well, umm, err, not in a long… correct that … very long time.”

True. But it is also true that I saw two desi cows very recently, not foraging on a garbage heap, but sauntering across the Western Express Highway in the middle of the day. They were positively desi, given their humps and jaywalking habits. Well-fed too for a change—not the garbage foraging types but the kind that get to munch on first grade cattle feed for breakfast and fresh green grass for high tea. Behind them came their minder, shouldering a cane and whistling a merry ditty. Thirty-fivish, dressed in a Modi jacket minus kurta and flowing dhoti, he flaunted an impressive moustache. Cows and man took their own time crossing the sea of traffic that had parted for their benefit into two piles of patient, nose-to-tail cars, waiting in worshipful silence.

Of course, the article’s opening line was only a lead-in to a distressing report about the rapid decline of the hardy, all weather, undemanding native cow which is giving way to neither-here-nor-there varieties born out of cross-breeding with Jersey and Holstein Friesian imports. Fat foreign cows are high milk yielders. Holsteins can produce a mind-boggling 34 litres of milk a day, while the Jersey gives around 10. As compared to this, the Gir cow, one of the higher-yielding desi breeds, gives about 5 litres a day. So it made perfect commercial sense to couple our breeds with imports to produce higher yielding cross-breeds. As a result, during the five-year period from 2010 to 2015, exotic breed cows had increased by 32 per cent while the desi breeds fell by 37 per cent. I am not a farmer; so what happens to cows doesn’t affect me personally. But it hurts to know that a time may come when we will see our lovely, gentle-eyed cows only in pictures of Lord Dattatreya, the god of environmental education, and not in flesh and blood.  

Something had to be done about their slow extinction; but surely not what my Marathi daily of September 9 had to say in a front-page report. The headline announced, “The government will artificially inseminate two lakh desi cows across the country on Gandhi Jayanti day.” The report said 20 States (among them ours) are to be given targets of 10,000 cows each for the mass insemination programme on October 2. All the cows will have to be brought to heat artificially on this day to make the programme successful. Surely this will do great violence to their natural birth cycles? The answer to this, a layperson’s question lies with animal husbandry experts. What bothers me is the perversity of choosing Gandhi Jayanti as the day to carry out the programme. It is like our first nuclear explosion in 1974, which was not only named Smiling Buddha but was carried out on Buddha Jayanti day. Although the exploded device was said to be “a peaceful nuclear explosive”, it was an explosive all the same, which put it at variance, symbolically, with what the Buddha stood for. Similarly, forcing a creature that Gandhi held to be sacred into an artificially created state of heat on his birth anniversary, is symbolically equally perverse.

The proposed programme underlines, yet again, the present government’s penchant for doing things in flashy numbers. The PM led 35,985 people in performing 21 asanas at Rajpath on the first International Day of Yoga. The Jan Dhan Yojana saw the opening of 1.5 crore bank accounts on the first day. Now two lakh cows will get pregnant on the same day. But will they? My report says, in a similar programme 15 years ago, several cows did not conceive while several suffered irreparable damage to their reproductive system. Worse still, of those cows that did conceive, many were unable to conceive again.  

Is this how we should be treating our mothers?

Published On : 14-09-2016