A recurrent theme during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s marathon election campaign was the Pink Revolution and the depletion of the cattle wealth of villages due to subsidised meat exports. Cattle are intrinsic to agriculture and provide a secondary lifeline to marginal farmers, especially in times of distress. Yet the meat industry has created such a momentum in favour of animal slaughter that entire villages in many parts of the country have been denuded of cattle. This naturally impacts organic farming as well, due to the proportional loss of manure.
Although Mr Modi spoke of milch animals (cows and buffaloes), members of one community felt they were being unsubtly targetted. In a sharp interrogatory interview with a television channel, the BJP leader sought to allay these suspicions by saying that he took up the issue in response to strong appeals from the public; that he had not impugned any community, and that members of the Jain community were also found in this trade.
Actually, the burgeoning meat trade – driven by the leather mafia – has reduced the buffalo population to unsustainable levels all over the world. The survival rate for milk-yielding cows is better due to a civilisational reverence and cultural preference for cow’s milk. But buffalos are higher yielding; their decimation will impact the milk and dairy products industry and undermine traditional nutrition, especially for vegetarians.
Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, who faces the challenge of a possibly below-normal southwest monsoon, which may inter alia affect the availability of fodder, has promised to protect native cow breeds. Many breeds are endangered, partly due to exports to countries that are cross-breeding them to improve their own breeds, partly because farmers cannot maintain them. The Centre must protect native species of both cow and buffalo since it intends to expand the milk industry; the meat subsidy must end without delay.
The problems of Indian agriculture are complex. For decades the Centre has promoted mechanisation through intense propaganda about the inefficiency of traditional farming. The tractor has spread nationwide and created the problem of surplus bulls that small farmers cannot maintain, particularly as Government schemes have wiped out village pastures.
The sale of bulls to the slaughter house is the dirty secret Indian civilisation can no longer hide. Far from directing Governments to protect the animals in the spirit of the Directive Principles, courts have favoured urban activists and protected stray dogs to the extent that they have become a public danger in several cities. The high decibel animal rights NGOs fail to sterilize the dogs, which proliferate instead of declining, while cows and buffalos that have long sustained the rural economy are left high and dry.
The Supreme Court’s May 7, 2014 decision to ban Jallikattu, a traditional bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu, is unfortunate on many counts, the most tragic of which is an exodus of prized animals to the slaughter-house. In 2006, the court banned bullock cart racing. This popular rural sport fascinated Alexander’s army and was recorded by his historians; it was a staple element in early Hindi movies that vanished with the decline of cattle wealth. My great-grandfather favoured bullocks that could keep pace with horses (family legend); such was the passion associated with the sport.
The court decisions are an attack on rural manhood sports that go back centuries; they conform to the rising intolerance of urban elites towards rural lifestyles and to ‘free’ sporting activities, even in cities. Older citizens may recall the easy availability of open grounds where youth across class lines could run or play football or other sports freely. Much of this has been lost to mindless urbanisation.
But an unmistakable trend is to cut the less privileged out of open spaces. Slum children have no places to play. In middle class colonies, grounds have been gobbled up by ugly contractor-driven ‘art’ or turned into ornamental gardens where children cannot play. Larger playgrounds have been split into designated arenas for specific sports with the best time slots reserved for those who practice with coaches.
The ban on traditional village sports will produce effete rural youth at par with our feeble urban youth. Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra’s father built him a dedicated range to practice shooting; a 13-year-old girl from Andhra Pradesh recently scaled the Everest after being selected for training by a welfare body. If sports are thus confined to those who can pay or manage sponsorship, we are heading towards a serious civilisational decline because we are callously breaking the mind-body-spirit link recognised in our yogic tradition.
Jallikattu is intimately linked to the harvest and has a hoary tradition at least 4000 years old, which has saved the native breeds from abattoirs. Indeed, the bulls are worshipped, fed pistachios, cottonseed, coconut, brinjal, dates, and lavished with care. There is a belief that if there is no jallikattu, the rains won’t come. Sadly, following a sustained campaign by urban activists, the Courts intruded to regulate and eventually ban rural sports.
Prior to the ban, each bull entering a tournament was given a registration number and inspected for abuse and performance-boosting drugs by government-appointed doctors, before and after the game. Eight-feet-high double barricades protected the spectators as tamers attempted to tackle a bull by its hump (tackling by the tail, neck or horns entails disqualification), and somehow hang on for about 50 feet or till the bull crosses the finish line. The actual event lasts only a few minutes, but generates excitement across weeks, and stimulates the local economy through betting and tourism. As bull owners converge on hosting villages, cultural ties are built across communities.
Since the ban, several dozen jallikattu bulls have been sold for less than Rs 18,000 each as against the princely sum of Rs 1.5 lakh per star animal. No animal rights body or activist has stepped forward to care for the redundant animals. The fear that native cattle breeds that are hardy and drought-resistant will die out is very real.
The need of the hour is to preserve the still living Hindu tradition of reverence for sentient beings. For a start, the Government must ban (and not encourage) artificial insemination as birth is sacred and should not be defiled by human interference. This will protect the bulls and preserve the country’s genetic diversity, as there will be at least one bull in each village. India must move to adopt minimum standards for the humane treatment of domesticated animals in tune with her civilisational heritage.
The Pioneer, June 3, 2014 [Title: An obscenity called the Pink Revolution]
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