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Wednesday, Jul 17, 2002

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God save farmers from the cow

Sharad Joshi


With the US granting a patent to a bio-enhancer distilled from cow urine, cattle may get pride of place on farms once more.

THE US has granted a patent to a product which contains distilled portions from cow urine that apparently increases the activity of antibiotics and anti-cancer agents.

Great news! The general impression was that no real research was being conducted in India's `temples of learning' which had produced just about a dozen drugs over half a century.

The CUD (cow-urine distillate), which got the patent, is a significant event. It is even more significant that CUD is the product of a joint enterprise of the CSIR and — of all the things — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

The combination is so bizarre that US patent or no US patent, the bio-enhancer CUD demands a closer look.

`The saffron-science' and the `Swadeshi' lobby cried a hurrah or the Desi equivalent that their tribes shout in moments of triumph and rejoicing.

The sacred cow is a big issue in India. Whether to ban cow-slaughter is a highly volatile communo-political question.

The Hindutva lobby holds, in the name of the whole Hindu community and quoting the authority of their holy scriptures — the Vedas, the Upanishads and all the Puranas — that the cow is a highly venerable creature, not a mere animal but, in fact, a deity of high standing and an abode of 330 million gods. Cow, for it, is a holy and sacred icon.

It feels that with the US patent, the Hindu faith has, at last, been vindicated. The upper-caste Hindus gave up eating cow flesh centuries back though their NRI and yuppy segments are far from being inhibited on the subject.

Veer Savarkar, the Hindu Patriarch, called the cow a useful cattle and advocated massive programme for the improvement of the species. Your Hindu fanatic resents Savarkar's position. The utility of the cow is perceived only by farmers carrying on agriculture with the help of bullocks; and even they are realising that maintaining a cow or a bullock for a whole lifetime of 1-15 years, while the productive period is only half that, is unaffordable.

The massive propaganda of the cow lobby and the environmentalists notwithstanding, farmers are abandoning the cow.

The experience of banks that lend money to agriculturists for acquiring milch and draught animals shows that far larger number of cows die because of malnourishment, ill-treatment and simple poisoning in farmers' sheds than in slaughterhouses.

If it is a choice between feeding one's old parents and children, on the one hand, and the cattle past their prime, on the other, the outcome is quite obvious. Farmers do try to dispose off their cattle before taking recourse, in desperation, to suicide, which they are forced to do in hordes all over the country.

Most non-elite Hindu communities do eat beef. It is relatively leaner — as it comes from ill-fed cows — and cheaper than other meats.

The nutritional and medicinal qualities of the cow milk have been adumbrated in vast literature and from many platforms. But most Hindus prefer to use buffalo's milk. The cow milk that they drink is in most parts from the crossbreed Jersey and Holsteins and not of the venerated Indian or Brahmin cow belonging to the zebu species with its distinguishing hump.

In fact, a worldwide survey reveals a close co-relation between the zebu and poverty. The world's mass poverty countries — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya — happen to be where this zebu is found. The connection is understandable.

The zebu has the ability to graze on very low grass and survive even in conditions of extreme drought.

The more sophisticated crossbreeds have poor resistance to rigours of climate and deficient feeding. The zebu has poor milk yield.

For centuries, the holy zebu has been an essential component of the survival technology to which the farmer in India was pushed by the vagaries of monsoons and the tyranny of successive regimes.

It is not that somebody has actually unfathomed any residential colonies of Gods in the bowels of a cow; nor has a cow performed a miracle to establish its claim to divinity. The cause for celebration is far more humdrum. It relates to the cow's urine.

There are several remarkable things about the jubilation in the cow-fan club and the saffron science coterie centred in the Ministry of Human Resource Development under Mr Murli Manohar Joshi. This lobby is generally very critical of the US system, its imperialistic designs and, particularly its Intellectual Property Rights regime.

The quirk of destiny is that they are driven to find support for their faith from a source that they invariably hold as suspect and on the authority of the prime cow-devouring nation.

Further, it is not that CUD — the patented invention — establishes any extraordinary qualities of the cow; it merely recognises the fact that distilled cow urine may be a good medium for increasing activities of certain agents. That is far from supporting any claims to divinity.

Again, the patent could have as well been for a new chemical that is derived, in the patented process, without reference to cow's urine.

The same bio-enhancer could well be derived by an artificial process using derivatives from sources other than a cow.

Indian opponents to the WTO Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime have steadfastly taken the position that product patents are wrong and other parties should have the possibility of manufacturing the patented product through an alternative process. Sooner or later, somebody else may invent an alternative process of deriving this product.

Then it would be clear that there is nothing about the cow that is divine and the all the wonderful cow-derived products have a material and not a divine origin. The glee of the cow-worshippers' lobby could then turn to bitter gall.

It is only to be hoped that the cow lobby in its newfound enthusiasm does not try to impose the cow technology on the farmers. They are, of course, free to canvas and highlight the advantages, leaving it to the farmers to make a final decision about accepting or rejecting it.

(The author is Founder, Shetkari Sanghatana. He can be contacted at sharad@mah.nic.in)

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