27 January 2022
The message from Uttar Pradesh.
By Robert Kilconner
Well, at least I’m no longer alone. Many years ago in a town in Rajasthan I was pursued down the street by a cow. It was a female cow (yes, I know, the word is being used loosely) and as far as I could tell its intentions were amorous rather than hostile. After all, it confined itself to nudging rather than attempting to skewer or toss. Still, it had large horns so I kept walking away from it, each time to be reminded that it had followed me by a gentle prod in the backside. My young daughter was very much amused but the whole incident was a little undignified and embarrassing. Being attractive to young heifers is not something you boast about in the pub.
Now I gather from the press that the behaviour of cows has become a national problem in India to the extent that people have been killed by them and their conduct is an issue in the forthcoming election in Uttar Pradesh. The problem is that a ban on all slaughtering of cattle imposed by the right wing Hindu BJP party has resulted in a huge number of cows which would formerly have been killed as too old to produce milk or pull a plough being turned loose to run wild. Huge sums have been spent on vagrant cow shelters and indeed a special tax on alcohol has been raised to pay for them, but it is not enough. Turned away at the old cows’ home and forced to wander the streets, many cows of previously good character turn vicious and farmers are setting up vigilante groups to keep them away from the villages at night.
It is unclear from the reports why hungry cows should decide to attack humans. After all, they are not naturally carnivorous and although one can see that a “cows eat people” headline might be seen by vegetarians as encapsulating poetic justice, they are not known to be a vengeful species. Rather, it seems that their rebel behaviour is a reaction to being turned out into in a harsh and unfair world. If a film had been made of it there would have been a part for James Dean.
Any sociologist will tell you that delinquent behaviour is normally the product of a combination of causes but that still leaves us to identify the dominant influence. Those who argue that nature trumps nurture in determining character will advocate genetic engineering and the development of a more tolerant breed of cow. Those who put their trust in nurture will assert that the calf is father to the cow and suggest poetry readings in the breeding pens and charming human/cow encounters at an early age. For myself I do not belong to either school. The delinquent cows are inevitably on the elderly side and age is bad for manners. Watch a couple of pensioners arguing over who was first in the queue at a bring-and-buy sale and you will soon come to the conclusion that if they had horns blood would be shed. Why should cows be different? These are Indian cows and so regarded as divine. There is no reason why they should not be part human as well.
I leave it to those who specialise in bovine psychology to solve this mystery but there is also a lesson for the powers that be in the BJP and for the human race generally. Politics and religion only produce an acceptable outcome if they are fitted to the nature of those affected, whether they be cattle or people. To think one can introduce arbitrary rules without unintended consequences is as foolish as sitting on the beach and telling the waves that they must turn back.
Cover page image: Pikaluk / Wikimedia / Creative Commons