Ahimsa won’t be cowed
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1998:
BOMBAY, JAIPUR, DELHI, JALGAON,
AGRA––We missed the fleeting chance to snap a photo, as
our driver sped through an intersection almost in the shadow of
the Taj Mahal, but won’t forget the sight of a huge Brahma
bull placidly chewing his cud amid the blaring horns of heavy
traffic, dodging around him.
We took the November edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE
to India with us. An article in it described how Chicago
Animal Rights Coalition founder Steve Hindi has repeatedly
captured on video the use of electroshocking devices by rodeo
stock contractors to make Brahma bulls buck.
We expected the revelation of bull abuse in rodeo to
shock our Indian hosts, but we didn’t expect to meet the difficulty
we did in even explaining what rodeo is. The idea that
adults of normal intelligence and sensibility might try to ride a
bull was foreign enough; the idea that others might pay to
watch the effort, over and over, stretched credulity.
Indians are familiar with bullfighting––and have
mostly hated it for nearly half a millenium. Portuguese
invaders introduced bullfighting soon after they seized Goa
from Islamic rulers in 1510, and continued to promote it, a
bloody symbol of Catholic dominion, even after Pope Pius V
banned it in 1567, and other Popes reaffirmed the muchignored
ban in 1846 and 1940. The bans were well-publicized
in India, to no avail. When Jawaharlal Nehru took Goa back in
1961, an end to bullfighting was anticipated, but it has
resurged from time to time––especially in the form of Dhirio,
in which two bulls fight each other to the death. People For
Animals, founded by Member of Parliament and former
Minister of Forests and Environment Maneka Gandhi, won a
judicial ban on bull fights in December 1996, upheld by the
High Court of India a month later, but some Goan politicians
are still trying to amend the national Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals Act to make bullfighting legal again.
The bull in the Agra intersection could have gored
and stomped ten people, at least, at any moment. But the
notion of humans as foes probably never occurred to him.
Cattle in India grow up on the street, often as not, where
except for water buffalo they get about the same respect from
most humans as other humans. Unlike this one, most bulls are
castrated and made to work, and water buffalo, not protected
by the same customs that protect other cattle, may be worked
more harshly, but cows may freely forage along roadsides all
their lives, with their calves, occasional bulls, and even bullocks
and water buffalo in their non-working hours.
Millions of Indians milk a cow, or several cows, yet
70% of the farms are smaller than five acres. Roadside grazing
is essential to cattle sustenance. In effect, over much of India,
cattle still roam the common, as they last did in most of the
western world two centuries or more ago––along with dogs,
pigs who clean the streets and are seldom butchered, and many
other animals who may be either wild or domesticated, but
only their human attendants, if any, know for sure.
Much as the western humane movement grew from
the concept of dog as “man’s best friend,” the Indian humane
movement rose from concern for cattle––but much, much earlier.
Apparently domesticated first on the Indian subcontinent,
cattle are so closely identified with prosperity that the 1990 dis-
covery of a decline in the national herd touched off an ongoing
furor. The first national cattle census since then, now underway,
is expected to find a further decline and cause further
consternation, even as all other indicators show that economic
growth in the interim has been phenomenal.
What’s a “gaushala”?
The Lord Krishna reputedly set up the first
g a u s h a l a s, or shelters for old and injured cattle, circa 5,000
years ago. Mahavira, the last of the 24 teachers who formed
the Jain religion, encouraged his monks to start gaushalas in
the time of the Buddha, between 500 and 600 B.C.
Over the centuries, gaushala-keeping became a traditional
occupation of monks, both Jain and Hindu, and of other
people with holy aspirations or pretensions. Gaushalas w e r e
also a symbol of cultural resistance to Islamic and British conquest.
From gaushala-keeping, religious practice expanded to
include other forms of ritualized kindness toward animals.
Also thousands of years ago, devotees of Hanuman, the Hindu
monkey-god, took up monkey-feeding. Colonies of macacques
and langurs scavenging and begging by the roadside still tend to
signal the presence of a Hanuman temple. Buddhist monks
began keeping elephants, already revered by Hindus who worship
the goddess Ganesha. Because Ganesha’s constant companion
was a rat, even rats became revered at the Karni Mata
temple in Rajasthan state.
At times the traditional practices have become corrupted
by attention to rite at cost to purpose. Because milk
from g a u s h a l a cattle is considered especially life-giving,
g a u s h a l a s have often evolved from charities into profitable
dairies, whose animals are deliberately bred. Legislation
passed at the time of Indian independence to discourage cattle
slaughter and encourage gaushalas to take in cows who might
otherwise be rounded up for slaughter seems to have exacerbated
this trend: many of the 3,600 gaushalas then extant became
major firms in the modern Indian dairy industry.
