The Indian Desi cow: Potential for Hindu Resurgence in contemporary politics of India
Section I: Some science before politics: Taxonomy, evolution and physiology of ‘cattle’
(For clarity, buffaloes, nilgai, bison, mithun, yak and banteng are not included in the term ‘cattle’ or ‘gai’ in this blog, though buffaloes too are often otherwise considered ‘cattle’. For this blog, cattle = cows, calves and bulls.)
Activism for the Deshi Cow has the potential to be the next big mobiliser for political and social Hindu resurgence after the Ram Janma Bhoomi movement, can offer inputs in countering the Aryan Migration Theory, can positively affect Indian agroecology and our village economies, integrate our community components into one fabric, improve human health and create a confident India and Hindu society, ready to take on enemies. It can raise the Intellectual Kshatriya in us, and rekindle the Kshatriya spirit if properly channelled.
The classification of living species into a kingdom (protista, animalia or plants), sub-kingdom, phylum, class, order, suborder, family and genus / species is called taxonomy. Cattle are mammalian vertebrates under the order Artiodactyla (even-toed animals also including pigs), sub-order of Ruminants, family Bovidae (cattle, buffaloes, yak, bison, etc) and subfamily Bovinae. Cattle are thus also called bovines.
All ruminants either have two horns/ horn buds or, antlers; but they derive their name from their ‘rumen’, the main fermentation chamber of their complex four-chambered stomach. In the rumen, there are ruminal microorganisms which break down grass / plant tissue into smaller molecules like fatty acids, which become calories and components of ruminant body protein and milk; digestion includes ruminating or ‘chewing the cud’ / रवंथ करणे by bringing up partly digested food for a second chewing. One fatty acid component of milk, butyric acid, is named after butter / milk fat. Besides cattle, ruminants include the giraffe, okapi, buffaloes, yaks, bison, sheep, elk, moose, goats, deer, mithun, banteng and antelope. Meanwhile, ruminant dung and urine are an excellent source of nitrogenous fertiliser for soil, if rotational grazing is practised, and a source of decimation of arid grassland flora if improperly managed. Ruminants ‘eructate’ the methane and other gases they belch out from their rumen, hence they also do contribute to greenhouse gases.
Human civilisation and domestication of ruminants due to their physiology: grass to flesh, grass to milk:
Ruminants turn grass (inedible to humans) into flesh edible to predators; humans consumed both the flesh and milk of ruminants to survive. Indeed, humans have cherished ruminant milk for millennia, a fact even acknowledged by veganism advocates, who ask us as a human species, to outgrow drinking milk of any other species after our own human-babyhood weaning as the next step of human civilisation.
Ruminant domestication began 10000-8000 years ago as the world warmed after the ice age, grasslands appeared and as humans started outgrowing the hunter-gatherer stage. Human existence moved first into nomadic pastoralism and thence, settled agriculture and tribal villages and eventually, urban civilisations, but it has always happened with ruminant domestication. While everyone kept sheep and goats, or cattle and buffaloes, some Arctic tribes kept reindeer.
Of all ruminants, the cow / bull (cattle) is the most important domesticated livestock animal, and cattle share their habitat and fodder / feeding habits, management needs and diseases, predators and fortunes with the other large domesticated ruminant, the buffaloes, and with smaller ruminants, the sheep and goat. Cattle domestication is as old as human civilisation.
It also follows that ruminant domestication is certainly one out of many factors that allowed human civilisation to reach its zenith. Some civilisations thrived on ruminant flesh, others limited the types of species to be eaten, and some stages in civilisation stopped eating ruminant flesh altogether, though subsisting on ruminant milk as the sole leftover source of animal protein in their diets.
Humans have also offered ruminant meat to their forms of divinity across cultures. Which ruminant is to be offered and which isn’t to be offered, whether the slaughter is across the neck or by slitting the throat, and which ruminant is to be eaten or not eaten in the first place all together create a sharp difference among human cultures. Hindus don’t kill cattle.
Within India, whether cattle were also consumed or not is a debatable point but by and large if Hindus did eat their cow 5000 years ago, it also meant they have stopped eating the cow for those many years, making it a tradition and adding cow protection to their tradition too.
Evolution of cattle: from the ancestral long-horned ‘Aurochs’:
All cattle are descended from one wild, long-horned ‘ancestral cattle’ species called the Bos acutifrons (subfamily Bovinae). From this ancestor evolved the Aurochs (both Singular and Plural: Aurochs, or Aurochsen), initially zoologically classified as “Bos urus Linnaeus” (‘Linnaeus’ meaning, as first promulgated by taxonomist Linnaeus), but later as Bos primigenius. Aurochs further evolved into types, and different cattle species today are descended from these different Aurochs.
