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The contrast in the life of a sacred cow and a dairy cow in Indian society

The atrocities on the dairy industry across the world are not concealed anymore. However, in India, the country where the cow is considered as a sacred animal and is associated with many deities in the Hindu religion which make up to 80 per cent of the country’s population today, wistfully the status of a cow has descended to a mere milking machine only.

The sanctity of the cow

According to Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of the divine bounty of the earth, hence it has to be protected and revered. It is considered to be auspicious and is said to bring happiness and blessing to those who honour them. The gentle nature of cows evokes a natural sense of calmness. Hindus view this kind of disposition to be a symbol of Ahimsa (compassionate and non-violence). Many Hindu gods and goddesses are associated with cows, Lord Krishna, one of the Hindu deities have grown up among cows and also goes by the name Govinda and Gopala, which mean “friend and protector of cows”.

The Vedic culture of India emphasizes cows to care and it is a sin to kill and consume them. India is a land of spirituality and in any Hindu religious ceremonies, cow milk is considered to be a sacred part as it is believed to have purifying qualities. Ghee (clarified butter) a derivative of milk is known to have medicinal value and is used in many Ayurvedic medicines. The five products of the cow-milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung are linked to the sanctity of the cow.

History of vegetarianism

The term vegetarian which is a common food habit in India dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization, 5th century, it inculcates tolerance towards all sentient beings and promotes ahimsa, the practice of non-violence and a meat-free living. In the pre-industrial era, dairy was never barbaric as it is today. Most of the households in the past would own cattle and the extra milk was used for human consumption. With the industrial revolution and modernization of society, the rearing of cattle has been limited and the growing population had put pressure on the dairy industry for the enormous milk supply which led to the abuse of these voiceless and gentle beings.

The endless pregnancies, artificial insemination, separation of mother and calves, newborn calves in lonely barren hutches, mutilations without the use of anaesthesia as branding, dehorning and tail docking. This inhumane process includes hot irons, sharp tools and knives. As the milk machines get older and are unable to bear milk, they are sent to slaughterhouses and the hides are used for leather. At times the male calves are starved to death to be used in the leather industry. Due to artificial insemination, the cow population has increased manifold.

Leather Exports

India is one of the leading producers of leather products. In 2020, India had a share of 6.4% global production of leather which is approximately 1560 million sq. ft average annual production. While in the export of beef, India too leads after Brazil, the world’s largest beef exporter. How can we still align cows to Gods/Goddesses when we forget our moral duties to protect them? Freedom will prevail for these creatures only when the demand for dairy and its products will reduce with time.

Plant-based milk in India: The plant-based milk sector in India has to deal with setbacks after the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) dismissed three complaints filed against the largest dairy producer of dairy products, Amul. The complaints regarded an advertisement launched by Amul that claimed plant-based beverages are not milk. This petition was launched by animal welfare organizations PETA, Sharan India and Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC).

Plant based beverages

However, plant-based milk has been able to pave its way to some Indian consumers, as in 2020 the vegan percentage elevated to 19% of the population. There is a rise of homegrown plant-based brands offering dairy-free milk in the last few years like Goodmilk and MilkinOats. India is a developing nation although its economy is growing, poverty is a hindrance. Plant-based milk is costlier in contrary to dairy milk and so is not accessible to every Indian. Without Government subsidies to the plant-based sector, it will be a challenge forever. The contrasting life of a sacred cow and a dairy cow warrants attention in the mainstream media and the masses that are unaware of the immoral practices in the dairy industry.

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