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India to hold inaugural cow science exam, but many question 'facts' in government guidebook

KOLKATA – Milk from Indian cow breeds contains traces of gold. Walls coated with cow dung can protect against harmful gas leaks. The animal even has the power to absorb the sun’s energy, thanks to a “solar pulse” situated on their humps.

These are some eye-popping claims that form part of a reference booklet released last week by the government in India to help candidates prepare for the country’s inaugural “cow science” exam on Feb 25.

This move is aimed at generating “curiosity” about the animal, which many Hindus consider sacred, and increasing awareness about its “unexplored” business opportunities. The voluntary annual exam will be conducted online for schoolchildren as well as the general public in 14 languages.

Certificates and prizes will be given out to meritorious candidates. Even state chief ministers, education ministers, as well as school principals, besides other officials, have been asked to lend their support to ensure the exam is a “grand success”.

The move is being led by the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA), an Indian government body tasked with formulating policies to aid preservation of indigenous cow breeds and develop programmes to support cattle-oriented livelihoods.

Dr Vallabh Kathiria, the RKA chairman, told The Straits Times that Indians are not fully aware about the “real importance” of cows. “We just have faith and worship them, but what was the reason because of which our rishis (sages) started this tradition of worshipping them? There must have been something unique and we want to explore that and sensitise Indians about it,” he said.

He added that the RKA has received more than 15,000 registrations even though the process has yet to be launched formally. Some of these candidates are based abroad, including in Japan, England and Singapore.

Coverage in the Indian media of the decision to hold such an exam, however, has been dominated by reports on some of the outlandish content in the 54-page booklet. One such claim, put forth more than two decades back by three Indian physicists, is that dying animals release “Einsteinian Pain Waves” that over the years can accumulate and provoke earthquakes following large-scale animal slaughter.

It even denigrates foreign Jersey cows as “very lazy” and “not as emotive” as Indian breeds, which are “hygienic, hardy and clever enough not to sit at dirty places”. Jersey cows’ milk, dung and urine, readers are told, have no medicinal value unlike that of Indian cows, which also produce “the best quality of milk on earth”.

Defending claims such as the one about traces of gold in milk, Dr Kathiria said it is “high time to explore all these scientifically”. “If suppose somebody is not believing in this, go for research,” he added, specifying that the RKA would “guide” such efforts.

Nonetheless, the idea of a nationwide cow exam, backed by untested claims, has prompted opprobrium.

“The general direction where science is headed in India under Modi… Rationalism is more urgent than ever before,” tweeted writer and poet, Dr Meena Kandasamy, attaching a page of the RKA booklet that describes the many purported health benefits of drinking cow urine.

The RKA has in the past also come up with other ideas, including promoting tourism at cow shelters, to try and increase the economic viability of the animal. There has been growing political focus on the animal since the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to power in 2014, even as thousands of the animal die on Indian roads eating plastic as well as in underfunded and poorly managed shelters.

Some Indian states have strengthened anti-cow slaughter legislation in recent years – the BJP-governed Karnataka did so with a stronger law that was cleared through an ordinance last month. People accused of slaughtering cows, or even just eating or stocking beef, have been killed in violent attacks. A large number of these victims were Muslims.

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