Photograph of Anil Chawla


Author - Anil Chawla

This most controversial article challenges the common Hindu belief that considers cow as a holy animal.

"For the death of him who is born is certain ; and the rebirth of him who is dead is inevitable. It does not, therefore, behove you to grieve over an inevitable event." (Verse 27, Chapter 2, Srimad Bhagavad-Gita)

Lord Krishna says that it is wrong to grieve about death since death is like a change of clothes. Soul gives up its old clothes and takes on new ones. Focussing on life and accepting death as an integral part of life - is the essence of Gita which applies to every aspect of human life. It is this philosophy that enabled Krishna to be an animal-lover and yet be a good hunter. Understanding the philosophy of Gita is necessary to comprehend animal-rearing.

In the field of animal rearing Consumption and Protection are two sides of the same coin. One who consumes is the one who protects and vice-versa. Muslims in India sacrifice goats at the time of Eid-ul-zuha and consume the meat. The other facet of this is that Muslims feed and take care of a goat for a full year or alternatively pay a big sum to one who has taken care of the sacrificial goat. On the other hand there are Jains who do not eat meat and do nothing to rear or take care of goats. India is the largest consumer of goat meat in the world and India has the largest goat population in the world. Pakistan does not consume pig-meat and it has almost no pigs. During the past thirty years the consumption of eggs and chicken in India has increased almost tenfold. This has led to the poultry industry getting a big boost and there has been an unprecedented increase in the population of hens. It will not be an exaggeration to say that if mankind stopped consuming eggs and chicken completely, hen as a species may vanish from the surface of earth.

Cow is considered sacred and is worshipped in India while in adjoining Pakistan there are no such beliefs. Yet, when a cow dies in India, its average carcass weight is just about 103 Kg and in Pakistan the average carcass weight is about 185 Kg. The figure for USA and Germany is about 315 Kg. In other words, cows in India are not butchered but are tortured to a slow and painful death by hunger. A foolish interpretation of DHARMA (loosely translated as duty or religion) has led some Indians to oppose cow slaughter leading to a situation where cows are neither cared for nor protected. A refusal to accept death of cow has made life hell for cow. Moving stray on roads Indian cow is forced to eat polythene bags and die a painful death. All talks of non-violence and pity by religious leaders sound nice but cannot give the essential ingredients of life to Indian cows.

Milk Production in India has increased considerably during the past three decades after National Dairy Development Board launched Operation Flood. Yet, the per capita availability of milk in India in 1997 was just about 58.5 Kg per annum. The corresponding figure for Pakistan is 116.3 Kg, Germany - 238.8 Kg, Russia - 145.1 Kg, USA - 251.3 Kg. Some persons may be surprised that the per capita availability of milk in India is just about half of that in Pakistan though economically Pakistan is almost in the same bracket as India. The misguided orthodox zealots who oppose all mechanized slaughter houses and meat exports often argue that continuous slaughtering of progeny of cows will lead to elimination of cows and bulls from the country causing a milk famine. The fact is just opposite - the countries that consume cow-meat have substantially higher milk availability.

The economics of animal rearing is based on milk as well as meat. Whenever any cow or buffalo gives birth, there is an almost equal probability of a male or female calf. A dairy farmer rears a female calf in expectation of milk, while a male is reared for either meat or for use as a draught animal. It is the combined economics of milk, meat and harness that makes investments possible in dairy industry. If any of the three pillars is disturbed, the economics of dairy industry is badly affected. In most developed countries, there is no use of animal in harness but demand for meat helps balance the economics of dairy industry. In ancient India, extensive use of bullocks as draught animals made dairy farming viable even without the use of meat. In modern India, on one hand, subsidies on electricity for farming, tractors, diesel etc. have eliminated the need to use animals for ploughing and carriage of goods. On the other hand, a plethora of restrictions on bovine meat have effectively prevented Indian dairy farmers from getting a reasonable price for bovine meat. This has rendered male bovine animals completely useless thereby affecting the economics and growth of the Indian dairy industry.

India exports almost ten million tonnes of de-oiled cakes every year to countries like Pakistan, Iran, Thailand, Korea, Japan etc. who have a better developed dairy industry. De-oiled cakes are rich in proteins and are primarily used as ingredient for animalfeed. In addition to causing protein deficiency in an impoverished country like India, export of de-oiled cakes disturbs the Nitrogen cycle of nature causing the soil to lose fertility. Animals perform a useful ecological function by consuming non-edible nitrogenous matter like cellulose and de-oiled cakes. Faecal matter of animals completes the nitrogen cycle and enriches the soil. In the absence of sufficiently large number of animals, agriculture starts losing its long term viability. Hence, it is necessary that the economics of Indian dairy farming is strengthened so that Indian de-oiled cakes can be fed to Indian animals which are essential pre-requisite for maintaining soil fertility over the long term.

Cowdung also plays a minor albeit important role in dairy economics. Heavy subsidies on chemical fertilizers have reduced the demand for cowdung. This has made it impossible for any dairy farmer to feed a non-milking cow.

