the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, M.S.


Cows Protection and Mahatma Gandhi


Cows are a common domestic animal. She is referred to as the foster mother of human being because it produces most of the milk that people drink. Every produce of cows are used in India. The people of India worship her as mother. So they loved her very much. But the people of other community do not worship. So they killed her and use her flesh and skin. So they fight each other. Mahatma Gandhi gave permanent solution for this struggle.

Mahatma Gandhi asked, “I am thankful to the Gaurakshini Sabha and to you all for inviting me to lay the foundation-stone of the gaushala in this town. For the Hindus, this is sacred work. Protection of the cow is a primary duty for every Indian. It has been my experience, however, that the way we set about this important work leaves much to be desired. I have given some thought to this serious problem and wish to place before you the conclusions I have formed.

We do not go the right way to work for protecting the cows against our Muslim brethren. The result has been that these two great communities of India are always at odds with each other and cherish mutual distrust. Occasionally, they even fight.

As long as we do not get this terrible slaughter stopped, I think it is impossible that we can produce any effect on the hearts of Muslims or protect the cows against them. Our second task, therefore, is to carry on agitation among our British friends. We are in no position to use brute strength against them. They also should be won over by tapascharya and gentleness. For them eating of beef is no religious act. It should be easier to that extent to persuade them. It is only after we have rid ourselves of the taint of violence which I mentioned earlier and have succeeded in persuading our British friends not to eat beef and kill cows and bullocks; it is only then that we shall be entitled to say something to our Muslim friends. I can assure you that, when we have won over the British, our Muslim brethren will also have more sympathy for us and perform their religious rites with some other kind of offering. Once we admit that we are also guilty of violence, the working of our gaushalas will change. We shall not reserve them merely for decrepit cows but maintain their well-nourished cows and bullocks as well. We shall endeavour to improve the breed of cattle and will also be able to produce pure milk, ghee, etc. This is not merely a religious issue. It is an issue on which hinges the economic progress of India. Economists have furnished irrefutable figures to prove that the quality of cattle in India is so poor that the income from their milk is much less than the cost of their maintenance. We can turn our gaushalas into centres for the study of economics and for the solution of this big problem. Gaushalas cost a great deal and at present we have to provide the expenses. The gaushalas of my conception will become self-supporting in future. They will not be located in the midst of cities. We may buy land in the neighborhood of a city to the tune of hundreds of acres and locate these gaushalas there. We can raise on this land crops to serve as fodder for the cows and every variety of grass.”1

“Cow protection is an article of faith in Hinduism. Apart from its religious sanctity, it is an ennobling creed. But we, Hindus, have today little regard for the cow and her progeny. In no country in the world are cattle so ill-fed and ill-kept as in India. In beef-eating England it would be difficult to find cattle with bones sticking out of their flesh. Most of our pinjrapoles1 are ill-managed and ill-kept. Instead of being a real blessing to the animal world, they are perhaps simply receiving-depots for dying animals. We say nothing to the English in India for whose sake hundreds of cows are slaughtered daily. Our rajas do not hesitate to provide beef for their English guests. Our protection of the cow, therefore, extends to rescuing her from Mussulman hands. This reverse method of cow protection has led to endless feuds and bad blood between Hindus and Mussulmans. It has probably caused greater slaughter of cows than otherwise would have been the case if we had begun the propaganda in the right order. We should have commenced, as we ought now to commence, with ourselves and cover the land with useful propaganda leading to kindness in the treatment of cattle and scientific knowledge in the management of cattle farms, dairies and pinjrapoles. We should devote our attention to propaganda among Englishmen in the shape of inducing them voluntarily to abandon beef, or, if they will not do so, at least be satisfied with imported beef. We should secure prohibition of export of cattle from India and we should adopt means of increasing and purifying our milk supply. I have not a shadow of doubt that if we proceed along these sane lines, we would secure voluntary Mussulman support, and when we have ceased to compel them to stop killing cows on their festival days, we would find that they have no occasion for insisting on killing them. Any show of force on our part must lead to retaliation and exacerbation of feeling.”2

Mahatma Gandhi told, “Cow-protection is the outward form of Hinduism. I refuse to call anyone a Hindu if he is not willing to lay down his life in this cause. It is dearer to me than my very life. If cow-slaughter were for the Muslims a religious duty, like saying namaz, I would have had to tell them that I must fight against them. But it is not a religious duty for them. We have made it one by our attitude to them.

What is really needed for protecting the cow is that the Hindus themselves should care for her, since they, too, kill her. The barbaric practice of blowing for extracting milk to the last drop, of tormenting oxen, which are the progeny of the cow, by using the goad, and of making them draw loads beyond their strength —these things amount to killing the cow. If we are serious about cow-protection, we must put our own house in order.

