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Holy Cow! It can be good to be cattle class

Shobhan Saxena,  13 March 2010, 09:13 PM IST

Lima Duarte (Brazil): As we were driving down to this small, scenic village in the state of Minas Gerais in the southern part of the country, a story I had read a few years ago kept coming back to my mind. The story was about a cow in Varanasi. The stray cow was operated upon by the doctors of BHU medical college after she was found bleeding and writhing in pain on a street. The doctors operated on the cow and removed a ‘tumour’ in the stomach, which turned out be a bloodied bundle of 50 kilograms of polythene. The poor cow had been living on polythene for years. In the holiest of the holy Indian town, the cows’ staple diet is polythene, which they find in hundreds of open garbage dumps all over the city. 

We were off to a small farm house in the heart of Minas Gerais, which can be compared to Punjab. It’s green and prosperous. It’s an agricultural belt with farmers growing dozens of different crops and raising cattle and living life to the full, eating the best food and drinking the best liquor. The reason I kept thinking about the Varanasi cow was that we were going to see "Indian" cows at a beautiful farm owned by Marcos, who is a middle-level farmer by Brazilian standards. In India, Marcos, who owns some 40 cows and huge tracts of land on which he grows corn, sugarcane, many vegetables and fruits, would be considered a big farm house owner. 

Anyway, coming back to the cows, my interest was to see the Indian cows, called ‘Gee’, on Marcos’ farm. How the Indian cows reached Brazil is an interesting story. Soon after Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India in 1498, the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1500. While in India they were happy with just establishing trading posts on the western coast, the Potuguese began to colonise parts of north-eastern part of South America. As they began to settle down here, they brought cows from Europe. Due to the heat in the tropical climate of Brazil, the European cows could not survive and the Portuguese turned to India for cattle. For two centuries, hundreds of thousands of cattle were brought from India – mainly from Andhra Pradesh – to Brazil. Over the years, many of these cows were mixed with Dutch cows. Though Brazil has a large number of mixed-breed cattle, almost 90% of the cows here still carry Indian genes. 

 Marcos with his 'Indian' cows at his farm

MEET A FARMER: Marcos with his 'Indian' cows at his farm

That’s where the similarities end. The cows at Marcos’ farm give 40 litres of milk every day -- 20 litres twice a day. Though many of these cows are of mixed breed, some of them have strong Indian features. Though they look like Indian cows, they produce milk almost 10 times more than the poor Indian cows. Why? As we walked around the farm, I got my answer. The cows here eat a healthy diet – corn, sugarcane, herbal grass and clean drinking water. They live in clean, airy sheds. They are given baths twice a day. They are examined and vaccinated by a veterinary regularly. And they have green pastures on which they spend hours, chewing the cud.   

A farmhand treating a cow for a small wound 

SACRED ANIMAL: A farmhand treating a cow for a wound

Marcos sells the milk produced at his farm to a cheese factory nearby. The factory collects the milk stored in a huge, refrigerated tank. The cheese made at the factory is known throughout the country, but is sold and consumed in the nearby towns and small cities. That’s how the local economy works here. And this economy has lifted all the people in the area.

Marcos lives in a big house with all the modern amenities. Though his life as a farmer is tough, his lifestyle is as good as the rich in India. The four men (farm hands) who work for him live a decent life too. As per law, Marcos pays them good salary, paid vacation and medical benefits. Though they live in smaller houses, they have access to all modern amenities.  It’s impossible not to compare this scenario with country life back home. Of course, we have very rich farmers in Punjab who live in mansions and shop at Oxford Street in London, but the people who work with them -- the Bihari migrant labour – still live life cattle class. The so-called tide of the Indian economic miracle hasn’t lifted all the boats. It might have sunk many.

Marcos having dinner with his family

VILLAGE LIFE: Marcos having dinner with his family

Spending two days at Marcos’  farm was an experience. It was nice and comfortable and we tasted the best food in the world. But there was a lesson too: farm owners, farm hands and animals and can live together in harmony, with everyone taking care of the other. It’s because of this attitude the Indian cows in Brazil produce so much milk. They are not abandoned or left to fend for themselves. They are taken care of. In almost all Indian cities, abandoned cows – thousand of them -- can be seen competing with street dogs for food in rubbish thrown on streets.