Aurochs had developed three populations (three subspecies):
(1) Bos primigenius namadicus (Baluchistan to Karnataka) with a noticeable hump, from whom Indian (Zebu) cattle are derived;
(2) Bos primigenius primigenius (the entire Eurasian steppes right up to Europe) without any indistinguishable hump; and
(3) Bos primigenius africanus (Northern Africa) again without any prominent hump.
European cattle (the Taurine) diverged from the Eurasian-Near Eastern Aurochs (region called the Fertile Crescent).
Indian Aurochs were the earliest to appear, the Euraisan Aurochs evolved from the Indian Aurochs while the African Aurochs were indistinguishable from the Eurasian-European-Near Eastern Aurochs.
Two different species within a family can have similar chromosomes. Yaks (Bos grunniens), Zebu cattle and Taurine cattle have the same number of chromosomes and all three interbreed, but Taurine X Zebu crosses are fertile both ways. Yaks diverged from ‘cattle’ 1-2 million years ago.
European Aurochs went extinct by the 17th-18th century due to hunting, loss of habitat and due to breeding into their own descendent cattle. Indian Aurochs (which are the Aurochs shown in the Sindhu-Saraswati civilisation seals and found on Indian stone age petroglyphs) had humps; they went extinct by deforestation as the Saraswati dried up, or breeding back into their own descendent Zebu.
Having to face wild predators, especially lions who hunt in prides, all Aurochs had huge horns; the ancient range of the Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) and the range of the Indian have a lot of common area.
So, at least some Zebu breeds descended from Indian Aurochs and originating in arid Western India have also got large horns from the ancestry of these big-horned Aurochs, retained in evolution, as a safeguard against predatory animals, though of no value in complete domestication.
Eg. Gujarat’s Kathiawar / Saurashtra, which is also the home range of the last population stronghold of the Gir lions, has the long-horned Kankrej breed; as we move into central and southern Gujarat, the Gir breed of Zebu too has long horns. Gir lions have been known to prey on both cattle and buffaloes.
Of all world cultures, the Indo-Europeans have cherished keeping cattle. For India, abstaining from eating cattle flesh while having cattle milk, respecting and protecting cattle and measuring wealth through cattle became a mark of India’s civilisation. Indian vegetarians too have milk products, and are lacto-vegetarians. Milk products are offered to Hindu Gods and Goddesses and are part of event cuisine, festivals and food culture.
Even as Europeans and non-Indian Indo-Europeans ate beef, they continued to have dairy products, due to which the whole issue of crossing European and Indian cattle arose.
Buffaloes have entered India through the east. The Mithun is kept in North Eastern India and the yak across the Himalayas. But, the whole of India is studded with different cattle breeds of Bos indicus.
The two types of cattle:
Cattle horns, the presence / absence of the hump, milk types, ancestry and location together differentiate today’s domesticated cattle into two totally different types: Taurine and Zebu:
(1) The humped (Zebu) Indian cattle (Bos indicus) which produce milk called A2 milk, and have many breeds with long, upwardly or backwards-growing horns;
(2) The humpless European (Taurine) cattle (Bos taurus) which produce A1 milk and have fewer breeds with larger horns; generally taurine cattle never have horns growing backwards and most taurine breeds have shorter horns, though there are some forward oriented longhorned Taurinebreeds.
So deep is the difference that indeed, the ancestors of these two types of cattle were thus two well-differentiated populations (subspecies) of Aurochs with totally different looks, originating in two totally different regions and whose cultures are today followed by two totally different faith systems!
A1 and A2 refer to a difference in the beta-casein protein in the two different milks, which is genetic. Indian cow milk has health benefits not found in Jersey milk which is considered harmful (diabetogenic and much more).
Keith Woodford, a New Zealander scientist, has conducted research and presented his findings, which have reached India through many sources, the most notable being the movement of swadeshi by the late Rajeev Dikshit. Quotes an article on Woodford’s work on A2 milk: “There’s a devil in the milk, says agricultural scientist Keith Woodford, and it has little to do with production methods.” Woodford’s startling thesis, backed up by a pile of research, is that a mutation many years ago created an aberrant protein in some European cows, called A1 cows to set them aside from all other cows, which are called A2. As a result, the milk from these cows has been linked to a host of maladies, including Type 1 diabetes, autism and heart disease.”
Thus the A1-milk-causing mutation was “a few years ago”. There are different types of casein proteins, and within one is a particular type called the beta-casein, where there are these two variations, A1 and A2. Taurine cattle produce A1, Zebu cows produce A2.
