On the 2 March 2015, Section 5D of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, came into effect, 19 years after its first proposal. This banned the sale, consumption and even possession of beef in the Indian state of Maharastra, which includes the financial capital of India, Mumbai. On the 16th March, Haryana, the state adjacent to Delhi, followed suit and passed harsh prohibitive measures; slaughtering a cow can now land you 3-10 years jail and a hefty fine.
These laws were intended to protect the rights of cattle. However in an unexpected turn, this legislation has had a dramatic and terrible effect; mass bovine unemployment. After cattle have passed the years of milk production and become barren, they are simply laid-off. Without prospects of being employed in the fast-food or gourmet food industries, cows are reduced to a state of aimless pauperism. Un-productive cattle are now condemned to wander the streets, eating from the waste left behind by humans, until they drop down dead.
The legislation has led to a spike in the number of ‘herds’, gangs of unemployed cows that call the streets their home. These ‘herds’ have reportedly been involved in a number of civil disturbances. Police lathi (bamboo cane) charges, which form the tried and tested methods of crowd control in India, have by-and-large been ineffective at dispersing these ‘herds’. The offences committed by unemployed cows range in severity. Traffic is often halted by immobile groups of cattle, who sit on roads in what have been referred to as ‘sit ins’, perhaps a nod to the protest tactics of Ghandi and Martin Luther-King. In Chennai, 600 cows are reportedly ‘imprisoned’ every month for disrupting traffic. Once released, however, these cattle easily slip back into old habits. In some areas of India, authorities have suggested employing cattle to manage traffic instead of police. This movement has been hampered by police, unhappy about the prospect of being replaced by cows at traffic posts.
There have also been reports of unemployed cows involved more violent cases, including assaults on fruit and vegetable sellers. These have prompted police to start taking livestock mug-shots. It is hoped that these drastic measures will deter unemployed cows from engaging in anti-social behaviour. Whatever the nature of the disturbance, bovine unemployment is clearly having a devastating effect on the moral and social fabric of India.
Unfortunately it has been impossible to pin down a single unemployed cow for an interview. We have repeatedly tried to approach cows in the streets, but have been unable to engage a single one of the animals in coherent conversation. They tend to be totally un-responsive and have a glazed-over look in their eyes. Others still have been unable to talk due to severe cases of gurning. Both of these are common symptoms of hard drug abuse. It is clear from these examples that there is a direct correlation between cattle unemployment and drug addiction.
Another terrible symptom of this mass employment has been cattle migration, often illegal. Since the legislation, there has also been an increase of cattle-traffiking from India to Bangladesh. Due to the high population of Muslims, it is believed that cows have greater chance of employment in this country. The southern state of Kerala has also come out as strongly opposed to the so called ‘beef ban’. The communist led government strongly sympathises with labouring cows, and has recently announced a state-wide ‘beef festival’ to raise awareness about unemployed cattle.
There are currently a number of activists attempting to alleviate bovine unemployment in India. Former employers, ranging from local Beef producers to McDonalds and Burger King, have joined in attempts to alleviate the worst effects of the beef ban on cattle employment. Other groups, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), though approving of the harsh regulations against cattle employment, have decided to construct shelters for unemployed cattle across India. Here the public may come to wash and feed the unemployed cows.
It is clear that the restrictive legislation imposed on cows is damaging far more than their employment prospects. It has led to a disintegration of the secular basis of the Indian state, and has had a critical impact on the economy. If the rest of India follows the same path taken in Maharashtra and Haryana (as some senior politicians hope) we may be faced with a level of bovine unemployment that could bring India to its democratic knees.