NEW DELHI: If the men in saffron have their way, cows will replace the tiger as India’s national animal. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has been flooded with requests from sadhus to make the gau mata—the holy cow—the national animal. Many have met Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to put forth their demand. The ministry has now taken up the matter with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the authority on any national declarations.
Javadekar has received thousands of letters from sadhus from across India in vernacular languages and a group of them led by Sadhvi Ritambhara met him in April to discuss cow protection and cow smuggling across borders. The inflow of communication to the ministry on cows is so large that Javadekar’s staff has been struggling to maintain a record. MoEF officials are also puzzled on why these representations are being sent to them instead of to MHA. The tiger has been the national animal since 1972.
Each day, the MoEF gets cartons and gunny bags filled with thousands of pamphlets and clippings from scriptures corroborating the urgency of their demand. The majority of them are sent by Hindu groups in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
Despite the pressure on the MoEF, officials say that the matter does not fall under their jurisdiction as the ministry only deals with protection and prevention of cruelty of animals. Moreover, issues related to cattle are dealt by the Department of Animal Husbandry under the Union Ministry of Agriculture.
“Anything that deals with national declaration is always done by the union home ministry. We have taken up the matter with them,” said a source in the ministry.
Requests from organisations like Jai Gurudev, Gau Gyan Foundation and Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh talk about the need for protecting the humble cow, which has been worshipped in India for ages as “mother”. If it does get the status of the national animal, there will be dedicated funding and a programme for protection of cows in the country and checks on illegal cattle trade across borders with Bangladesh.
Some NGOs have been demanding a dedicated ‘Cow Task Force’ to check cow smuggling across the border. A PIL in this regard was heard in the Supreme Court on April 24 whereby Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh demanded stopping export and smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh from India. While issuing notices to various states, the Apex Court observed, “When you don’t have people to be deployed for stopping infiltration of terrorists, how can we ask that forces be deployed to stop smuggling of cows?”
A controversy has been ongoing over a ban on cow slaughter in Maharashtra and Haryana. There is no central legislation that bans cow slaughter in the country, but many states like Madhya Pradesh have enacted legislations for the same. While addressing a gathering of spiritual leaders in March, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the government will try to build a consensus among all states to ban cow slaughter.