There are people who get positively gushy over all critters. I’m not one of them. I’m not actively against them or anything but I don’t feel all squishy inside over just any old animal. Barnyard animals, for instance, generally leave me cold and it’s no use reminding me of Babe coz an animated pig has no chance of survival when pitted against a nice, crisp slice of bacon. Sorry. I’m all about the food.
Still, this is a story that caught my attention.
It all began in April when a routine skin test revealed that Shambo, a
pet sacred steer belonging to a multi-faith temple in the Welsh community of Skanda Vale, was gravely ill. On the plus side for Shambo, his caretakers were willing to fight for his life. On the down side, Shambo’s disease (bovine tuberculosis) was contagious and Skanda Vale is slap bang in the middle of cattle country. The death watch was on.
The law was the law. Shambo must die. But from the day his sentence was decided to this day, when he was executed, Shambo has been in the eye of a legal and cultural storm. Not a mean feat for a six-year-old hay muncher. A legal case that pitted the rights of a minority Hindu community against the might of British law, there were plenty of sides to choose here.
First, there were the Hindus. Shortly after the consumptive steer was diagnosed, the temple asserted its religious rights: Shambo was “sacred” and lived within the temple’s confines. His life wasn’t just beloved, it was holy. And he wasn’t about to run amok, infecting the local cattle.
Besides, he was only administered the skin test. They demanded he be given a blood test to conclusively prove his diagnosis. The Welsh authorities told them to (respectfully) stuff it.
That last point riled animal rights activists as well. As some have pointed out, we don’t kill consumptive humans, of whom there may be more than previously supposed. Not even when they hop on transatlantic flights and roam all over Northern America. Couldn’t the authorities in Wales do for a beloved pet or sacred steer what might have been done for an idiotic human being?
Thousands around the world thought they should if you go by the number of people that signed on to an online petition, logged on to read “Shambo’s thoughts” and kept an eye on his daily activities via a “Moo Tube”. Agreeing with them was the local court, which upheld that executing Shambo would hurt the religious sentiments of the community in Skanda Vale.
This brought about mixed reactions. Some felt this was only apt given the “pandering” of the British government towards certain religious communities like, oh I don’t know – Muslims. Others felt this was a disgraceful verdict. The law was the law and everybody had to bend, sacred cow or no sacred cow.
The courts of appeal went with those who believed the law should be equal to all. Shambo was once again on the block. The protests went into overdrive. The temple offered to keep Shambo in isolation and when that didn’t work, offered to send him into exile – to India.
No, the Government of India didn’t make the offer. They felt this was an “internal matter”. An organization called the Govardhan Charitable Trust, however, felt free to intervene on behalf of cattle everywhere. (Note: they actually do a lot of good work in spite of the impression made by this letter.) They asked “Welsh” to just give them enough time to make arrangements for the transport of this “career of disease” (as compared to an actual sufferer), reminding them of words said by Mahatma Gandhi – coz the Brits have such a brilliant record of listening to Gandhi, I guess.
This made me wonder about a couple of things such as: is their offer limited to consumptive cattle or do they take in all international comers? I mean, you wouldn’t disown your actual mother if she suddenly went mad. So how about cattle suffering from Mad Cow Disease? Also, what exactly is the policy of the Indian government regarding animals? Are disease ridden animals a-okay by them? Or are cows a special case?
You know the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”? Do we have an inscription on the Gateway of India, reading: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled cows yearning to breathe free…”? If not, why don’t we? India, the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave… Cows.
Anyway, I digress. Where was I? Ah, yes – Shambo in exile.
That suggestion was also shot down. And finally, the fateful day dawned. There was praying and chanting, officials stripped down and tiptoed, protestors were dragged off, entry was refused, warrants were nailed to the door, etc. It all got so intense that the authorities were worried that Shambo might be distressed by all the commotion. Heh. And then Shambo was led away, never to be seen again. Here’s one of the best (and even handed) accounts of the matter I found.
However, the thing that struck me throughout this story of Hindus, animal lovers, secularists, dogged officialdom, the law, charitable trusts, bulls and assorted bullshit is the relatively tiny amount of attention reflected upon a group of people who have to deal with cases like Shambo’s year in and year out: farmers.
Farmers don’t have it easy. Everybody knows that. Cattle farmers have it tougher than most. All you need to do is pick up a copy of James Herriot’s books or pay attention to the latest news in food to know that. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling white meat or red meat – there are problems enough to go around for everyone.
Amidst hopes that Shambo’s case would lead to more thoughtful laws being formulated for pet animals, this bitter letter, written to the Farmers Guardian, illustrates the frustration felt by many farmers:
CLA Wales director, Julian Salmon, has rightly brought attention to the fact that our emotional, spiritual and financial costs have never been taken into account when our cattle have been slaughtered.
Our herd is closed, we use AI and they had no contact with other cattle. What was worse was that a Belgian Blue in-calf heifer that was inconclusive was also slaughtered. Tests came back negative for her – so she had to die to prove she did not have the disease.
It was one of the saddest days of my life when I saw them go on the lorry – we had ridden the BSE and foot-and-mouth fiascos only to be brought to our knees financially by bTB.
It would appear that it is not just India that spares little thought to its farming community.