Archive for January, 2022

Abide with me

Posted by Dev Baul - 29/01/22 at 11:01 pm

Abide With Me

I have walked a bit in Shanti Niketan—in and around the various departments of Viswa-Bharati University.


The Kala Bhavan premises are strewn with works of art from the master artists/sculptors and students—Ramkinkar Baij’s eight sculptures stand out amongst them.


Owing to the unavailability of suitable material and financial constraints, Ramkinkar made do with materials like concrete and laterite mortar to create the masterpieces. This has given an earthy feel and helped to weather the elements for eighty-plus years. Also, granite or bronze would be a rather unbefitting material for Ramkinkar’s spartan subjects—Gandhi, Buddha, Santhal Family, and Sujata.


The Gandhi statue was under repair at the time of my visit. The scaffolding around the statue made it surrealistic—as if the Mahatma would come to life and break open the fetters and walk away from the pedestal.


Curiously, the ruling entity of the day always found it convenient to keep Gandhi under fetters or on a pedestal. Whenever the British needed to move Gandhi away from the action, they would arrest him and release him unconditionally after things cooled off—in 1942, this cooling-off period stretched to two years. After 1950, the newly elected government found it handy to use him on currency notes, put him on a Father-of-the-Nation pedestal, unfollow him, and run the country as per its own counsel.


The present government has dropped all the inconvenient Gandhi shibboleths and has officially decided not to abide with him.


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To Beef, To Buff, or To Bluff Is the Question

Posted by Dev Baul - 21/01/22 at 06:01 pm

A shop selling  fssai  certified Buff and Beef somewhere in India, circa 2021


 Statutory disclosure – I am no beef/buff eater though I do partake of Beefeater occasionally. Also, I do believe that Indian citizens should be free to eat any animal meat that can be bred.



The three industries viz. Dairy(8 Mn), Leather(4 Mn), and Buff Meat(2 Mn) dependent on bovine livestock employ 14 million Indians, roughly 1% of the population.


·      India is the largest producer of milk and milk products accounting for 15-20% of the world’s production. From a milk-deficient country in the 1960s,  India has come a  long way to be where it is today.


·      In leather, India ranks amongst the top five leather and leather-goods producing countries and most of the raw material is bovine hide.


·      India has been amongst the top 3–4 beef(Carabeef) exporting countries accounting for 10-15% of the total world beef consumption. As per current regulations, the only bovine meat that is allowed for export is buffalo meat aka  Carabeef or Buff(India and Nepal usage).


In India, we have been hung up on cattle for long. The Constituent Assembly found it expedient to include it in the directive principles and subsequently some states have enacted laws to make cow slaughter a punishable offense. In the last 7-8 years, new terms like Go-Raksha and mob-lynching have come into public discourse.


But how are the three industries doing, given this legal framework, the political rhetoric, and the extra-judicial vigilantism? Let us look at some numbers.


Cattle-Buffalo poulation

Unlike the human census, the livestock census in India takes place every five years. From the data, we find that the total bovine population has increased from 198 million in 1951 to 302 million in 2019. While in the same period cattle numbers have moved from 155 million to 193 million(24% increase), buffalo numbers have moved from 43 million to 110 million(153% increase).

Also, we find the cattle to buffalo ratio has moved south from 3.58 in 1951 to 1.75 in 2019. This ratio is declining steadily,  not because of cow slaughter but because it makes less economic sense to breed cows than buffaloes. Milk yield is way higher for buffaloes. Secondly, for buffaloes there exists an exit route at the end of economically useful life. For cows, the only exit route is abandonment on the roads.

One would think that with stricter laws and extra-judicial vigilantism the bovine(cattle plus buffalo) numbers would go up substantively. But in the period 2012–2019, the numbers have risen marginally from 300 million to  302 million.

Though the constitution or the state-enacted laws do not proscribe buffalo slaughter for the leather industry, the uncertain and vicious air of lynching has led to the closure of even licensed abattoirs and thus a shrinking supply chain for the leather industry. For the first time, India had to import hides to keep its shoe-uppers and leather factories going. The moot point is that Go-rakshaks and I, both need to protect their feet with shoes necessarily made from bovine hide and they will not know whether it is made from cattle hide or buffalo hide.

So, two of the three labor-intensive industries and their workers, dependent on bovine livestock are facing a bleak future. The government’s aspirations for these export-oriented industries and the policy pronouncements/interventions are contrary and counteractive. While the government wants these industries to grow to ease the balance of payment situation, its political compulsions force it to overlook the extra-judicial vigilantism that has created a distrustful and dysfunctional society.

Article 48 of the Constitution is purposed for the welfare of one named species viz Bos Indicus (Indian cow/cattle). The constituent assembly saw merit in separating the economy from the religion and accordingly, they excluded bovine animals other than the Indian cow (Bos Indicus)  from the non-slaughter list. But the government has effectually left the implementation of this policy/law in the hands of go-rakshaks who choose not to make a distinction between cattle and buffalo products. This ostrich-like head-in-sand attitude of the government has led to a governance paralysis in the bovine economy.

Bluffing about beef/buff is more politically rewarding than implementing Article 48 in right earnest. Sadly, it is devastating for the economy and society at large.


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