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The government’s obsession with cows: A case of misplaced priorities

In India, cattle protection has suddenly emerged as the government's prime agenda, marginalising or trivialising other issues higher up on the scale of grave importance.

Written by Radhika Iyengar |
Updated: April 26, 2017 10:53:53 am

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The central government’s agenda seems to have taken an absurd turn. This week, the Centre told the Supreme Court that it wants to introduce an “Aadhar-card like” system to track the cows’ movement in order to avoid inter-state and inter-country cow trafficking. “The UID number should have age, breed, sex, lactation, height, body, color, horn type, tail switch and special marks details of the animal,” the Centre said. “The UID for a cow and its progeny should be made mandatory across India.”

The more important questions are: how much will this cost and is it fair for the government to use a tax-payer’s money to fund such a religiously-skewed project. A few days ago, Minister of State (Home), Hansraj G Ahir, shared the government’s decision to consider establishing a cow sanctuary in each state. It would be called ‘Project Cow’, Ahir reckoned, created along the lines of ‘Project Tiger’. As the obsession with the cow escalates, Indian engineers have developed a obstacle-detection-alert-system that would help vehicles on the road in India to avoid running over cows. Last year, the Haryana police established a 24-hour cow helpline where people could report/tip-off cow-smuggling/slaughter incidents. The Gujarat government recently amended a law that imposed a life sentence on anyone who slaughtered a cow.

Evidently, the country’s sudden obsession with cows has magnified to disturbing proportions. It all stems however, from the government’s misplaced priorities.

In India, cattle protection has suddenly emerged as the government’s prime agenda, marginalising or trivialising other issues higher up on the scale of grave importance.

Take the Tamil Nadu farmers’ protest for example, where the farmers took to desperate measures in order to direct the Centre’s attention their way. It took them 41 days – a protest that began as an almost inconspicuous gathering was compelled to metamorphose into a theatrical spectacle – before it piqued the government’s interest. The farmers had to drink their own urine, parade naked in front of the Prime Minister’s office, partially shave their heads, exhibit the skulls of the relatives they had lost in the drought and ultimately threaten to eat their own feaces, before being promised some relief.

Tamil Nadu, TN strike, farmer strike, TN farmer strike, DMK bandh, DMK farmers, Edappadi K Palaniswami, India news, Indian Express New Delhi: Tamil Nadu farmers during their protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI Photo by Vijay Verma

In 2016, Tamil Nadu was hit by a dire, debilitating drought; many debt-ridden farmers committed suicide. The remaining trekked to the capital and demanded a ₹40,000 crore relief package from the government. For more than a month, however, the government seemed indifferent, with the Prime Minister curiously remaining mum on the issue.

At the other end of the spectrum is Kashmir. On April 9, Kashmir erupted once again in violence following a poll boycott by separatists. Since then, two PDP leaders have been fatally shot in a week. On Monday, Kashmiri students clashed with the police during a protest. The very fact that Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti made it a point to personally visit the Prime Minister, reflects the grim reality of a spiraling, and perhaps even an uncontrollable, situation.

However, Mufti was categorically informed by the Centre that a “dialogue (with separatists and other restive groups in the Valley)” could not be offered while “there [was] stone-pelting and militant violence” in the state. Mufti has mentioned that the following 2-3 months are crucial for Kashmir, but she also underscored that a dialogue was imperative. “In Jammu and Kashmir dialogue has happened previously as well, during Vajpayeeji’s time, when L.K. Advani was deputy Prime Minister. There were talks with Hurriyat and others. We have to carry it (dialogue) forward from where Vajpayeeji had left. Otherwise the situation in J&K will not improve,” she said.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PMO/Twitter)

The government, however, seems quicker while responding to proposals regarding cows. And this has spawned violence-happy mob swarmings: in the name of the cow, efficient, “trained” vigilantes have emerged. Following the attack by cow vigilantes on the three men legally carrying buffaloes in Delhi, the chairman of the People for Animals (PFA), Naresh Kadyan claimed that the alleged attackers were “trained” by him. “I was asked by Mrs. Maneka Gandhi to conduct the training then,” he further told The Indian Express.

The point of the matter is that the country is ridding itself of its identity as a relatively liberal democracy, and is adopting a literal-minded, North India driven, Hindu-centric governance, where the protection of the holy cow has become a strategic Hindu crowd-pleasing tactic.

It’s becoming a sharply hierarchical society, and this is becoming deeply problematic. We are becoming a country where the mere ban of the coveted laal batti (red beacon) gets excessive national coverage far quicker than the protests of Tamil farmers. The banning of the laal batti could be a smokescreen, perhaps, to misdirect the citizens from other crucial matters that seethe within the country.

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