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Who gave legal, ethical authority to powerful persons to prevent birth of male calves?

By Bharat Dogra

Bullocks have served humanity well for thousands of years. In rural India they have been widely used to plough farms as well as for a host of other farming activities. In addition they have been used also in some cottage industries. They have been harnessed to carts to provide bullock carts used to carry passengers as well as loads of crop produce to markets.
The advent of tractors and the availability of easy loans and subsidies for purchase of tractors led to lesser role of bullocks in several villages, particularly in the green revolution mechanized belts, but still bullock carts continue to play a very important helpful role in many villages of India.
Despite this current government policies are threatening to almost eliminate the birth of bullocks. Ironically this is being done by a government which always claims to be committed to cow protection. But how can you ensure protection of the female of a species while eliminating the male of the same species. This goes against nature. Yet it is this foolhardy, unsustainable and even high-risk path which is being followed by the government in India.
In recent years, particularly the last six years or so, in its cattle breeding program the government has been enthusiastically spreading the so-called sexed semen technology or sex-selective technology aimed at ensuring that male calves (bullocks) are not born, only female calves (cows) are born. As much as 90 per cent ‘success’ (in terms of having only female calves) is claimed by promoters of this technology.
Initially this technology came up in the USA where patents were obtained. Then about a decade back we started hearing about this in India. Initially due to patent related factors the spread of the technology was expensive and hence slow in India, but its promoters found ways of working out indigenous, cheaper versions which could achieve similar results. To some extent this contributed to rapid spread. Then about six years back more firm government support became available and since then this technology has been spreading fast, with a minister claiming even to set up ‘ cow factories’.
The Hindu Business Line reported on December 27 2019, ---The country has found an innovative solution to control stray animal population. It is implementing the sex-sorting semen technology for artificial insemination, which will produce only female animals. This will reduce the number of male calves.
Earlier The Times of India had reported on November 26, 2014, quoting executives of a dairy firm—Officials claim that they have already partnered with some of the country’s premier institutes for developing this technology. In sexed semen, the fractions of the X-bearing (female) and Y-bearing (male) sperm are modified from the natural semen through sorting and selection.
More recently the Business Standard quoted a union minister as stating that we will set up cow birth factories ( ham gai paida karne ki factory laga denge). He said that 30 lakh doses of sex-sorted semen will be given in a year and by 2025 there will be 10 crore female cows. ( September 2019).
Further, on November 8, 2020 the Business Line reported—India now has an indigenous technology for sex sorting bovine sperms which would ensure birth of only female calves.
Clearly two notions are taken for granted by the promoters of this technology. One is that bullocks are not needed in India. Secondly there is nothing wrong if a few persons decide to eliminate the further advent of one gender of an animal, that too in the context of a species that has been extremely close to human beings since ancient times. Both of these assumptions are completely wrong.
Despite mechanization, bullocks still continue to play a very important economic role in many, many villages of India. Apart from their strong economic role, they have very strong cultural presence. They have been the pride of farmer households and much affection has been showered on bullocks, just as on cows. This comes out in literature like Prem Chand’s Do Bailon ki Katha as also in its film version Hira Moti (with beautiful Bhojpuri music). The hero of award winning classic film Teesri Kasam, based on a famous story of Phanishwar Nath Renu, is a bullock cart driver. Many bullock carts are beautifully designed and crafted, with accompanying art work. Many rural artisans have been known far and wide for their special skills related to bullock carts. Bullocks and bulls are celebrated much in culture and mythology. Bullock races have been a main sporting event in several villages.
In fact in areas where bullocks have declined in recent years, there are reasons why the revival of bullocks may be practical and desirable. In times of climate change there are increasing reasons for shifting away from fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers in farming, and this may well signal the possible revival of many-sided useful role of bullocks in eco-friendly and organic farming, food processing and rural transport, to replace diesel ( or other fossil fuel ) guzzling technologies and implements. Bullocks and cows are integral to solutions in the form of organic farming and natural farming, providing manure as well as bio-gas.
Secondly, with or without efforts for further enhancing the role of bullocks, it needs to be questioned if a few persons in powerful positions can take upon themselves the role of preventing the birth of male calves or bullocks. From where and how they get the legal and ethical authority for this? Can some powerful elites simply assign to themselves the role of preventing the birth of one gender of an animal species? Such technology is being used to prevent the birth of male calves today. Tomorrow it can be used with some modification to prevent the birth of male or female gender of any other animal. Where will it stop?
Before spreading this technology have its promoters also thought about various possible risks. As the ongoing pandemic has taught us at high cost, the entire issue of animal-human interactions has to be guided along a path of safety and least risks to avoid catastrophic events. For thousands of years in nature male and female species have existed together. Now a stage comes when a few persons with very narrow thinking say—let us stop one gender from entering the world. Such human imposed disruption of natural existence, which can be extended to other species, has the possibility of leading to highly undesirable and harmful consequences. What happens when only one gender is allowed to take birth and the other is not?
What about the quality of milk produced after this technology has spread widely? Has anyone carried out longer-term studies to rule out any adverse impacts? In case of quality loss or harm, who will be responsible? The role of science should be to contribute to better protection for both cows and bullocks instead of upsetting the entire balance.
It is one thing to think in terms of improving usefulness of animals to human beings. It is quite another to go to the extent of saying—animals exist only for human beings and their gender that ceases to be useful for human beings can be stopped from taking birth and coming to earth. This latter view is a completely unethical view and crosses the limits of human-centric extremism.
Hence clearly there is urgent need for reviewing the government policy of spreading sexed semen technology before it causes more harm.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include 'Planet in Peril' and' India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food'

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