Some time back, we had a debate in India about holy cows and cattle class. Tragically, the whole discussion was about ministers flying business class. Holy cow is just a metaphor. So is the cattle class. The fact is we do not care about our cows nor do we care about the people in cattle class.

21 Comments |  Comments are closed Rated


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    YeahRight says:

    March 14,2010 at 12:36 AM IST

    We should care more about buffaloes, because they give more milk.


    satya says:

    March 14,2010 at 02:25 AM IST

    no body considers cow as holy anymore. people treat animals bad.., dogs and cows are both the same when they live on the street. it's a myth that the cow is holy animal in india.


    wakeupsid says:

    March 14,2010 at 02:28 AM IST

    Farm labourers get paid leave and medical benefits in Brazil. Is it really true? I believe Brazil is an emerging country like India and then how come the farmers there have such a high living standard than us. Isn't it a tragedy that we call ourselves a country of agricultarists but we ignore agriculture. Thats the reason agricultural production in India has been falling.

    (Reply to wakeupsid)- Ankur says:

    April 29,2010 at 05:32 AM IST

    There are developing countries .... Russia, Brazil, China and then there's India. I find it funny when my relatives compare India with countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia ... India is unparalleled in terms of poverty (only Pakistan and Bangladesh compare) ... it's time to realise it and stop talking of being a superpower and start talking of getting a basic quality of life for all people.


    An Indian says:

    March 14,2010 at 02:58 AM IST

    wow man, good write up. you are right in all this debate about holy cow and cattle class, we forgot the real cows.


    Qaari says:

    March 15,2010 at 01:45 AM IST

    With one cow yielding 40 liters milk in Brazil they hardly need to mix water in it for making more profit. Here in India they have found ways to make milk additives artificially to increase volume and also asli ghee with chemicals like urea. They will hardly need a cow in future. Plastic bags will be there because it is easy to use it for adultriated milk packing.


    Chandran Dharmalingam says:

    March 16,2010 at 02:38 AM IST

    The metaphor does not end there. Unlike the Brazilian farmer, who becomes chain in the local economy, the holy cow in the Indian context, read Indian farmer, has been forced to become a non-entity in the mighty onslaught of corporate over-power. We will shut our eyes when the India inc.fattens its under belly by ingeniously usurping the allocations made for our farmers in routine budgets, taking tactical routes. We would allow our farmers to court Vidherba-type suicides. Food inflation might have reached himalayan proportions; food prices refuse to come down; farmers may be given raw deal in prices for their agricultural produces. Our villages may continue to suffer from parched throats for want of clean drinking water. We may allow our rivers to go dry
    by adding our bit to the holy duty of stinking them. But we never stop preaching & prescribing the fodder of forbearance and tolerance to our
    gullible farmers. After all, we have dozes of IPLs to put our farmers into temporary intoxication. We may build circuitous fly-overs in the already darkened cities to make our migrating farmers to marvel at the shining India, even while their bellies are starving. We may deify yet another politician in the lines of gods by building statues, even while our farmers are made living skeletons devoid of even minimum space to breathe in the free India. We may take pride in our print and visual media in their social duty of celebrating celebrities' daughters attaining the age of puberty, even while our farmers are searching their addresses as citizens of India. But then, Brutus is an honourable man. Not that, he loved Ceaser less, but he loved Rome more. For us nothing is wrong if we extend the exalted status of sacrificial lamb to our farmers. We do so in the name of saving our democracy !


    Manu says:

    March 16,2010 at 02:47 PM IST

    Its an interesting write up and a good message associated with it. I am an Indian living in Turkey there is always one question on my mind , can we see any change in the attitude of the people and truth always hurts , its lack of this thing that makes the situation worst. Can you share how can this be achieved from your experiences . I belong to Agriculture field and truth is the govt subsidies is making the people lazy towards agriculture. ALWAYS LIVING IN HARMONY IS BEST THAN LIVING LAVISHLY.