Mahatma Gandhi described that “Goshalas of this kind cannot protect the cow. Real goshalas should supply fresh milk to the towns. This will be possible only when they have thousands of milch cows and thousands of bighas of land. Only when we look after cows with the utmost care, shall we raise kamadhenus from among them. Then alone will the misery, the hunger, the nakedness and the spiritual abjectness of the country disappear. What I have said has come of itself. Never before have I spoken so earnestly about cow-protection. Protect mother cow, and mother cow will protect you.”3

Gandhi advised, “The issue of cow-protection is intimately connected with the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity. But we will not consider it today from this point of view. There is much that I want to write about Hindu-Muslim unity and its bearing on the issue of cow-protection. But that can wait. Nor will we consider the question from the religious point of view. We shall discuss it exclusively from the economic standpoint. I wish only to place before my readers some of my experiences during my stay here in the quiet of Juhu and the old ideas of mine that they revived. I have invited some persons who live with me or have been brought up by me or have been close to me, persons who have been ill for some time, to share with me the benefits of change of air. Their diet is mainly cow’s milk. We found it rather difficult to obtain it here. There are in the vicinity three suburbs of Bombay, viz., Vile Parle, Andheri and Santa Cruz. Cow’s milk was very difficult to obtain from any of these places. Buffalo’s milk was plentiful. But even that could be had without adulteration only because of friends in the neighborhood who are solicitous about my needs. Otherwise, pure milk of even buffaloes would be hard to come by. Ultimately, through God’s grace and the kindness of friends, I could even get cow’s milk.

There are goshalas in every part of the country and they are all in a pitiable state. Here, too, the cause is simple inefficiency. Enormous sums are spent on these goshalas or pinjrapoles. Some people say that this stream is also drying up. Be it so. I am convinced nonetheless that, if these institutions are established on a sound footing, devoted Hindus will pour out money to help them. I am sure that the task is not impossible. Pinjrapoles should be located on extensive grounds outside the city. They should house not only aged animals but milch cattle as well, so that pure milk needed by the city could be supplied from them.” 4

The father of nation described, “For, it is this special feature that has given to Hinduism it’s inclusive and assimilative character and made its gradual, silent evolution possible. Go to any Hindu child and he would tell you that cow-protection is the supreme duty of every Hindu and that anyone who does not believe in it deserves the name of a Hindu. But while I am a firm believer in the necessity and importance of cow-protection, I do not at all endorse the current methods adopted for that purpose. Some of the practices followed in the name of cow-protection cause me extreme anguish. My heart aches within me. Several year ago I wrote in Hind Swaraj that our cow-protection societies were in fact so many cow-killing societies.

Once, while in Champaran, I was asked to expound my views regarding cow-protection. I told my Champaran friends then that if anybody was really anxious to save the cow, he ought to once for all to disabuse his mind of the notion that he has to make the Christians and Mussalmans to desist from cow-killing. Unfortunately today we seem to believe that the problem of cow-protection consists merely in preventing non-Hindus, especially Mussalmans from beef-eating and cow-killing. That seems to me to be absurd. Let no one, however, conclude from this that I am indifferent when a non-Hindu kills a cow or that I can bear the practice of cow-killing. On the contrary, no one probably experiences a greater agony of the soul when a cow is killed. But what am I to do? Am I to fulfil my dharma myself or am I to get it fulfilled by proxy? Of what avail would be my preaching brahmacharya to others if I am at the same time steeped in vice myself? How can I ask Mussalmans to desist from eating beef when I eat it myself? But supposing even that I myself do not kill the cow, is it any part of my duty to make the Mussalman, against his will, to do likewise? Mussalmans claim that Islam permits them to kill the cow. To make a Mussalman, therefore, to abstain from cow-killing under compulsion would amount in my opinion to converting him to Hinduism by force. Even in India under swaraj, in my opinion, it would be for a Hindu majority unwise and improper to coerce by legislation a Mussalman minority into submission to statutory prohibition of cow-slaughter. When I pledge myself to save the cow, I do not mean merely the Indian cow, but the cow all the world over. My religion teaches me that I should by my personal conduct instill into the minds of those who might hold different views, the conviction that cow-killing is a sin and that therefore it ought to be abandoned. My ambition is no less than to see the principle of cow-protection established throughout the world. But that requires that I should set my own house thoroughly in order first.”5

“It will be remembered that at the Cow-Protection Conference held at Belgaum a committee was appointed to frame a constitution for the founding of a permanent All-India Cow-Protection Organization. In consequence of the resolution, the Committee met in January at Delhi and framed a draft constitution in Hindi which will be submitted to a general meeting to be held in due course.”6

