Plastic Cows and Synthetic Politics

A telling documentary relates the tragic tale of how India’s holy cows meet their death, even as the government and the courts and self-appointed protectors of  ‘gau mata’ sit back and do nothing

A cow seen rummaging through daily waste. Credit: Karuna Society for Animals and Nature

A cow seen rummaging through daily waste. Credit: Karuna Society for Animals and Nature

The survival of the cow is threatened in India. But an all-India ban on cow slaughter, holding that the animal is sacred, is going to help very little.

Want to save the cow? Then ban the use of plastic for garbage disposal and stop the open dumping of daily waste.

This message is conveyed very plainly – and with some hard-hitting visuals – in a documentary called Plastic Cow. Available on YouTube, the 34-minute film will shock anyone. It should particularly be watched by the self-appointed protectors of ‘gau mata’ – who have succeeded in making the cow a highly political animal but have failed so far to fight an important cause behind the tragic death of so many cows in this country.

Produced by the Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh-based Karuna Society for Animals and Nature with help from the Winsome Constance Kindness Trust, Australia, and made by Kunal Vohra, the film makes each one of us who dump our daily waste in cheap plastic bags guilty of killing the cow. It makes the milk drinker as complicit as the beef eater in this mass killing.

Delhi-based animal rights activist Rukmini Sekhar, associated with the Plastic Cow Project under which the film was produced in 2012, says, “The recent comments of politicians and others in TV debates and newspaper reports on the need to protect the cow in India make me laugh at their hypocrisy. It is the poor animal that has become a pawn in these discussions. The biggest loser on the issue is the animal; nobody seems to really care.”

Rukmini has a reason to be annoyed. In 2012, she, along with Karuna Society president Clementien Pauws and Kindness Foundation’s Phillip Wollen and Pradip Nath, the president of Vishakhapatnam-based animal rights organisation VSCPA, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on use of plastic bags in India because it violates the rights of animals, particularly the cow, to live a normal life.

“The last hearing of the case was in 2013. That shows how serious we are about saving the cow,” she remarks.

Rukmini says it is important to ask why we see so many cows wandering around as scavengers. “The meat eaters and the milk drinkers can’t remain aloof from this state of the cow. While butchers, who get to slaughter bulls because they don’t produce milk, let them out on the streets to eat garbage and get fattened for meat, the dairy farms also do the same for milch cows. They don’t want to spend a penny on fodder. And, once the cows stop producing milk, they too end up at the butcher’s.’’

Roaming on the streets, they are exposed to the open waste dumps. “We have said in the PIL that the use of plastics is a violation of the rights of all herbivores. They don’t have canines to tear open the bags and therefore end up swallowing them,” points out Rukmini.

The documentary compares the state of the cow in India to that of the Ganga – held sacred but neglected.

Says Jayanthi Iyengar, who brought the Plastic Cow Project to Noida in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 to spread awareness among people against use of plastic garbage bags to save the cow. “From the UP Chief Minister to the Noida District Magistrate to RWAs and schools, I have tried reaching out to everyone but have not been able to achieve much. A local NGO showed interest and performed over hundred street plays on the subject across Noida.”

She now hopes the Prime Minister comes out with a strong message to the people, may be through the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, to reduce consumption of poly bags and stop throwing them out recklessly.

A heap of plastic taken out of a cow. Credit: Karuna Society

A heap of plastic taken out of a cow. Credit: Karuna Society for Animals and Nature

Suggestions aside, what is riveting in the documentary is an operation conducted on a cow [WARNING: Graphic image] by the Karuna Society. The vets remove 52 kgs of plastic from its rumen.

Says Rukmini, “It is not a one-off example. Every single cow that you see on our streets carries plastic in its tummy and is going to meet a painful death.”