Are the Indians predominantly vegetarians? If so, is it due to culture, religion or economic compulsions? Very difficult to answer but if statistical pundits are to be believed most of the Indians population do not consume non-plant foods except milk and milk products and a small minority does not even consume dairy products. For those who are delighted to see figures, here are some data which may be of doubtful veracity but still some thing to go by! 20% to 42% of Indian population ( some say 39% only) are vegetarians while another 9% though vegetarians have no qualms about eating eggs. Diehard non-vegetarians who consume meat and other animal derived foods regularly constitute 30% while the rest are fair weather non-vegetarians eating meat foods occasionally.
Having stated the obvious, a crucial question that is always considered sensitive is how many people eat beef, derived from cows? Statistics may be hard to come by since most Hindus will not admit to beef eating due to peer pressure and sacredness of cow that is legendary in the country. Interestingly India to day tops the world in terms of dairy production, cattle production and beef export. Why is this interesting? Because what happens to millions of cows which become dry, not yielding viable volume of milk regularly? They cannot be killed in most of the States in the country and the present rulers in Delhi are known to oppose vehemently cow slaughter.What about Buffaloes? Since hardly any distinction is made between meat from cow or buffalo, both being categorized as beef, how can one differentiate dishes made from the meat derived from these two animals. This can be done only through sophisticated biological tests but no one seems to be bothered about this inconvenient question at any point in the meat supply chain.
Indigenous breeds of cow that flourished in the Indian sub-continent include Bhadhwari, Desan, Gujarati, Sorti, Surati, Red Sindhi, Mahi, Sahiwal, Ongole, Deoni etc all of which hailed from one or the other part of the country. Imported breeds, considered exotic, which played a crucial role in the White revolution through cross breeding and animal upgradation projects during the last 5 decades include Jersey, Holstein, Brown Swiss, Red Dane, Ayrshire and Guernsey and to day it is next to impossible to identify any pure desi breed, if at all there are any. One of the contentions of those who start consuming beef is that only desi cows are sacred and they would not eat the meat if they were slaughtered!
Some of the social and religious activists who uphold the sanctity of cows run the so called "Goshalas" where "spent" cows are given shelter and allowed to die gracefully due to old age when they reach that stage. There are some Goshalas who run production facilities for making many products from Cow's urine for curing or ameliorating an array of diseases ranging from simple itching to cancer. However these are far and few not being able to make any dent on the population of cows with no milking potential. The big dilemma a country like India faces is what to do with these spent cattle with out hurting the sentiments of a significant number of people across the country believing sincerely that cow is sacred. Is it feasible to build thousands of Goshalas investing huge resources on an unproductive venture like this? This is all the more relevant when it is realized that there are millions of senior citizens with no dependents and support crying for a shelter to live in peace awaiting their last days and die gracefully!
A recent report from Delhi brings the question of unwanted cows and their uncertain fate in sharp focus calling for attention by the governments at the Center and States. There appears to be over 40000 cattle roaming the streets of Delhi, some unwanted and uncared for while others are left in the open by their owners for want of shelters of their own. This has led to the generation of cattle lifters called "Rustlers" who are adept in stealing the animals surreptitiously in an organized way for selling to illegal slaughter houses operating in thousands across the country. In Andhra Pradesh alone there are reported to be 3100 illegal slaughter house as against 6 licensed Abattoirs! Though Delhi police is trying to do their duty entrusted to them to checkmate the activities of these people, the effort is rather insignificant and success far and few. Same must be happening in all cities, towns and small urban entities where there is a demand for beef cattle creating a flourishing business for those willing to take some risks of lifting the animals, transporting them to fly by night operators for butchering mercilessly. Another added worry is how safe are these meat products made in unlicensed and unclean slaughter houses with questionable technical competence to process meat.
Beef production and consumption is a dynamite which no government would like to touch for fear of creating societal turbulence and when there is no meeting ground between science and faith as in the present case, the problem is likely to remain as intractable for a long time to come. The Rustlers will have a roaring time making easy money with practically no investment to make.