At the opposite extreme, other corrupted g a u s h a l a s
reputedly starve cattle and let disease spread among them, so
that when they die their hides may be sold for leather. So much
leather from cattle who purportedly died “naturally” at gausha –
las is available that nonleather belts are virtually not available.
Likewise, because temple elephants attract donations,
they have sometimes been imprisoned rather than sheltered––though
the major temple elephant-keeping scandals in
recent years have been in Thailand and Sri Lanka, not India.
Many forms of Hindu devotion also include animal
sacrifice, notably by followers of Shiva, the god of destruction,
and Kali, goddess of blood, also associated with prosperity
and technological development.
Yet the tradition of caring for at least certain animals
has never been so lost that an appeal to it lacked political and
religious resonance––especially among Jains, whose focal
tenet of faith is ahimsa, or doing no harm.
Eighty-two percent of Indians are Hindu, about half
of them vegetarian. Half of 1% are Jains, who are strict lactovegetarians;
seven tenths of 1% are Buddhists, who in India
are mostly but not all vegetarian; and 2% are Sikh, a 500-to600-year-old
synthesis of Hinduism and Islam which also
incorporates strong lacto-vegetarian teachings.
The five million Jains, seven million Buddhists, and
20 million Sikhs have immense cultural influence because of
the emphasis all three religions have long placed upon education.
The Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh presence in education,
law, medicine, finance, and civil service is comparable to the
Jewish presence in the west (and their communities have at
times suffered similar ethnic-based backlash, the reason why
religious Sikhs always carry a small ceremonial dagger).
About 11% of Indians practice Islam. Historically,
Mogul conquerors distinguished themselves from their mostly
Hindu subjects by their willingness to shed blood and eat beef.
Even today, Indian cattle slaughter is dominated by the Islamic
minority, and ethnic overtones exacerbate philosophical and
political conflict over Hindu-and-Jain-led attempts to enforce
bans on cow-slaughtering.
In September 1993, for instance, Jain activist
Geetaban Shah, of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, won a court order
banning cattle slaughter during Paryushan, a 10-day Jain holy
festival, but was allegedly murdered by retaliating butchers.
Her killers, not caught, were widely presumed to have been
Moslem. The Gujarat cabinet responded by banning cow
Moslem/Hindu tensions in Delhi reached an especially
high pitch in March 1994, when Maneka Gandhi and People
for Animals won a High Court order cutting the rate of slaughter
at the Idgah slaughterhouse in Old Delhi from 13,500 to just
2,500 animals per day. About 60% of the idled workers were
Moslems. Their co-workers, also mostly Moslem, staged a
two-month sympathy strike. The city voters meanwhile elected
a Hindu fundamentalist government, led by the Bharatiya
Janata Party, that passed tougher legislation against cow
slaughter, crippling the previous regime’s effort to clear the
Delhi streets of stray cattle.
The Bharatiya Janata Party also briefly captured the
Indian national government in May 1996, but the ruling coalition
it headed collapsed within 13 days––four days after
President Shankar Dayal Sharma made a cow slaughter ban the
central plank of the BJP legislative program.
Mother of India
But again, modern India may have been born in part
from the Hindu-Islamic alliance that in 1857 united the conquered
and their previous conquerors against the British in the
Sepoy Mutiny, the major action of resistance to British rule
before Mohandas K. Gandhi led the nonviolent struggle to independence,
achieved finally in 1947. Conscripted by the
British, Indian troops were issued rifle cartridges greased with
beef tallow, obscene to Hindus, and pig fat, equally obscene
to Moslems. Recognizing a commonality in their differences,
they rose in revolt together, in perhaps the first war ever fought
in direct opposition to animal slaughter.
“Indians say we have three mothers: our human birth
mother, Mother India, and the cow,” explains activist Laxmi
Narain Modi, who reprints and passes out anti-meat articles by
Henry Spira, Peter Singer, and John Robbins to everyone he
meets––even westerners who already know them.
“The cow’s milk gives us food,” Modi continues.
“Her dung warms us and keeps our soil rich. Why should we
harm her, or allow others to kill her? We must honor and protect
each of our mothers.”
Laxmi Narain Mody’s own first name, he told ANIMAL
PEOPLE over dinner at a prestigious private club, honors
the deity Laxmi, goddess of luck, who inhabits cattle
dung––and no one thinks it a bit ridiculous; Laxmi is among
the most common of Indian first names. Cattle dung even
today is both the staple fertilizer of India, which enjoys some
of the deepest, richest topsoil in the world, and is the cooking
and heating fuel of millions, for whom it is good luck indeed to
find, shape, and dry a few previously unclaimed patties.
