I am become DEFRA...

IssueSeptember 2007

On 26 July, Shambo, a temple bull from Skanda Vale Hindu community near Carmarthen, was taken for slaughter by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), after testing positive for tuberculosis.

Sanjay Mistry from the Hindu Forum of Britain explains that the case was not a clash between western scientific and eastern mystical worlds.

The slaughter of Shambo high- lights a number of ethical dilemmas around nonviolence, veganism and animal rights as well as concerns about multi-culturalism, religious tolerance, and the deployment of suspect science by an increasingly authoritarian state.

Hindu insistence on the sacredness of life attaches the same value for all life, animal and human.

The sacred place accorded to cattle is born of respect not worship. The cow provides milk much as a mother does. In India, the bull traditionally tills the land. The cow is therefore respected like the mother and the bull like the father.

Most Hindus, then, consider bovicide equal to matricide or patricide and refrain from eating beef.

”Putting down” a human who posed a risk of spreading infection in the name of “greater good” would be unthinkable for most people. Similarly, many Hindus could not countenance killing a cow for the greater good.

The sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad-gita deals with such ethical dilemmas (“dvivida”) when a choice between two courses of action must be made.

In the case of Shambo, opinion within both the Hindu and the wider community split between slaughtering, not slaughtering, and apathy.

Many non-Hindu Welsh farmers, who have had thousands of their animals senselessly culled, approached Skanda Vale to voice opposition to the slaughter.

Whatever the moral dilemmas, government policy on bovine TB is, according to James Withers of NFU Scotland, “a total mess and there appears little prospect of a coherent strategy emerging”.

A petition to save Shambo gathered 20,000 signatures from mainly Hindus around the world.

Elin Jones, Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Rural Affairs, and DEFRA received many letters and emails from both Hindus and non-Hindus.

Looking to the future and the fate of other animals, Brother Michael from Skanda Vale said “I hope the Assembly Government will work with the community to find a solution which does not involve killing.” Whatever we think, apathy seems neither an ethical nor a political option.

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