One news-item which did not get the attention it deserved in the New Year was about 1,00,000 technicians armed with a two-piece machine fanning out to every nook and cranny of the country to give a 12-digit unique identification number to every cow and buffalo. There are an estimated 8.8 million such animals and the idea is to complete the identification work by the end of this year.
When I read the report, I remembered George Orwell's famous novel Animal Farm where the animals revolt against human beings and establish a Republic of Animals. It was a satire against Stalinist Communism. Though his novel Nineteen Eighty Four in which the Big Brother watches even what happens in the citizen's bedroom received greater attention, critics consider Animal Farm as a greater work.
I do not fear an immediate takeover of the state by the animals as depicted in the novel, because in many respects the takeover has already happened.
We will come to that in an instant. What the technicians sent by the Animal Husbandry Department will do is to affix an eight-gram tag that contains its UID to the inside region of its ear.
The government claims that once the tag is affixed, it cannot be removed with a wrench and it will last long. That is until the animal dies a natural death and its last rites are performed. The technician will also note down details like the breed of the animal, the vaccination date and also details of the owner, including his Aadhar number. Once the UIDs of the animal and its owner are linked, they will remain bonded in numbers like Siamese siblings.
The technicians have been given a tablet computer each to record the details which will be transferred into a national registry from which each animal's biodata will be generated and sent to its owner. Since the UID is in 12 digits, there will be no difficulty in including any increase in the animal strength in the coming years. The technology used is the state of the art. Not many know that a pilot programme was initiated in this regard in Haryana, where the Aryans first settled down in 1500 BC and whose Haryanvi language reportedly gave birth to Sanskrit.
Ever since the BJP came to power in the state, it has been doing everything possible to improve the condition of cows. I am a student of the Constitution. Nowhere does the Constitution grant any sacredness or holiness to the cow, though we all refer to the animal as Holy Cow.
There is a reference to the cow in Article 48 which says "The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle". Nowhere does the Constitution say that the cow is holy.
But in Haryana there is a new law which was enacted to strengthen the ban on cow slaughter that existed already in the state. It clearly refers to the cow as "sacred". Sacredness of the cow is based on the belief of a section of the people and it cannot be the rationale for enacting a law. It is a different matter that nobody questioned the law.
In fact, when the Bill was passed by the Assembly, former Congress Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda thought it necessary to hug his successor and present Chief Minister Manoharlal Khattar, who has been singularly engaged in protecting the interests of Gaumata. Take, for instance, some of the steps he has taken in this context.
If a cow is slaughtered for meat, the guilty can get a rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years. It is less riskier to kill a tiger, although it is the national animal coming under the protected variety. It attracts a lesser punishment of a maximum of seven years. Also, it is not rigorous.
Even man slaughter does not attract a severer punishment than cow slaughter. The Haryana law also provides for setting up laboratories in every district with equipment and trained personnel to determine whether a piece of meat is that of cow or dog or buffalo.
In other words, a beef eater cannot get away claiming that the meat he has is that of a buffalo. What's more, a person keeping even canned beef in his refrigerator can be caught and punished. To put it a little metaphorically, if a person buys a beef cutlet from the Kozhikkode railway station and forgets to eat it before the train enters Haryana, he can be punished for the offence of keeping beef in the once Kuru Kingdom, whose first capital was modern-day Assandh.
About 120 kms from Assandh is Jhajjar in the same state where five Dalits were killed for skinning a dead cow. They did not have a death certificate of the cow to prove that they were skinning a carcass. So they paid with their lives. By the way, the Jhajjar incident happened when the Congress was in power.
Now such incidents are unlikely to happen. Last year, the Haryana government introduced an identification system for the cows in the state. It is the same model that is being followed by the Modi government. The government will have a databank on all the cows. By just feeding the number into the system, the government would know how old the cow is and who its owner is.
The numbering of the cattle would cost the government hundreds of crores of rupees. The government says it will help in improving the breed, monitoring vaccination and health-related check-ups and increasing the milk yield.
The government wants to double the milk production by 2022. It is certainly a laudable objective. My question is, how will numbering increase milk production? As a teenager, my "homework" included collecting grass for our cow. It was not an easy job but I and my younger brother had to do it. We were also told not to throw away the banana skin which had to be put in the rice water served to the cow with supplements like oil-extracted coconut.
My mother taught us that if we gave good food to the cow it would give us more milk. If today my grandson is told to fetch fresh grass to feed the cow, he would immediately give a 12-digit number to the cow to increase its milk yield. The plan is as wonky as Modi's demonetisation which only exposed the lie that Pakistan had been printing 500 and 1000-rupee notes and distributing them in India. Incidentally, not one such note was captured during the last two months since November 8, 2016.
Let's assume that there are 8.8 million milch cattle. By the time the exercise of numbering is completed, roughly 10 per cent of them would have died or would have stopped supplying adequate quantity of milk. An equal number of new animals would have begun giving milk. This is because the productive period of an animal is less than 10 years.