    Chris Tardelli Pillai says:

    March 17,2010 at 10:11 AM IST

    My grandparents live in the heart of Minas Gerais, the place is called Vale do Jequitinhonha, They live in a beautiful farm, Like this one, that you visited, And they do the same! My grandma take care of "mimosa" (her favorite), like she takes care of a baby...Here, when sometimes on big roads people find animals, dogs, cows, horses, They usually call the police, and They try to find the owner, who has to pay a small amount of money, Animals living on road is a synonym of accidents and death!
    Check out this video:


    hortense vaughan says:

    March 18,2010 at 11:02 PM IST

    I know nothing of Indian cows but we have thousands of Brahmin cattle which are descended from cattle imported from India in the last fifty years. These Brahmin cattle do very well in our tropics and although they are not dairy cattle they are good to eat.

    (Reply to hortense vaughan)- redbull says:

    March 19,2010 at 07:04 PM IST

    Hortense or is it horse? you are eating Brahmin cows???? which country you live in??? next birth, you will born as cow and the cow will eat you.

    (Reply to redbull)- roma says:

    March 20,2010 at 05:32 AM IST

    Bramhin cows taste the best. I bet that you will be born as a cow in your next lifetime and eat the polybags.


    Avijeet says:

    March 19,2010 at 06:44 PM IST

    comparing india with the present story is logical. Unless people of india does not come up with rational and logical thinkig and a feeling of brotherhood nothing can be done. Here the cenario is that people are getting literate but not educated.


    Deepak says:

    March 20,2010 at 02:16 PM IST

    While there are many cows that are suffering from all sorts of ailments arising due to the consumption of plastics and garbage, there are in fact an overwhelming number of cows being butchered mercilessly for meat.
    Ours ancestors considered cows to be sacred because of its utility to mankind. They did not call every animal a 'mother'. It is high time that we should realize the importance of this animal.
    There was a yatra that took place last year to spread the awareness about cow and take initiatives to use it in the right way.


    Deepak says:

    March 20,2010 at 02:42 PM IST

    While there are many cows that are suffering from all sorts of ailments arising due to the consumption of plastics and garbage, there are in fact an overwhelming number of cows being butchered mercilessly for meat.
    Ours ancestors considered cows to be sacred because of its utility to mankind. They did not call every animal a 'mother'. It is high time that we should realize the importance of this animal.
    There was a yatra that took place last year to spread the awareness about cow and take initiatives to use it in the right way.


    Ane says:

    March 22,2010 at 02:25 AM IST

    Although the cow is not seen as sacred or''mother''in Brazil my mother told me when I was little my grandmother used to say that the cow was sacred for giving us food and she was able to cry before his death. I respect any form of life, and I think anywhere in the world the animal must be treated well.
    Congratulations for the article. Your blog is very interesting.


    h n satyanarayana says:

    April 29,2010 at 12:52 PM IST

    It is sheer wastage of paper to compare our country with others. Here politicians, rich and famous chew and ruminate everything they come across i.e chaara to wdas of currency, Then what is left for poor cows to eat?


    Amit says:

    May 01,2010 at 01:56 PM IST

    Nice write up on something that rarely catches our attention. Nice to see you picked up a topic which looks small, but in the Indian context a much bigger issue. The problem lies deeply rooted. I am an Indian myself and lives abroad. We may blame Indian politician and the generic mindset of people in India but we too, really fails to make an effort to bring any change.The NGO working in this direction need support from everyone. right rom financial help to volunteering.


    Neeraj - Raebareli class says:

    May 11,2010 at 07:25 AM IST

    Good point shobhan , with my last few years experience in dairy farm Industry in India I can say that our cows have ability to perform much better and bring more prosperity if they are provided comfort and food. We can see this happening with help from DeLaval in many farms in India who are adopting commercial dairy farming. Do let me know if you wish to visit some of these farms.


    escort cheap london says:

    May 16,2010 at 08:42 AM IST

    It was very interesting for me to read that article. Thanx for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read more soon.

    Bella Swenson


    London media says:

    May 21,2010 at 02:34 PM IST

    Truly it is extremely interesting for me to read that post. Thanx for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.


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    Shobhan Saxena is an editor with Sunday Times of India. Though his interests range from international issues, human rights and politics to art & culture, what really fascinates him is the extraordinary lives of ordinary people -- the men and women on the street, their lives and their views on everything under the sun. Here, he tries to capture small slices of those colourful lives in India and abroad.
    The views expressed in Main Street are the author´s own.
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