According to the criteria laid out by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his celebrated Four Freedoms speech, life is a mixed bag for millions of Indian cows. On the plus side, they are not confined to grim facilities that exist solely to turn their bovine inmates into hangar steaks. But though free-roaming Indian cows are spared the fear of the slaughterhouse, they rarely live in the lap of luxury—food and medical care are in short supply, and those weakened by these deprivations may be spirited off to tanneries by humans who value survival over religious obligation.
Politicians are now making a show of demonstrating their sensitivity to the cows’ plight, especially in the state of Punjab:
The Punjab government has announced the setting up of a cow protection cell in the office of the director general of police (DGP).
An official at the Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s office said Sunday that the Punjab government had ordered to establish a cow protection cell in the DGP office.
The cell will be manned by an officer not below the rank of inspector general (IG) in Punjab police.
The article does not explain precisely why Punjab’s cows require police protection. Nor does it mention just how many cows can expect to be housed at the central police station—I’m guessing that only a lucky handful will enjoy the department’s hospitality.
What is clear, however, is that the decision in Punjab reflects a nationwide trend—a revival, of sorts, of the cow protection movement that was integral to India’s early calls for independence. A cow commission dedicated to bovine welfare is now active in Haryana, while the Karnataka government is getting serious about ending the slaughter of all cattle.
Does this trend signal growing strength for the BJP, the political party most closely identified with Hindu fundmentalism? Or is this a case of parties like Congress co-opting a broadly popular BJP issue in order to slice off some voters who are up for grabs?
Whatever the case, I can’t wait to post video from inside Punjab’s cow protection cell. Let’s hope they set up a webcam.