‘That European and Indian cattle are totally different species’ can be a term applied with scientific proof while comparing European and Indian cattle: genetic analyses of the diversity of the sequences of matrilineal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of modern cattle (both taurine and zebu) and of Aurochs (taken from zoo-archeological samples) reveal a marked differentiation between modern Bos taurus and Bos indicus haplotypes, demonstrating and confirming their derivation from two geographically and genetically divergent wild Auroch populations: Eurasiatic+ Near Eastern, and Indian, respectively, as also suggested from zooarchaeological evidence of their comparative skeletal anatomy. The extent of sequence divergence between the taurine and zebu mtDNA sequence groups has been estimated in the order of 200,000 years!
Cattle populations have moved with migrating humans along ancient or medieval trade routes like the Silk Route; cattle have also been introduced with human settlement or into areas colonised by Westerners where there were no cattle at all previously; new breeds have also been introduced where there were other breeds before. Japan has some Taurine cattle; Mongolian cattle are < 20% Zebu and >80% Taurine. Eastern Africa has Zebu, the rest of Africa has a mix of Zebu and Taurine cattle.
Yet, India, South East Asia and to some extent eastern Iran and Eastern Africa have always had only Zebu cattle, while Europe has always had only Taurine cattle. The humped cattle are thus endemic or enzootic to the region today that coincides with Akhanda Bharat; they have been taken to Europe, the Americas and the Australian continent only after their export from India the 20th century onwards. In contrast, the Taurine humpless cattle are endemic to Europe and the Near East and have been introduced into India only during Operation Flood or the White Revolution after 1968, but have historically never been in India.
SEED FOR ACTIVISM:
Covered in greater detail in subsequent blogs, introduced here as a subject
1. Crossbreeding cattle – effects:
Since the Bos indicus (देशी गौ) and Bos taurus (विदेशी प्राणी) populations diverged thousands of years, crossbreeding them is an anthropogenic venture of the 20th century which hadn’t happened in nature.
India has lost germ plasm of its livestock biodiversity as farmers diluted their gene pools of desi cows. India is supposed to have had 1200 varieties of Desi cows, today the government has recognised just 40 so far.
Crossbred cattle certainly produce more milk, but that is more input-intensive and they do not thrive under Indian conditions, falling sick due to stress of climate and intensive dairying.
Meanwhile many good individuals of Indian cattle have been shifted out of India. So the very breed we want to rejuvenate is now requiring semen importing or repurchasing back from other countries.
Indian cows are being bred for milk and beef in Brazil, and are being studied in the US. Sri Lankan Zebu have also been reared in Australia. At this rate, India stands to lose germ plasm, with a narrow gene pool.
Doing away with the bull and replacing him with the tractor is another flawed policy. We lose 50% germ plasm when we cull bullcalves. It enbrazens the farmer to accept the lure of profit from selling to the butcher over retaining the bullcalves as future sires.
Besides this, there is the danger of A1 milk.
So, while Indian cows are endangered, Indian agriculture also suffers.
2. Rajeev (Rajiv) Dikshit
He is credited to having awakened a lot of Indians to Swadeshi and to the importance of the Desi cow, including having fought a case in the Supreme Court of India against cattle slaughter.
Rajiv Dikshit was murdered by poisoning.
3. Investigative resurgent nationalism in food systems, agroecological advocacy and governance:
As the dairy industry kept its stranglehold on the world dairy market disconnected from rural society and caught in the throes of urbanisation, Woodford’s research has been shoved under the carpet with pseudoscience to refute his research. The tentacles of the dairy industry extend to suppressing research on veganism, incomplete education on milk in universities and consequent flawed policies in governance, wreaking havoc on livestock biodiversity, human health and culture. Commercial animal agriculture of all types is as bad for human sensibilities as commercial plant agriculture: if the harm due to meat consumption or A1 milk consumption is suppressed by the commercial animal agriculture industry which promotes the White Revolution and Pink Revolution, the machinations behind GMO promotion or the promotion of the proven-failed Green Revolution are suppressed by commercial plant agriculture. Thus, uncovering the truth about why Indian households drink A1 milk, sell A2 producing cattle for slaughter and why successive governments promote agricultural chemicals and GMOs must be considered one single category of investigative, nationalistic activism.
4. Political points in the realm of activism for Desi cows.
- Conspiracy behind policy-making? Spreading the Green revolution from Punjab and the White Revolution from Gujarat… the effect of cattle crossbreeding on Indian biodiversity, agriculture and human health
- Humped cows, the politics of taxonomic shuffling, cattle genetics and its effect on rethinking the Aryan invasion Theory / Aryan Migration Theory…
- Cow Protectionism: the next BIG movement after the Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan for Hindu resurgence
- From cow protectionism to a change in India’s polity and economics
- Whither buffalo? The connection between buffalo protection and cow protection
- Recovering the germ plasm of Pakistani, Afghanistani, Baluchistani and Kashmiri as well as Northeastern / Bangladeshi Bos indicus from being lost to Eid slaughter
Featured image courtesy:
The extremely endangered and beautiful Gangatiri cow of Varanasi region