But urban cow-keeping conflicts with modernization.
“Over a year ago,” The Times of India reported on
November 26, 1997, “the government of Delhi decided to
crack the whip if the capitol’s roads were not cleared of stray
cattle. Some 30,000 cattle owners threatened to lay siege to
city hall. The cattle are still on the roads.”
Only three people, The Times of India c o n t i n u e d ,
had obtained licenses allowing them to keep a single milk cow
in the street. Another 350,000 cattle belonging to 40,000 people
roam at large. An estimated 100,000 cattlle are in New
Delhi alone, the seat of government outside Delhi proper, built
mostly after 1947. They are involved in more than 50 traffic
accidents a week.
“Under a 1992 scheme,” The Times of India went on,
“the city government was to round up all unlicensed cows and
buffaloes, and send them to seven cattle sheds established on
the outskirts of the city [of 10 such facilities that were originally
planned]. The city government claims to round up nearly
12,000 cows annually (and rounded up 14,500 in 1994), yet the
number on the streets mysteriously remains the same. The reason?
The nonprofit organizations authorized to run the cattle
sheds are unable to cope with overcrowding, and allow the cattle
owners to reclaim even unlicensed animals on payment of
modest fines. Those running the cattle sheds say they do not
get funding from the government. Promised funding has been
provided to only two sheds––one run by Maneka Gandhi, the
other by a politically well-connected civil servant. The Delhi
government, however, maintains that the nonprofit organizations
have sufficient resources, from the sale of farm and dairy
produce, and also the hides of the dead animals, to cover the
fodder and upkeep costs. But if the revelation by the animal
husbandry department that nearly 40% of the cattle at the sheds
are dying because of starvation and stampede is anything to go
by, the scheme is a failure.”
Chennai, formerly called Madras, has similar problems.
In August 1997, Tamil Nadu state passed the Animals
and Birds Control in Urban Areas Act, obliging the removal of
cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep, rabbits, equines, dogs, cats
other than pets, poultry, pigeons, quail, and domesticated
wildlife. The act also ordered that pigs be killed, as an alleged
reservoir for encephalitis.
But passing the act and implementing it proved to be
two different matters. Chennai hired professional pig-catchers
from outside, according to The Hindu of October 8, to augment
local pig-catchers, but the purported professionals missed
work a lot due to pig bites. The local pig-catchers backed away
from capturing pigs for extermination due to public opposition.
Having the police shoot pigs with a tranquilizer gun, then haul
them away for later dispatch, also proved ineffective: the tranquilizer
doses were often insufficient to keep the pigs unconscious
for as long as was needed to load them.
Five hundred pigs were killed in the first 60 days of
the program, but as The Hindu noted, this was a tiny part of
As unpopular as the pig-killing was, getting rid of
free-roaming cattle proved even more problematic. The 12-
acre, 23-shed Madras Pinjrapole, a charitable gaushala dating
to 1906, couldn’t begin to handle the volume of animals
involved. Caring for cattle, bullocks, and horses, the staff of
75 raises an annual budget of $195,000 by soliciting donations
amounting to about $146,000, selling 500 litres of milk a day,
selling dung, and leasing space to 60 small shops around the
edges of the compound. The Animal Welfare Board of India,
based in Chennai, considers the Madras Pinjrapole a model
operation, in part because it buries dead animals intact instead
of selling their hides. But the Madras
Pinjrapole is perpetually full, accommodating
about 1,100 hooved animals altogether,
accepting an average of 10 aged or sick animals
a month, while the death rate of 20 animals
a month roughly equals the birth rate.
Since the Madras Pinjrapole couldn’t
take all the animals, Chennai itself planned to
operate a gaushala, but the first proposed site
also proved to be far too small. Plans published
in early December 1997 called for moving
as many as 8,674 cows and 11,330 buffalo
to a 1,200-acre farm 16 miles from the civic
center. The relocation was opposed by the
Milk Merchants Association, due to the distance
from both the urban dairy markets and
the homes and milking facilities of many
Pressure on Chennai officials to cut
the numbers of roaming cattle meanwhile grew
as result of at least six train/buffalo collisions
causing serious delays in September and
October 1997 alone. Since the Indian trains
carry proportionally as many people as U.S.
highways, such delays can be of consequence.
On one occasion, The Hindu reported, frustrated
passengers awaiting removal of a dead
buffalo stoned other trains that passed theirs.