This means that by the time every single milch cattle is given UID by December-end, the statistics would have become outdated. This necessitates introduction of a new system whereby it is mandatory for every cattle owner to get every birth and death of cattle registered. They should be given birth and death certificates as in the case of human beings. It is now mandatory to register marriages, whether it is performed in a church or a temple.
Since animals are not married, except when such marriages are organised to propitiate the rain god, it should be made compulsory for the cattle owner to give the government copulation details of their cattle. They should note down the exact date and time of the copulation and the breeds of both so that, if necessary, a horoscope of the calf can be prepared. Needless to say, it will also help the animal husbandry department to determine the quantity of milk it will create.
All this will give job opportunities to thousands of people. As a result of the strengthening of the cow law in Haryana, there is hardly any cow slaughter in the state. For reasons of safety, the Muslims of Mewat district have stopped rearing cows. They do not want to take any risks. They all have shifted to rearing buffaloes.
On the way to Nuh, the headquarters of the only Muslim-majority district in Haryana, one could see Muslim boys selling biriyani on roadsides. Often, the vessels containing biriyani were kept on the luggage carriers of their bicycles. Ever since the new law was introduced and a lady IPS officer was engaged to implement it, all of them have stopped selling biriyani. Hundreds of them lost their jobs.
Once cartoonist Abu Abraham called Devilal, a "bull with a China shop". The late leader did not understand what the cartoonist meant, for English idioms were as familiar to him as Kashmiri rogan josh, made of tender lamb meat, is to Narendra Modiji. To end the reader's curiosity, Devilal had brought a dozen or so cows from Haryana when as Union minister he was allotted a bungalow in Lutyens' Delhi.
As Muslims, in dread of the cow protection law, have stopped dealing with cows, the gaurakshaks have suddenly become jobless. Many of them can be employed to keep a register of deaths and births of cattle. Such offices should ideally be at every taluk headquarter.
By the way, Haryana is also a place where considerable research has been going on, on the therapeutic values of cow dung and cow urine. My own research has found that the cow dung in a city like Delhi resembles human excreta because they eat all waste, including meat waste clubbed with vegetable waste. Meanwhile, experiments have been going on in Haryana about using music to induce cows to produce more milk. It was found that cows enjoy music and in a musical state it yields more milk.
Let me explain what my mother used to do to induce the cow to give milk. She would first clean the udder and allow the calf to suck milk for a few seconds. Once the cow starts giving milk, she will keep the calf away and start milking the animal. I asked her about it and when she told me why she did so, I could not but ask her: "Is it not cheating the cow?"
In Haryana, the government is researching into how the yield can be increased by using not only the calf but also music. At the moment we do not know what music -- Carnatic or Hindustani, classical or semi-classical, pop or folk, female or male -- the cows enjoy the most.
It was in Haryana that hundreds of crores of rupees were spent during the AB Vajpayee regime at the Centre to find out the riverbed of the mythical Saraswati river by digging land. Few know about that crazy idea because it was not as breathtaking as demonetisation is. Though buffaloes are included in the UID programme for secular reasons, it is the humble cow which is the intended beneficiary.
The indigenous cow is becoming extinct. They are replaced by the imported variety. When a few decades ago, tens of thousands of cows were culled in Britain because of the mad cow disease, a distraught VHP leader demanded that India should import all such cows to save them from death. A more sensible BJP leader said at that time that the foreign cows could not be treated as gaumata. Jersey is now the most common breed in India and it is as Indian as the French cheese.
Will the UID make Indians more intelligent, smarter and more efficient? If not, how can it make cows more productive? I have read the biography of the Milkman of India the late Varghese Kurian. The book gave me a good idea of the state of Indian Dairy industry before Amul was launched. India was dependent on the West for milk powder.
Today India is the world's largest producer of milk. This white revolution was possible only when farmers were trained to have better high-yielding varieties of cow. Agencies like the Khaira Cooperative Milk Society had come up to buy milk from the farmers and process it to reach the consumer in various forms like curd and yoghurt.
Yes, tags are used by the Border Security Force to identify Indian cattle in the border areas and by the insurance companies to identify those which are insured. Nobody ever thought of giving every cow a UID and thus equate animal with man. That happens only in an Animal Farm.
Let there be a new law to ensure that owners of cows protect them and look after them and their progenies till they die of old age. Any ill-treatment of the animal like denying it food, water and medical care should attract severe punishment. Those pushing them on to the streets should get no mercy whatsoever. Can Modiji and Khattarji ensure this? Otherwise, the UID for animals is as wasteful an exercise as replacing the elegant 500 and 1000 currency notes with tasteless, poorly-designed and printed, pinkish 500 and 2000-rupee notes
The writer is a senior journalist. This article first appeared in Indian Currents