Cow protection, or for that matter protection to all birds and animals from human violence, is essential. But it cannot be a reason for vigilante groups’ conduct
Iam against cow slaughter. Not just that. I am against the killing of all birds and animals, including those in the course of hunting as sport which, to me, is murder for pleasure. In the case of all animal slaughters, matters are compounded by the extreme cruelty with which killings are done, and the shockingly inhuman way in which the animals are transported to the slaughter houses in open violation of the rules. In the case of cattle smuggling to Bangladesh, thousands of cows die as they are made to walk, on little food and water, all the way from north India to West Bengal before being taken across the border.
Atrocities include forcing animals like horses, bulls and buffaloes to pull — and donkeys to carry on their backs — unconscionably heavy loads, and hitting them mercilessly when they falter or stumble; depriving them of adequate food; raising animals like pigs for slaughter and keeping them in the most abominable conditions until they are killed; stoning puppies for fun; resorting to killing stray dogs to satisfy one's genocidal urge; depriving calves of milk and selling most of the latter; throwing cows out on the roads, and exposing them to the elements, hunger and thirst once they stop producing milk.
One can go on citing examples, which seem endless and lead to the question: Why do we allow such things to happen? The answer is that this has been the result of the dominant Western view that animals — for that matter, all non-human living beings — are distinct from and inferior to humans and exist for the benefit of humans. This view has, in turn, sprung from the Judeao-Christian theological tradition and the anthropocentric worldview rooted in the humanist philosophy of the classical Greeks, revived during the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Aristotle held that animals belonged to the category of inanimate objects because they lacked reason. According to extreme formulations of this world-view, humans had every right to do whatever they pleased with animals.
The tradition enshrined in the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and epics like the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, is very different. Reflecting the Upanishadic view that the Brahman or the Universal Soul is manifest in everything, it holds that humans and animals belong to the same universe of morality and that offences against animals are punishable. Unfortunately, this traditional-scriptural position has been frequently flouted in practice, and the view itself has come to be increasingly marginalised first under the rule of Muslims, who did not have the same regard for animals, and then of the British, who were influenced by the traditional Western view tempered by pro-animal sentiments.
One must ensure the inclusion of animals in the same universe of morality that humans inhabit as first step toward ending the cruelty routinely practised against them. They more than deserve this. Birds and animals — even those regarded as ferocious — are far less malign and aggressive than human beings. Jim Corbett wrote in Man Eaters of Kumaon that the “tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support— India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.”
Erich Fromm, the outstanding social psychologist, writes in his classic, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, “If human aggression were more or less at the same level as that of other mammals — particularly that of our nearest relative, the chimpanzee — human society would be rather peaceful and non-violent. But this is not so. Man's history is a record of extraordinary destructiveness and cruelty, and human aggression, it seems, far surpasses that of man's animal ancestors, and man is in contrast to most animals, a real killer.”
To my mind, the issue of cow protection has to be seen in the context of cruelty to animals, which will draw to it the support of many who do not share the religious grounds on which many oppose it. Also, in the last analysis, it can be ensured only through a change in people's attitudes. Vigilante violence has to be sternly dealt with. It will communalise the issue and freeze attitudes on both sides of the fence.