That might have been unremarkable in New
York, but shocked India, where violent crime
is so rare that there are only four murders,
three rapes, and 49 thefts and robberies reported
per 100,000 residents per year, compared
with nine murders, 41 rapes, and 5,346 thefts
and robberies in the U.S. Under-reporting may
account for some of the different, but the
Indian street-level lack of fear of violence is
quickly conspicuous to a western visitor.
The religious and cultural significance
of g a u s h a l a s and the need for more
g a u s h a l a s, now, combines at the political
level with sentimentality toward the much
smaller India of the present Establishment’s
childhood. Fifty years ago, at independence
from Britain, the population of India was just
a third what it now is. The teeming slums surrounding
Indian cities were then tranquil
fields. Noise and pollution were proportionately
less. Looking back, many leaders now
think India took a wrong turn when it chose
modernization over the Gandhian vision of a
nation of self-sufficient villages.
The current gaushala m o v e m e n t
thus has a conservative impetus, independent
of the momentum generated by the rising
Indian animal rights movement.
Cows and bull
Accused by Maneka Gandhi of
betraying animals, because as a Member of
Parliament he participated in decertifying the
Narayan Sarovar wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat
state to allow the construction of a pier for a
nearby cement factory, Animal Welfare Board
of India member Guman Mal Lodha was able
to defend himself before fellow board members
and delegates to the AWB National
Seminar on November 28 by proclaiming, “I
would give my life for a cow.”
Mal Lodha––who has, to be sure,
pursued stricter laws governing cattle slaughter
––was cheered for this unlikely piety by most
of the older third of the audience.
Ironically, some have opposed
aspects of the cattle slaughter legislation that
Mal Lodha has endorsed, because as Help In
Suffering director Christine Townend
observes, “Many vegetarian Indians feel that
if the slaughterhouses are modernized and
stunning introduced so that killing is more
hygenic, more Indians will eat meat.”
Mal Lodha’s accuser, Maneka
Gandhi, was vehemently denounced from the
floor by one impromptu speaker after another,
all from the same contingent, just for arguing
that the reverence given to cows should be
extended toward all life. Expressing clearly
Gandhian views, arguing that every town has
a moral duty to keep a gaushala that is truly a
sanctuary, not just a disguised commercial
dairy, and herself sponsor of a gaushala sheltering
more than 100 cows and other hooved
animals, Maneka Gandhi was nonetheless
blistered––as she often is––for allegedly being
unworthy of her family name.
A U.S. parallel would be the enduring
yet often equally paradoxical alliance of
creationist fundamentalism with antivivisectionism.
A century and more ago, many of
the most prominent antivivisectionists were
also active in the so-called “Know Nothing”
movement, which sought to halt Catholic and
Jewish immigration, to make the U.S. a
Protestant nation. One was William Jennings
Bryan, who prosecuted John T. Scopes in the
infamous Tennessee Monkey Trial for teaching
evolution. The creationists held, and still
hold, that animals are inappropriate models
for studying human disease because in their
view of the Bible, humans are not descended
from nonhuman animals. Their allies in the
19th century and early 20th century antivivisection
movement included homeopaths,
many chiropractors, and other critics of mainstream
allopathic medicine. Underlying their
views on the use and abuse of animals in
research was a profound mistrust of modernity.
Though the majority of antivivisectionists
today are animal rights activists, tending
toward liberal or radical rather than reactionary
politics, the conservative theme
remains evident in scientific antivivisectionism,
whose advocates sometimes have little or
no interest in other animal issues, have similar
allies, and are sometimes at pains to distinguish
their cause from the animal rights cause.
Gandhi-ji, as Indians remember
Mohandas K. Gandhi, defined himself as
opposed not to technology per se, but rather to
cruel use of technology. The more progressive
Gandhians in the current gaushala m o v e m e n t
work to develop and promote “bullock tractors”
and improved camel-carts.
On paper, at least, a turn back
toward animal power could reduce the pressure
to sell cattle, camels, and equnes to
slaughter, and could reduce Indian foreign
debt largely associated with oil purchase. But
despite the advent of tractors, animals still
provide the pulling power on as much as 66%
of the Indian soil under cultivation.
It seems doubtful, given the soft feet
of camels, that Gandhi-ji would have advocated
that more camel-carts be used on paved
roads, even if they can pull the same load as a
pickup truck, with competitive speed under
Indian road conditions.
It seems also doubtful that Gandhi-ji
would have favored doubling the number of
working days for the 70 million Indian draft
animals who now work just 100 days a year,
as one Professor N.S. Ramswamy recently
advocated in the Animal Welfare Board magazine
Animal Citizen: animals who forage for
much of their living expend far more time and
calories just to get adequate nutrition than
those who are given grain daily. Only if more
and better feed were provided could the
Ramswamy prescription be humane.
