As a severe lover of meat, I was told that when I go to India – the number one country with the highest percentage of vegetarians at 42%, that they occasionally eat chicken but they do not eat beef. In many Indian states, the slaughter of cows is already illegal, making it difficult to buy, sell, and, as a result, eat, beef. And I wanted to know why.
Vegetarianism is deeply rooted in culture and religion, Hindus and Jains who represent more than 80% of the population in India, often do not eat eggs or consume any dairy products – it is a country where veganism is high.
Hindus regard the cow as a sacred animal which they respect, honor and adore. To my understanding, the cow symbolises all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. A cow needs nothing but grain and grass, but in return it provides milk which creates several other dairy products.
Every January, the religious Hindu festival of Sankranti takes place, where the open fields in farming villages throughout India are filled with people dressed in their best attire celebrating the harvest and new beginnings. However – it is difficult to say who is more colourful – the people or the cattle being led to the field. This festival day, is for honoring the cattle and everything the cow gives.
In Maharashtra, where killing the animal is illegal, a law was passed banning the possession of beef and also the slaughter of bulls and bullocks. Instead, buffalo is offered as an alternative.
India may be the lowest consumer of beef with just 3.2kg per person per year (about 120kg less than the US) but the country’s livestock population includes 115 million buffaloes – which is 58% of the entire world’s buffalo population. And they hold the title for the world’s biggest buffalo exporter, with 1.53 million tons of ‘beef’ being produced every year.
However there has been much controversy over the last two decades as to whether the red meat being exported out of the country is actually buffalo – or if it is the sacred cow.
Just last week on the 8th of April, the Times of India published a story exposing the illegal export of cow meat from India. It was reported the Mumbai City Crime Branch busted a major ‘illegal beef export racket’ with the seizure of 6.5 tons of meat, from four warehouses in Dharavi.
Local police claimed that the illegally exported ‘beef’ was going to Vietnam for dog food, with it being wrongly declared as buffalo meat. Three people have been arrested under causing mischief by killing or maiming cattle and being unable to identify the meat as said buffalo. All parties currently deny the meat export being beef.