The Sacred cow in India
Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sat Apr 6 11:18:41 MST 1996
Descendants of Aryan nomads invaded the Indian subcontinent around
1750 B.C. They were beef eaters. After 600 B.C., the Aryan overlords
and their Brahman priests could not supply enough beef for their own
appetites and the masses. The cause of the "beef crisis" was a
combination of population growth and depleting natural resources,
including grazing land.
The peasants grew angry at the Brahman caste and the Vedic chieftans
who ruled India. This proved fertile ground for the growth of
Buddhism, a new religious sect that was opposed to the taking of any
animal life. A religion that attacked the killing of beef was welcomed
by a population forced to watch the extravagent dining habits of the
ruling-class. A struggle between Buddhism and Hinduism lasted nine
centuries until Hinduism prevailed, but only after adopting some of the
Buddhist practices, including a ban on the slaughter of cattle.
When I was in high-school, I remember teachers making racist
comments about how stupid the Indians were since "so many of them
went to bed hungry at night, but they allowed all that beef to just walk
around and go to waste."
Rifkin makes the case for a more nuanced understanding of the role of
the cow in the Indian peasant economy. At present there are 200
million cows in India, freely roaming about. These cows provide most
of India's dairy requirements. The ox provides traction for 60 million
small farmers whose land feeds 80% of the population. Of the 700
million tons of cattle dung that is produced each year, about half is
used as fertilizer and the other half for cooking fuel. Marvin Harris,
author of "The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig", estimates that
dung produces the thermal equivalent of 27 million tons of kerosene,
35 million tons of coal, or 68 million tons of wood. In Africa and
Latin American, huge swaths of tropical rainforests have been cut
down to provide cooking fuel. Depletion of the rain forest in Africa
has created the conditions in which the Ebola virus and AIDS can
migrate from animal to human populations.
Cow dung is mixed with water in order to produce household flooring.
Each day small children follow the family cow around collecting
excrement for a variety of household uses. Cattle hides are used in the
leather industry, which is the largest in the world. Even the carcasses
of ancient cows are sold to slaughterhouses and used as a source of
meat for non-Hindus.
Cattle do not compete with human population for arable lands. In one
study, it was found that less than 20 percent of the cattle diet in West
Bengal is composed of foodstuffs edible by humans. The cattle subsist
on a diet of household garbage, chaff, stalks and leaves. They are also
fed oil cakes made of cottonseed, soybean, and coconut residues that
are inedible by people.
I supply this information not in order to point to some kind of
alternative life-style for non-Hindu populations, but simply to illustrate
another way that cattle can fit into an agrarian political economy. My
information, of course, comes from Rifkin and not any sources that I
have explored independently. Any errors that Ruhal or Rakesh can point out
would be greatly appreciated. Or, if they have a different analysis of
the role of the cow in India, I would invite them to comment. (Not as if
they need an invitation from me or anybody else!)
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