Likewise doubtful is that the millions
of Indian poor who have left rural areas
in the consolidation of land into farms big
enough to be worked by tractor will be persuaded
to return to the country, any more than
did Americans and Europeans during the 18th
and 19th century enclosure of the commons.
But the rift between those advocating
an expanded gaushala movement based on
the life ethic and those espousing a cow-centered
Gandhian conservatism is bridged in
opposition to the growing Indian slaughter and
meat export industry. Beef and buffalo meat
production are up almost twenty-fold in 20
years, according to fact sheets circulated by
Laxmi Narain Modi. Goat slaughter has doubled;
sheep slaughter is up by half. The value
of Indian meat exports is up 110%. The Indian
government has helped facilitate the increased
killing with 100% subsidies for the expansion
and modernization of at least nine slaughterhouses
in seven states.
The anti-slaughter alliance may be
personified by R.P. Jain, a childhood friend of
Maneka Gandhi’s late husband Sanjay Gandhi
and close associate of Laxmi Narain Modi. A
tireless behind-the-scenes organizer, R.P. Jain
and fellow Jains on November 30 in Delhi rallied
as many as 30,000 Indians against meat
exports, attracting more people to a singlefocus
demonstration on short notice and with
relatively little prior media coverage than have
ever attended a U.S. animal rights event.
Practicing the ultimate renunciation of the
material world, “sky-clad” Jain monks reportedly
joined in numbers making People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals’ “rather go
naked than wear fur” protests look like a collegiate
prank. And no one confused the monks’
nudity with exhibitionism. Slaughter critics on
either side of the gaushala debate reach for the
moral high ground across a range of issues.
“Kerala has deteriorated morally as a
state of liquor shops and slaughterhouses,”
declared the Kerala Animal Lovers’
Association and Indian Vegetarian Congress in
a recent joint memorandum to the government,
against the opening of a new slaughterhouse
and the mechanization of seven others.
Equating meat with alcoholic vice might seem
extravagant in the west, but to most Indians
the western use of edible grain to make alcoholic
beverages––especially stronger than beer
––is a mark of degenerate excess.
Technically speaking, cow slaughter
is already forbidden in all but Punjab and
Kerala states, which are heavily Moslem, and
bulls and bullocks may be killed only at the
end of their useful working lives. But there
are often loopholes. In Delhi, for instance,
until 1994, cows could be killed if they were
at least 15 years of age. Falsely documenting
younger cattle became a cottage industry.
Civic authorities eager to rid streets of cattle
are also suspected of using many means to prematurely
end usefulness, such as poisoning
roadside vegetation so that the animals starve
or are themselves poisoned when they eat the
dead foliage. As mechanized traffic increases,
accidents crippling cattle increase too, and
“castrating” bullocks by smashing their testicles,
apparently a growing practice despite
widespread knowledge of how to castrate
properly, can send even young cattle to legal
slaughter due to disabling internal bleeding.
Illegal slaughter may involve any
animal, including pregnant and nursing
cows––the most fundamental violation possible
of the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh prohibitions.
Illegal slaughter is so common around Chennai
that while 1,500 animals a day are killed legally,
authorities estimate that another 1,000 a
day are killed without permits. Most are sheep
and goats, who have relatively little constituency
and are the animals most often sacrificed
While Indian animal rights movement
leaders rouse opposition to both slaughter
and animal sacrifice, volunteer humane
officers are on the often dangerous front
lines––like a young man from Bhusawal
whose name was variously transliterated from
Hindi script for us as Swesh Doga and Suresh
Pawar. Interceptions and seizures of hundreds
of cattle from the illegal slaughter traffic at a
time are not rare, despite the burden they
place on gaushalas, but Doga/Pawar’s seizure
on December 21, 1996 of 275 cows who soon
afterward birthed 30 calves was among the
biggest ever. His life was threatened, he
acknowledged through an interpreter, but he
persisted in successfully prosecuting the case.
The cattle now inhabit an ancient gaushala on
a 700 unfenced acres high in the hills between
Jalgaon and Bhusawal, accessible only to
four-wheel-drive motor vehicles.
Whether the animal rights movement
can succeed in restraining slaughter without
shredding the secularity of the Indian constitution
and renewing civil strife between Hindus
and Moslems may be the pivotal moral question
for India itself, as it moves into the 21st
century. As Gandhi-ji observed in 1921,
“Hindus will be judged by their ability to protect
the cow,” but Gandhi-ji also proclaimed
himself to be a Moslem, a Christian, and a
Jew––as well as a Jain and a Sikh––in his
effort to restrain cultural intolerance.