of Castes and Cows

I got curious on farming and cattle herding. Tried some internet search, asked around and here I am sharing of what I know. My question – Is there a relation between cattle herding and caste system in Nepal? From what I know, there is a definite relation, but I want to know at what extend.

NP! ID: 328008 Title: Nepali cow // File Size: 799 × 526 – 397.95 KB
Created: Wed, 05/09/2007 – 7:16pm // Modified: Wed, 05/09/2007 – 6:19pm
File Type: image (jpeg) // License: Public Domain

Writing something about “Cow” always reminds me of my primary school English teachers, and how we had to write about essays related to cows, mother, green Earth, and Forest in Nepal. My love for education at the moment, justifiably, was improper and poor. My parents were once informed that I would always ne a below average student, and that my English was so poor that I’d need a tuition for it, at a monthly price of Nrs.3500. This was grade three (1993) when my monthly tuition fee was Nrs.1200. Yeah, and the English Teacher was non Nepali, with fluent British-Indian Accent. I do not remember anything else about her, but my guess is that she was from Sikkim, or Darjeeling in India, unmarried and living in Kathmandu at the moment.

A cow (status) in our society

A 2010 blog (here) has made an excellent points on cow-status. Yes its revered, its worshipped, and we cannot kill it, even if its already dying, but not dead yet. When a cow (or few of them) get Mad-Cow-Disease (or any other non infectious or infectious diseases) we cannot kill. At best, we try to quarantine it. Also, there is no culling of this animal. If a cow  herder/s that are smart, however, opt for some shady ways, by which a diseased cow, vanishes the next morning.

According to a Lodi News-Sentinel news story written in the 1960s, in then contemporary Nepal an individual could serve three months in jail for killing a pedestrian, but one year for injuring a cow, and life imprisonment for killing a cow. Seriously, its here. According to Vedic scriptures they are to be treated with the same respect ‘as one’s mother’ because of the milk they provide. They appear in numerous stories from the Puran (English word is Puranas) and Ved (English word is Vedas). The deity Krishna was brought up in a family of cow herders, and given the name Govinda (protector of the cows). In a related cattle worshipping matter, my favorite Hindu diety Shiva is traditionally said to ride on the back of a bull named Nandi. So much is the importance for this one animal species. This got me thinking, was its care taken by elite people in arm, or a normal person.

As one of the jewels in Hinduism, who takes care of it (Cow) ? by elite guards or normal pheasant?

what does cow do?

In South Asian context, its primary use is for milk and milk based dairy product. These days, a dead cow (not killed, I’m just saying a cow can die of natural causes) can also fetch for leather goods. Internationally, meat of a adult cow (also known as beef) is a big hit. Apparently its very high in demand. Global beef production is virtually unchanged at 57.5 million tons (pdf file) in 2012-13, with India as a lead beef exporter (18.53%) as of April of 2012. A very convoluted conclusion, Ironic as one probably should get imprisoned for doing this in countries like India and Nepal. I took this information from a report here. Lastly, there is also cow dung and urine used in some yucky  religious and good economical way.

wait what? India as a lead beef exporter (18.53%) in the world .

Cow dung, or “gobar” is used in very many ways, including as a cooking gas. Well other animal shit (including those from humans) are also used as biogas. Two papers published in 2009, from Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews – Elsevier explain more on the benefit of biogas in Nepal, (Abstract available here and here). I could not afford to read these papers, SciVerse demanded $37.95, but abstract reading sounds promising.  Will not write about the yucky  part, where people touch and revere this fecal matter. Its an animal shit that is being worshiped at. What could be more irksome?

of caste and cows

Back to my primary reason for this post. After a good amount of time spend on Internet and asking around here is what I found about the Methodologically  Implanted Slavery (MIS) and cows.

Turns out, me being a Brahmin (one of the four Varnas in one group of Nepali cohort) am free to be a herder. I can be a cattle farmer. In other news, not so long ago (say 50-60 years), a Brahmin could not be a regular land farmer, that I was not allowed to plow land (neither with buffalo/ox/oxen nor a machine). In a similar respect, Newars in Kathmandu Valley also could not plough a land with bigger plough (called “Halo” or “Hali” in Nepali) and were limited to “Kodalo” (smaller in size). In Kathmandu, this was Newari religion; it was said that Lord Pashupatinath would get angry.

[To make my stance clear, I do not believe Newari Culture originally to be in the same Varnas (meaning particular sect of cultural) where Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra were divided.  Newari culture have their own higher and lower caste within them. This is true for Madhesi and the various Mongoloid culture in Nepal also. Each of these culture includes high ranking priests and low ranking untouchables, but somehow only Brahmins (13% of total population) get the blame game of being supreme, smart-a$s. Will write about this very soon.]


What was intriguing was who looked after the cattle grazing few decades ago. According to my parents, my father (from South Terai belt in Nepal) tells me that any caste/culture could be a cow herder. There were also no limits in who could milk the cow. Only after the milk was boiled/warmed, were the untouchables not allowed. Yes, it is inhumane. While my mother (from Hills in Western Nepal) tells that milking the cow by lower caste was not allowed in the village she grew up.  But now, with education and human rights campaign, any or all the caste in Nepal, are able to be a cattle farmer, with no limitations. Obviously, there are always some places, which may defy this progress, and still remain obsolete and uneducated.

Why was there discrepancy ?  I have few theories, which might not be true.

  1. I think, that the whole purpose of making “cow” a revered animal was that no one would be able to harm it, be it friend or enemy – it was very useful economical indicator of a well to do rich family.
  2. High priest of most South Asian Culture were not allowed to eat meat. My guess is, early on, someone definitely must have figured out that beef was good meat. In order to stop this, the smart(ass) people, made a god out of this animal; stopped its killing for meat, and used it as a sole purpose of Milk and Dairy products.
  3. But animal it was. It needed someone who could take care. Hence, the very likely, densely populated lower caste were utilized to graze and feed the cows. Now, no-one could kill a cow at all. Killing for beef meat was out of question.
  4. Huge, Fertile and Flat land in Terai (South Nepal) meant bigger cattle herds, which required many farmers. Hence the rules that might have been, were relaxed, till a point where the smart(ass) population could only discriminate after the milk was boiled/warmed/or inside their kitchen. Less land in Hilly region, meant less cattle, and the milking  was kept among those that were “touchable”.

so do I like beef?

No, not till now. I haven’t had beef till date. Its about respecting one’s culture, so I guess I won’t go this path. Although, I know there are a lot of things that my culture needs to improve on. For the record I believe in Asthik, Atheist Hindu. Don’t believe in god, but believe in Hinduism and the religion. Yes, we have this in Hinduism. read more here.

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