Mother India, Daughter India
With each generation, we are meant to see progress, but the situation of the cows of India seems to only deteriorate as they pass. Mother to daughter, who then herself becomes a mother — all caught in a worsening cycle of oppression.
Our story begins with Diva. Before we rescued her, she was one among the innumerable cattle found in any village, city, or suburban street in India. Without proper shelter or feed, she and her stray cow cohorts scavenged in garbage dumps, under constant threat from traffic, stray dogs, and starvation.
In ‘India’s Sacred Cow: Her Plight and Future,’ published in 1999, Michael Fox described Diva’s problem — which has only escalated in the decades since he wrote it:
The combined effects of population growth, rural poverty, and ecological illiteracy have had devastating environmental and socio-economic consequences. Abandoned cattle wander everywhere searching for food, along with other cattle whose urban families are landless. Many are hit by traffic or develop serious internal injuries from consuming plastic bags, wire, and other trash.
Diva was abandoned with a maggot-infested wound in her udders, possibly from a milking injury. If she wandered near any field she was beaten and chased away.
The plight of the Indian cow is symptomatic of a unique brand of hypocrisy, illustrated by the proverb ‘Muh me Ram, bagal me churi’ (Chanting God’s name, hiding a knife).
We are experts at pretending to idolize what we really disrespect and abuse — women, parents, the land and its resources, our culture, and our own secular heritage.
The same attitude, combined with ‘development propaganda’, has lured farmers into becoming business owners overnight - like in Dharamsala, where fields have given way to hotels. The fields that do remain are ploughed by tractors and machines instead of oxen, and manure has been replaced by urea and chemical fertilizers — rapidly depleting the top soil and sealing its fate as ‘dead land’.
Cows like Diva— used and abused for milk — are abandoned once their milk yield drops, which happens only four years after delivering their first child. Fox cites the ‘White Revolution’ program launched in 1970 as the root, highlighting the vicious circle implicit even in present day dairy farming:
India’s ‘white revolution’ to help rural people make money with milk cows entails offering low-interest loans to purchase a milk cow. More cows mean more milk and lower milk prices, and more starving male cows whose mother’s milk is needed to pay off the government loan.
These are the methods that we — a nation of dairy devourers — have willfully remained turned a blind eye to. How else to explain the fact that Amul could launch an ad campaign with the tag line “Eat Milk with Every Meal”? What chance does a pathetic, emaciated, and maggot-infested creature rummaging in the dumps, like Diva, stand before the glitter and glamour of billboards and television ads?
But ignorance and apathy is not restricted to the common man. An agricultural ministry official was quoted saying, “We want to improve breeding and milk production, and double the industry’s income by 2022.” In the same report, a gowshala caretaker utters a shockingly naïve statement, “Cow produces more milk than necessary for its own kids and is god’s arrangement for nourishment of humans. Therefore, the cow is selfless and we need to protect it.”
Cows like Diva might disagree. While healing in our recovery center, Diva gave birth to Chandani, — a female calf. If we released them together after Diva had healed, they would both be taken by a mercenary farmer. Chandani would get a piteous share of Diva’s milk and would be prematurely weaned, then kept on feed until she herself was ready for insemination, giving birth to a baby and producing milk. The fate of that baby would depend on it’s gender.
So we kept both Diva and Chandani, where Chandani thrived on Diva’s milk and care while we searched for an ethical adopter (and, by the way, Diva didn’t produce more than Chandani drank). The possibility of finding an empathetic dairy farmer is slim in “urbanised’ villages, which have lost traditional methods and values; places where traditional construction material like stone and mud is enthusiastically being replaced by concrete, and where manure — once used as fertilizer — is thrown in the streams along with plastic and glass.
When we did find someone trustworthy — our own farmhand Veeru — Chandani protested the separation by refusing to eat, and she cried for three days and nights. Diva put up a similar resistance, giving the farm residents a few sleepless nights as she called for her child. Eventually we had to reunite them, for fear they would fall ill with stress. This ordeal for the pair made us realize that a smoother transition for Chandani could only happen when she grew a little older.
We gradually began to keep them separate within the recovery area. As Chandani was getting used to life without her mother around all the time, we rescued two tiny injured calves, Kuku and Cookie. Diva happily fostered and fed them, allowing them to nurse. With the two new calves, Chandani gained even more independence.
Soon, Cookie’s mother was found and she was released. Kuku, too, recovered by the time Chandani was weaned, so we released him along with Diva in a herd of cows in Palampur, where she continues to care for him. Chandani — now a little older — adjusted quickly to her mother’s absence.
Releasing animals back on the streets is always heart-wrenching. We know that reality hasn’t changed since we rescued them. They are once again exposed to the threats that caused their injuries in the first place. But being a recovery center — not a cow shelter — keeping healed animals means sacrificing another injured animal on the streets for lack of space.
Kuku was a male calf and Diva was giving very little milk, so they are safe — from dairy farmers at least. Chandani — a breed cow — would be seen as a walking bag of banknotes to any farmer. She remains at our recovery center in Dhanotu, waiting for someone who will treat her a little more kindly than her mother was treated.
You can help cows like Diva and Chandani. Drive carefully; watch out for cows, reduce your dairy consumption, and support rescue organizations who save injured stray cattle.