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The work of cow-protection has been going on at a snail’s pace. I can assure the gosevaks that the movement does not come to a standstill even for a single moment. I keep all the time thinking of it and also discuss it. And, as there are many people in Kutch who wish to serve this cause and also because it does not seem likely that I shall be able to come to Kutch again, I have explained my scheme and collected some funds.”7

Bapu advised to Goraksha Mandal, “The All-India Goraksha Mandal has been established just for this purpose. But as I get more experience I realize the difficulties in the way of bringing all such societies together under one body and a common set of rules. I have asked for full details from as many societies as have sent their names and addresses. But very few of them have supplied the information asked for. It is not that they do not wish to send particulars, but probably lethargy or indifference or a feeling of shame prevents them from replying. The shame is on the score of lack of proper management, for I have seen institutions which were not properly managed and did not maintain proper accounts.

Various bodies in the country for the protection of weak and infirm cattle should unite to form an all-India body and formulate a plan whereby they would maintain healthy cattle, supply pure milk to the people and from the income so derived look after weak and infirm cattle. there are some 1,500 goshalas is India. If they are all properly managed and turned into dairies, there is no doubt at all that the problem of protecting the cows will be then very easy to solve. But what is the way to bring this about? Who will bell the cat? I will only say this, that it is necessary to infuse life into all these institutions. It is difficult to frame rules for them unless they work as model dairies and leather work-shops. The All-India Goraksha Mandal has not been indifferent to this task.”8

“The motive that actuates cow-protection is not ‘purely selfish’, though selfish consideration undoubtedly enters into it. If it was purely selfish, the cow would be killed as in other countries after it had ceased to give full use. The Hindus will not kill the cow even though she may be a heavy burden. The numberless goshalas that have been established by charitably-minded people for tending disabled and useless cows is in a way an eloquent testimony of the effort that is being made in the direction. Though they are today very poor institutions for the object to be achieved, the fact does not detract from the value of the motive behind the act. The philosophy of cow-protection therefore is, in my opinion, sublime. It immediately puts the animal creation on the same level with man so far as the right to live is concerned. But it is no part of

Hinduism to prevent by force cow-slaughter by those who do not believe in cow-protection. Hindus will bring the Mussalmans and the rest of the world to their way of thinking only by living the religion of ahimsa as fully as it is humanly possible. They must rely upon the working of the great principle in their own lives and making its effective appeal to the outer world.”9

Mahatma Gandhi told, “In matters of religion I am against any State interference, and the cow question is in India a mixed matter of religion and economy. So far as economy is concerned, I have no doubt that it is the concern of every State, whether Hindu or Mussalman, to conserve the cattle supply. But, if I have understood your questionnaire rightly, the underlying note is whether the State would be justified in interposing itself between Hindus and Mussalmans and regulating cow slaughter even for purposes which Mussalmans consider to be religious. In India which I consider to be as much the land of Hindus born in it as of Mussalmans, Christians and others born in it, even a Hindu State may not prohibit cow slaughter for purposes considered to be religious by any of its subjects without the consent of the intelligent majority of such subjects so long as such slaughter is conducted in private and without any intention of provoking or giving offence to Hindus. That the very knowledge of any such slaughter would give offence to Hindus is inevitable. But unfortunately we know that in India cow slaughter is often resorted to defy and wound Hindu sentiment.”10

Mahatma Gandhi suggested, “The suggestion in regard to bones needs some modification. Burying bones as they are does not produce manure; they have to be ground into powder. The flesh and intestines need not be buried. Intestines are used even now for making leather strips, strings for musical instruments and catguts, and the fat obtained from flesh is used in great quantities for lubricating machinery. So there remains very little to be buried in its natural form. But this concerns the future.

If we accept in principle that by making in goshalas and pinjrapoles all those things against the use of which we have no religious objection, we can save the maximum number of cattle, other discoveries will follow.

The reproach to cow-protection workers implied in the last suggestion deserves attention. Every such worker should bear in mind that there is a greater need for workers who will devote themselves to active work of service and make themselves proficient in their field of work than for preachers who go round exhorting others.