Dairy industry plays a vital role in the agro-based economics of India. Strengthening dairy industry is essential for removing poverty of the large majority of Indian population which is living even today in rural areas. The three pillars of dairy farming economics - Milk, Meat and Use in Harness - need to be strengthened. Just as National Dairy Development Board has done commendable work in the field of milk, there is an urgent need for similar work in the field of meat. Government of India should set a target to eliminate exports of de-oiled cakes in the next five to ten years. Subsidies on tractors, diesel, farm-use-electricity, chemical fertilizers should be gradually eliminated. Use of mineral fuel based vehicles should be banned in certain dense areas of cities and in such areas only human and animal powered vehicles should be permitted. This will not only increase utility of animals in harness but will also help reduce pollution in Indian city centres that have become almost inhabitable. Use of modern technology should be promoted in animal powered vehicles.

Hindu religion is based on "SANATAN" truths - facts and principles that have always been true and shall always be. It was this understanding of SANATAN truth that led the Lord Shiva who is known as a God of destruction being also called Lord PASHUPATINATH, the deity that is the owner and protector of all animals. Shiva family caries with it a symbolism that illustrates the concept of mutual dependence of beings for food and other needs. The vehicle of Shiva is a bullock while his wife Parvati's vehicle is a lion who preys on bullock. Shiva's son Ganesha moves around on a rat while snakes (who eat rats) hang around the neck of Lord Shiva. On the other hand snakes are devoured by peacock which is the vehicle of Shiva's other son Kartik. Cycle of nature is based on such mutual dependence and mutual checks & balances. One who understands this cycle and does not get disturbed by death is a wise man. He accepts death as a necessary routine. Commitments towards life rather than concerns about death are the guiding principles for all his actions. DHARMA (loosely translated as duty or religion) is not in avoiding death nor is it in fearing death nor is it in worrying about or grieving over death. Life and living life is DHARMA. If moved by the fears of death non-violence weakens life and if violence accepts death to eventually strengthen life, then violence is DHARMA and non-violence is ADHARMA (antonym or antitheses of DHARMA). This is the philosophy of Gita and this is the way of upliftment of any society.

Hindu religion takes a holistic view of life and Hindu vision is free of any pre-conceived biases. Weakening society in the name of mercy, pity or non-violence is ADHARMA and not DHARMA in the eyes of Hindu philosophy. Cow is sacred and has an important place in Indian social and economic life. Yet, no one is above the overall interests of society and DHARMA. Lord Krishna asked Arjuna to kill his own brethren and beloved because that was the DHARMA at that time. Similarly in today's situation giving up the opposition to cow slaughter is indeed in accordance with DHARMA. Hindus must realize that enriching the life of bovine and other useful animals is DHARMA. Making efforts to build a healthy and large population of cattle in India is DHRAMA. On the path of DHARMA, a wise man is not perturbed by death since he knows that soul is immortal - "Weapons cannot cut it nor can fire burn it ; water cannot drench it nor can wind make it dry." (Verse 23, Chapter 2, Srimad Bhagavad-Gita)

(Statistics quoted above are courtesy


4 December, 1999

Note for Readers not conversant with Indian mythology and Hinduism - Srimad Bhagavad-Gita (also called Gita) is one of the most sacred books for Hindus. During the war of MAHABHARAT, just before the beginning of the war, Arjuna who was a great warrior suddenly developed self-doubt and raised fundamental existentialist questions about the purpose of life and hence of war which would have led to the annihilation of so many who were very dear to him. Lord Krishna who was a friend of Arjuna and was also driving his chariot during the war delivered the sermon of Gita clarifying the fundamental questions raised.


(This letter was published in Letters to Editor, Hindustan Times dated 3rd January, 2002)
(Please visit Archives of to confirm)

Of late, there has been a great controversy over whether Brahmins ate beef in the Vedic times. Let us listen to what Swami Vivekananda, one of the most illustrious savants of India, has to say on the subject.

His words would set at rest all sorts pf doubts and misgivings of people who still believe that facts are sacred even though opinions might differ.

Swami Vivekananda said: "You have always to remember that because a little social custom is going to be changed, you are not going to lose your religion, not at all. Remember these customs have already been changed. There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin ; you read in the Vedas how, when a sanyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed, how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race. Therefore, the practice was stopped, and a voice was raised against the killing of cows...

"I do not mean that you should stand up and revile all your old customs and institutions... Revile none. Even those customs that are now appearing to be positive evils have been positively life-giving in times past; and if we have to remove these, we must not do so with curses, but with blessings and gratitude for all glorious work these customs have done for the preservation of our race..."

(From Swami Vivekananda's reply to the welcome address at Madurai in 1897, published in Swamiji's Lecture from Colombo to Almora, brought out by the Advaita Ashram in 1997)


(The above letter is reproduced courtesy Hindustan Times and is not governed by the policy of "All Rights Free" applicable to the articles of Anil Chawla)

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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