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In an exclusive interview, Vandana Shiva talks to Pooja Bhula about the history and perils of polarisation, and how the cattle can lead us to compassion.
Pooja Bhula | DNA | Mumbai | Nov 28, 2016:: Award-winning biodiversity activist Vandana Shiva makes an economic and climatic case for the protection of bovine animals. Emphasising their importance in the modern context, she calls upon people to create a culture of diversity, non-violence.
In our culture based on Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, all beings, including all human beings are sacred. Killing humans in the name of cow protection is politics, not spirituality.
Why is it that be it in the modern context or in the past, beef-eating has caused the most polarisation, whereas the consumption of other animal-meat hasn’t. A case in point—Ambedkar notes in The Untouchables: The touchables whether they are vegetarians or flesh-eaters are united in their objection to eat cow’s flesh. As against them stand the untouchables who eat cow’s flesh without compunction and as a matter of course and habit.
The British used religion to divide and rule India. We need to look at our genetically modified history to understand our current divisions.
We should have a strong law to protect all animals, including the cow. A constructive approach to cow protection is to ensure the living cow has a sacred place in society.
Leather from cows that die naturally does not involve violence to animals. We need to distinguish between this and industrial leather industry.
Living with cows and bullocks as your extended family is not commercial activity, it is living. Just as farmers work, they also work with farm animals. The animal’s work, and the human work has the same quality, dignity and creativity which we need to recognise. Seeing work as disposable is creating disposability of humans and animals. Animals being sent to slaughter houses is a tragic symbol of disposability of farm animals in the same systems. We need to return to the thinking where animals are part of the family, because if we don’t, not only will we spread intolerance and hatred against the animal world, but we will also spread the virus of intolerance and hatred in the society.
When I worked in the IIM Bangalore in the late 1970’s, Dr NS Ramaswamy was famously known as the ‘cart man’ for emphasising the contribution of animals to India’s economy. Animals ploughed 100 million hectares, and hauled 25 billion kilometre-tons of freight in 15 million ox-carts. He estimated that 74 million oxen and 8 million buffaloes make available 40 million horsepower of energy i.e. worth Rs 100 billion per year. Animal energy saves 6 million tons of petroleum (worth Rs 120 billion per year). The asset value of our pashu dhan is Rs 250 billion. The replacement of animal energy by mechanised systems would require an investment of $200-$300 billion. We are and always will be an agrarian society. Or we will be finished as a civilisation. The cow is a keystone species for our agrarian economy and agrarian ecosystems. We are already destroying $1.2 trillion worth of ecosystem functions because of chemical farming. Neither India nor the planet can bear the burden of chemical industrial agriculture.
On a farm, living animals sustain the soil as well as lives and livelihoods of small farmers. As the Viniyog Parivar calculated, in the case of the foreign owned Al Kabeer slaughter house in Andhra Pradesh, if the animals had been allowed to live, they would save foreign exchange worth Rs 910.25 crores. Just in terms fertility of soil, the slaughtered farm animals would have provided Rs 36.41 crore of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium – NPK, for which we pay the ‘fertiliser’ industry. But besides this, the savings will also be in terms of green house gases, contraction of soil and every aspect of destruction, such as drought—not drought due to atmosphere, but drought in the soil because farm animals contribute 1% organic matter that stores 160,000 litres of water.
Our farms are small by design, by law. Small farms produce more food as the Navdanya experience shows. Everyone eats, including those living in cities. When they eat good food from small farms based on the care of the earth, humans and animals, they become food smart. When they eat toxic junk, they fall prey to diseases such as diabetes, heart attack, neurological problems and cancers. Either we will all enjoy well being through small ecological farms, or we will all suffer. The choice is ours.
Reducing the sacred cow to a meat machine, producing a commodity to be traded.
World Bank gets countries into debt, then uses indebtedness to impose structural adjustment, and policies—export of meat was part of the 1991 Structural Adjustment they imposed. Colonisers and enslavers succeed as long as we are willing to be enslaved.
I did not use the word ‘beef’. I talked of living animals who give us living soil, living food, living culture. The minute you talk ‘beef’, you have already killed the cow in your mind. You have separated her from a product that comes from her carcass. And you have sowed the seeds of hate and division in society. We need to unite along the living cow through a living economy that respects all life. And the animal movement has to take a lead for it because all this polarisation is taking place in the name of the cow. We need to unite by thinking and living as one Earth Family, in which all species, all people are members, deserve protection, deserve respect, love, compassion.