The suggestion obviously seems to be that the methods of cow-protection advocated by me are not consistent with my profession of Hinduism. For in his introductory remarks to his questions the writer has tried to make light of the basic principle of cow-protection that I have formulated, viz., that what is economically wrong cannot be religiously right. In other words, if a religion cuts at the very fundamentals of economics it is not a true religion but only a delusion. My critic on the other hand believes that this view is opposed to the teachings of our ancient scriptures. I, at least, am not aware of a single text in opposition to this view nor do I know of any religious institution that is being maintained in any part of the world today in antagonism to the elementary principles of economics. As for Nature, anyone who has eyes can see, that it always observes the principle that I have stated. For instance, if it has implanted in its creation the instinct for food it also produces enough food to satisfy that instinct from day to day. But it does not produce a jot more. That is Nature’s way. But man, blinded by his selfish greed, grabs and consumes more than his requirements in defiance of Nature’s principle, in defiance of the elementary and immutable moralities of non-stealing and non-possession of other’s property and thus brings down no end of misery upon himself and his fellow-creatures. To turn to another illustration, our Shastras have enjoined that the Brahmin should give knowledge as charity without expecting any material reward for it for him. But they have at the same time conferred upon him the privilege of asking for and receiving alms and have laid upon the other sections of the community the duty of giving alms, thus uniting religion and economics in a common bond of harmony. I need hardly say that the humanitarian tanneries that I have suggested would also be utilizing the bones and other useful parts of the dead cattle. In fact it is more necessary than ever.”11

Mahatma Gandhi described, “We find that many of the things we do are contrary to our beliefs or our religion. We believe that we should speak the truth, yet we practice untruth; we believe that we should not indulge in immoral activities but we do indulge in them; we believe that we should refrain from violence, yet we practice it at every moment; we believe that we should win swaraj, yet do much which is contrary to this belief. We do not even do khadi work which will promote swaraj. The human race would perish if it always acted against its beliefs in all matters. Innumerable persons thoughtlessly do what should not be done. The foregoing describes the plight of those who have formed the habit of thinking.

Mahatma Gandhi told about its failure, “Failure to serve the cow is an instance of conduct contrary to religion. Every Hindu believes that it is his special dharma to serve the cow. But only a handful of Hindus will be found to observe the basic rules of goseva. Many persons believe that they have done their duty once they have put a couple of pice into the cow-protection fund.”12

Mahatma Gandhi told, “The pity is that most of our cow-protection associations will keep cows and buffaloes both and try to run them and make them paying concerns by selling buffalo’s milk. The cow, they think, is uneconomic, not knowing that if the cow was exclusively taken care of, and all attention concentrated on increasing her yield of milk, in making her a good breeder, and on making use of every bit of her carcass after she is dead, she would be more than an economic proposition. If someone could convince me that both the cow and the buffalo could be protected, without our having to feed on them or slaughtering them, I should be only too willing to include both in my scheme. The fact, however, is that the buffalo, apart from her milk, is an uneconomic animal. Except in a few wet regions of India the buffalo is useless for agricultural purposes, and so we either starve or kill the male progeny. Some of the best known dairies priding themselves on the wonderful milk-yield of their cows have been found to be doing away with the male calves. We have to make them good milkers and good mothers of fine plough-bullocks. It is no use saying that there is no demand for cow’s milk. If we refused to supply any other milk, and if we ensured a supply of the richest and purest and safest milk, everyone would enlist himself as our regular customer.

But the first thing is to eliminate the buffalo. It is like the exclusive emphasis on khadi. You cannot promote khadi by dividing your attention between khadi and mill-cloth. But we have not given the necessary attention to her feed and her upkeep. Show the best results and I tell you you will not have to complain of lack of patronage. Why is there such a mad run on a certain company’s shares? Because people know that it is going to be a highly paying concern. If you could make people believe that yours also would be a paying concern, they would rush to offer their patronage to you. Concentrate on one. Take a city like Bombay, take a census of the children, enlist the names of people who will buy only cow’s milk for their children, and make your dairy an exclusive cow’s milk supplier for children. Don’t you know how they popularize an article like tea? They distribute free packets of tea; they run free tea-houses. You can do likewise and popularize cow’s milk. Your ambition should be to cater to the needs of the whole of Bombay. There is a demand for cow’s milk in a city like Calcutta. The best Haryana breeds are imported to Calcutta, but as soon as the cows go dry they go to the butcher. The result is that the Haryana cow is getting scarce in the Punjab. No, the cow need not go to the butcher at all. She will have more than paid for her upkeep for her dry years by her rich yield of milk and progeny, and after death, she would fetch the same value as she did when alive. The cow can either be protected by the State or by those who are really religiously inclined. The State we may leave aside for the moment, it is the religiously inclined who should rise to the occasion and bring to bear knowledge and industry to the task. Humanitarianism without knowledge is futile and may even be harmful.”13 I have called cow-protection goseva, i. e., service of the cow. Legislation hardly serves the cow, much less protects it. If we follow the given solution by Mahatma Gandhi, struggle will stop.





3. SPEECH AT BETTIAH GOSHALA; December 8, 1920


5. Young India, 29-1-1925

6. Young India, 9-4-1925

7. Navajivan, 1-11-1925

8. Navajivan, 23-5-1926

9. Young India, 11-11-1926


11. Navajivan, 29-5-1927

12. Harijanbandhu, 17-1-1937

13. Harijan, 19-6-1937



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