When A Man’s Meat Became His Own Poison

Credits: Marcin Białek via wikimedia

‘They looked for me in someone’s fridge,

Even before confirming the meat they found was mine,

They didn’t hesitate to throw his life off the ridge,

They looked for me in a poor farmer’s farm,

Not finding me there, convinced he’d sold me off to the butcher,

They didn’t think twice before causing him grievous harm1,

They looked for me in grazing in the wild,

Let alone find me they couldn’t locate in the concrete jungle the meadow,

They never realised all this while, I was scrounging the garbage pile.’

If you still did not realise who the narrator is, let me make it clear, it’s the good old cow. Yes the revered, holy cow, a cow in the garbage dump, but a cow nonetheless in our Clean India, Swachh Bharat.

In the past year or so, if one were to ask which two words have dominated the public discourse, there is quite a good number of people who would say ‘Cow’ and ‘Clean India’, with issues good and bad, controversies, some unfortunate incidents (including the beef ban, murders over alleged consumption of beef) and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan ringing loud and clear in the public psyche. While protection of cows and making India a clean nation are both noble ideas (at least the latter definitely is), if one were to know where the reality stands, one just needs to visit any town in India.

It’s a common sight to find piles of garbage overflowing out of the dustbins in any nook and cranny of the city. Similarly a lot of cows, buffaloes etc. can be seen wandering about on the cities’ streets. We Indians have a peculiar attraction for the olden (and supposedly golden) days it seems, we can’t get over co-existing with such animals in the times of modernity too. A very adjusting and accommodative people we are, you see. Now many of these cows are left wandering onto the streets by their owners- which range from dairy owners to those driving bullock carts- to fend for themselves. The poor animals left with no other choice, end up rummaging through the garbage dumps to find any food they can. So a cow in the garbage pile (yes the ‘holy’ cow) isn’t an uncommon site.2

Now this poses another serious problem- when the poor animals (not only cows, it also affects other cattle, dogs etc.) are scrounging the trash piles, they often end up ingesting large amounts of plastic. Yes, autopsies have revealed up to 70 kilograms3 of plastic from the rumen of a single animal. This plastic is the cause of a slow and painful death for these animals as they can neither vomit it nor excrete it. It stays there slowly filling up the rumen, leaving little space for the actual food to enter, causing irritable bowels and a host of other problems. Not only plastic, a lot of metal bits3, especially pointed ones like pins and needles cause a wholly different problem- they often perforate important visceral organs and vessels- another cause of fatality and morbidity. Is it not ironical that on one hand you put cleanliness next to godliness and on the other you let a supposedly holy animal die a painful death in a garbage dump?

The over-zealous governments have passed laws banning butchering of cows and consumption of their meat, but little do they realise that till and unless adequate shelters and other facilities are not provided, such laws only complicate matters and harm all the stake holders including the owners and the poor animals themselves4. How? Animal rearing like most other professions is driven by economics. Till and unless the upkeep of an animal is not earning revenue of any form for its owner, the owner has no incentive5 to keep the animal, after all feeding, immunisation etc. accrue significant costs for the owner6. An old cow is like a white elephant, neither can it provide milk nor can it contribute to draught labour. In the pre ban days, the farmer or dairy owner would sell the old cows to butchers and tannery owners for a good sum. But now since it is not possible any more in most states of the nation, more and more owners are forced to leave the animals wandering on the streets, where out of hunger such cows end up in the garbage piles. If such a cow ultimately dies, whom will the passionate cow protectors make scape cows..err sorry..scape goats out of? Will they dare to go after the government which has forced the farmer to abandon his animals as well as failed to provide a Clean India which lead to the death of the cow?

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan7 is a step in the right direction for a Clean India. Never before has this issue been highlighted on the national platform. The Hon. Prime Minister talking of the need of building toilets in every house and ensuring a hygienic environment across the nation in his Independence Day address is encouraging. Both Rural and Urban Swachh Bharat Missions have been launched with the objectives of ensuring a Clean India by October 2, 2019 (the 150th Birth Anniversary of Gandhiji). The concept of Shramdaan- asking every citizen to put in some amount of time and efforts towards cleaning his/her neighbourhood is promising too if taken up on a large scale. But mere mission statements do not bring about radical changes, while a lot of right noises have been made, solid implementation on the ground is still a distant dream8.

So what’s the way out? Plain and simple, we the citizens must first do our bit. Simple steps, like minimising the use of polythene bags- not only because it chokes poor animals but also because it literally chokes our drains (remember the Mumbai floods of 2005) and the environment too, persisting unchanged for 1,000 years or more. Secondly we must segregate dry and wet waste proactively. The wet waste can be utilised for composting so as to prevent food waste going in to the dump-yards which attracts the animals to them. Thirdly we must pressurise our local representatives to ensure proper and speedy garbage disposal so as to prevent the piling up of heaps of garbage in our neighbourhoods (a fertile breeding ground for a lot of vector borne diseases). Fourthly, taking up Shramdaan in whatever form feasible for us and encouraging friends to do the same can be a game changer. Till and unless youngsters like up take this cause up seriously, little can be achieved by government shenanigans alone.

As far as the issue of the ‘Holy Cow ‘ is concerned, let’s just hope better sense prevails. Killing people indiscriminately just over the suspicion that they consumed beef and on the other hand letting the same animal scrounge the garbage yard is not only irrational, but also shameful and distressing. Such instances have turned the age old adage of ‘One man’s meat is another’s poison’ into ‘One man’s meat may be his own poison (i.e. the cause of death)………

Let’s hope we can shift the focus from people’s fridges and bellies to the piles of garbage in the underbellies of every town of the nation………………………………………………………


  1. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/jharkhand-latehar-district-muslim-cattle-traders-hanged-five-arrested-section-144/
  2. http://www.karunasociety.org/projects/the-plastic-cow-project
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/Death-by-plastic/articleshow/17866162.cms
  4. http://thewire.in/2015/10/27/why-the-ban-on-cow-slaughter-is-not-just-anti-farmer-but-anti-cow-as-well-13849/
  5. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/dairy-economics-a-ban-most-farmer-unfriendly/
  6. http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-india-cattle-20150727-story.html
  7. http://swachhbharaturban.gov.in/writereaddata/SBM_Guideline.pdf
  8. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/swachh-bharat-abhiyan-is-modi-s-scheme-a-success-one-year-later/story-XDjpG9TjuYtkQnFdYKgQyM.html

  • Jay Savla

    Very well written. Highlighting two of the many problems of our country! Hope it helps in spreading awareness!

  • Sad state… hope things improve soon…