It takes a lot to impress Sanjay Amaan, the 42-year-old man in the western Indian city of Mumbai who runs a publication dedicated to cows. Called Gau Bharat Bharati (Hindi for “Indian Cow’s Voice”), the publication covers some of the most raging issues concerning cows—their health, data and the politics around it.
The national weekly, which is arguably India’s first, was set up in 2015 and has an annual subscriber base of 5,000 “cow lovers”.
But Amaan, who calls himself a gau bhakt (Hindi for cow devotee, or cow lover), knows not much is being done in India for gau mata (Hindi for mother cow).
Last week, the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh announced India’s first ever “cow cabinet”, which has six departments under five ministries to work specifically for the conservation and welfare of cows. Early this week, the cow cabinet also considered taxing Indians to maintain cowsheds and promote cow dung, cow urine and milk.
“This is not enough,” Amaan told VICE World News.“This country has mostly seen political leaders politicising cows. We need real gau rakshaks (cow saviours) to protect cows, not politicians.”
Sanjay Amaan (man in white and red tikka) at a cow ceremony. Photo courtesy Sanjay Amaan
The cow fixation is endemic in Indian culture, society and politics. Ancient texts mention cows as symbols of fertility and abundance. India’s history of cow protection movements is more than two centuries old.
But the last few years—especially with the rise of the Hindu nationalist ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—have witnessed rising incidents of lynchings by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes. Majority of the victims have been Muslims, triggering communal tensions. Many of the lynchings happened just on suspicions of the victim carrying beef.
Cow vigilantism killed at least 44 people between May 2015 and 2018. Human Rights Watch said that support for cow protection attracts Hindu majoritarian votes. Cow slaughter is also illegal in most parts of India. Last month, a high court in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh observed that the cow protection laws are being misused against innocent people. In the southern Indian state of Karnataka, some BJP legislators are demanding bringing back anti-cow slaughter laws.
“In India, cows will always be a hot topic,” said Amaan. We caught up with the man to understand what a cow lover looks like in modern India, his newspaper dedicated to cows, and why no other animal deserves the pedestal that cows are allotted in India. Excerpts:
VICE World News: Hey Sanjay. How did Gau Bharat Bharati come into being?
Sanjay Amaan: I wanted to start a publication that brings awareness about nature and all its animals, including cows. We are a 1.3 billion population and we have 30 crore (300 million) cows [Note: Data says India has almost 192.49 million cattle]. At some point, India was dependent on cows for everything but now we have problems like adulterated milk. Our desi cows are vanishing too, because of global warming.
Journalism is a medium to bring out the story, inform the authorities about what’s happening on the ground, and tell people that we need cows in everyday life. Concrete cities do not give life. If you want to breathe, you will have to go out in nature. Cows are essential for mankind.
What triggered you into taking up the cause of cows?
I was a political journalist. I saw a lot of political events, how people politicised cows. Our publication is not political at all. Mainstream media always sensationalise issues. We’ve also seen violence over cows in the last few years. In the times of this noise, I wanted to create something that just presents facts. In India, cows are linked to everything—from agriculture, employment, farmer suicides. I’m the son of a farmer. I know the value of cows in everyday life.
Amaan calls himself a cow lover who is devoted to issues related to cows.
Didn’t the politics over cows affect you and your organisation?
Cows are always a hot topic in India. Every political party exploits the subject of cows. Controversies also take shape, people get murdered and some elements are terrorising others using cows. Politicians may take up the cause of cows but they never do anything concrete about them. There are policies on paper that are rarely implemented. We need to bring real gau rakshaks in the front. Sadly, real gau rakshaks don't have the means to protect cows, nor the infrastructure.
What about those gau rakshaks who use violent ways in the name of protecting cows?
Real gau rakshaks do gau sewa (cow welfare). They will never be violent. If some cow smuggling case takes place, a gau rakshak takes legal recourse and uses animal aid to investigate the case. They never attack other people. These incidents on the name of gau raksha are purely political. However, those incidents are few. Lynchings do not happen all the time.
What do you think of the cow cabinet in Madhya Pradesh (MP)?
It’s a good step but they need a budget to actually make things rolling. Where will that come from? The MP government has taken loans in the recent past. How will they get money to protect cows? One way is to impose gau seva (cow welfare) tax. There’s more they can do, like include private NGOs in their cabinet. They work day and night for the cows and can make a big difference.
Should the rest of India also follow suit?
Every state has an animal husbandry department. There is no need for a separate ministry. But there can be committees with specialised focus. Government officials usually lack the will to work. They make cabinets, but it’s not necessary that they’re all interested in cows. These committees should just include cow lovers.
The latest edition of "Gau Bharat Bharati", which features the news on Madhya Pradesh government and its "cow cabinet". The front pages are always dedicated to cows.
Shouldn’t other animals be treated the same as cows too?
There’s science behind why cows are more valuable. When the world was created, living beings and nature were created to maintain a balance. And the most important of all living creatures is cows. They’re a part of our religious texts. They take care of humans. That’s why we call them mothers. Take a family for instance, mothers always provide for the family. A father may run off and abandon a family. A mother will never do that. No other animal can compare, and that is why not all animals are equal. It’s all based on science.
Cow products are big business in India. Gomutra (cow urine) is a $1 billion business, according to one claim. Is it good to capitalise cows?
It’s right to commercialise cows because that’s how they will be saved. Plus, cow products are hugely beneficial for people.
Is there any article or coverage that you liked the most?
When it comes to issues of cows, you can’t play favourites. The subject itself is a favourite. When Maharashtra banned cow slaughter, we covered it and we appreciated the move. Our forte is to never sensationalise the coverage, like mainstream media. We stay away from politics.
How would you describe your readers?
We’re very niche, and our readers are all gau lovers. Ultimately, every Hindu is a gau bhakt. I can’t speak for the rest of our staff of around 30 (across India), but I’m definitely a gau bhakt too.
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