The Indian peasant is nothing if not rational — survival on the margins makes it necessary. The cow is holy and he treats it well. It gives milk for his family and when it cannot, he uses it as a draft animal to help plow his land and for other chores.
When it becomes too old, his budget does not allow the luxury of feeding an animal that is no longer earning its keep. So he takes it to the trader and sells it knowing full well that it will be resold for slaughter. It helps pay for its replacement.
Things have changed. Narendra Modi’s government lauds Hindutva or Hinduness and his party’s chief minister in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is a yogi. Laws have been promulgated banning the slaughter of cows. As a result, when they have outlived their usefulness, farmers simply let them loose.
Roaming free and having to fend for themselves, they are often hungry and irritable — a dangerous combination in an 800 pound beast. So it was that Mr. Ram Raj quietly drinking tea in front of his house was attacked by a cow. Seriously hurt, he died of his injuries on the way to hospital as reported by the BBC.
Others have been killed or injured in such attacks and stray cattle destroy crops so that farmers are forced to organize day and night watches. The polarizing issue has been taken up by opposition parties ahead of upcoming elections commencing February 10 for the laws cracking down on cow slaughter now cover 18 states.
In Uttar Pradesh (UP), the export of beef and the manufacture of leather from the skins of animals was a major business. Given the odor from leather tanning, these establishments tended to be located on the outskirts of town. No more. They are rapidly vanishing.
Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister, has been instrumental in shutting down this business in UP, and the social climate engendered — particularly vigilante groups attacking traders transporting cows — dissuades people in the business. Hence the farmers abandoning old animals.
The herds of stray cows are fast becoming a nuisance and the Yogi’s government is attempting to build shelters to house them although without much success. The cows are many, the shelters are few, and one presumes they do not have cowboys. However, a special alcohol tax has been levied with the object of constructing cow shelters. This, in a country where an average of 7000 persons die each day from hunger.
Last month, prominent members of India’s ruling party (BJP) were calling for genocide. The target of hatred: India’s 200 million impoverished Muslims who are discriminated against in education and jobs. If that is bad news, the good news is … cows can have a home and live happily ever after in this 21st century fairy tale.