Cattle, the Research Catalyst
MUMBAI, India -- In most Indian towns, foreigners are perplexed by the sight of listless cows walking aimlessly in the middle of the road. Passing locals touch the animal's hind reverently and send a quiet prayer. But the supreme sacred status of the cow has not just given it the license to jaywalk, which every Indian has anyway. The cow may also be the most researched animal in India.
Fundamentalist Hindu organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, and the Vishva Hindu Parishad, or VHP, which have been accused in Indian courts of inciting riots, murder and destruction of mosques and churches, are probing deep into their beloved cow to claim that it is a very special animal. Bhanwarlal Kothari, a senior member of the RSS, said, "Our tests have shown that distemper made out of cow dung and spread over walls and roofs can block nuclear radiation." According to Kothari, mainstream physics researchers conducted the tests in the north Indian town of Jaipur and even asked India's premier nuclear research agency, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, to test their claims and endorse the finding. Sailen Ghosh, a senior scientist at BARC, said he was not aware of any such request.
"It's ridiculous and laughable," said M.V. Ramana, a Bangalore-based nuclear scientist, about the RSS claim. "There are different kinds of nuclear radiation. Alpha and beta radiation can be blocked by very thick walls. It would take considerable thickness for a concrete wall to block gamma radiation. I cannot imagine how a coating of cow dung in whatever form can block nuclear radiation. It does not appear to be a scientific case."
The RSS and VHP say they are funded by donations from fellow Indians, including many of those settled in America and Britain. Exactly how much the organizations muster every year is not revealed in the public domain.
In Nagpur, a town in the province of Maharashtra, VHP volunteer Sunil Mansinghka runs Go-vigyan Anusandhan Kendra, an outfit "devoted to R&D on the role of cows." At four every morning, VHP workers stand with bottles beside their cows, waiting for them to urinate voluntarily so that the workers can collect the waste for future research.
In the past eight years, Mansinghka, who is well-informed but not a qualified researcher, has supervised donations worth $500,000 for research on the curative properties of cow urine and dung. Doctors from both the mainstream and the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda are working on several projects that study the benefits of cow waste. "We believe that cows' urine can cure cancer, renal failure, arthritis and a lot of other ailments," Mansinghka said. "We are working hard to test and prove these claims."
He summoned one of his researchers, an Ayurvedic physician named Bharat Chouragade, to explain the benefits of cow urine. "I don't think cows' urine can cure cancer," Chouragade said. "What it can do is enhance the effects of the modern cures for cancer." That disappointed Mansinghka, who later said of his Ayurvedic physician, "some people are misled by too much learning."
Anil Gupta, an academic and activist who promotes rural innovation, is encouraged by research on cow urine. "Yes, it is true that not just cows' waste but the excretions of several animals have some benefits for humans," he said. "The difference is, psychologically, Indians are less repulsed by cows' waste." Mansinghka bottles and markets distilled cow urine. From many such crude labs across the country come pest repellents, soaps, tablets and shampoos made out of cow urine and dung. "Some of my friends have (debated) ways to use cow dung to wrap surgically removed human body parts and bury them in the ground," he said. "That will save hospitals the expensive process of incinerating such organs." Mansinghka also spoke with great adoration about "the stunning work of professor Madan Mohan Bajaj, who has clearly proved how important cows are."
Professor Bajaj is from the Delhi University's department of physics and astrophysics. He has spent 14 years investigating the effects of animal slaughter on earthquakes, air crashes and other disasters. "The killing of animals causes natural and manmade disasters," Bajaj said. "But, since the cow is so useful to human beings, its slaughter causes exceptional seismic activity. The cries of the animals go down to the earth through Einsteinian pain waves."
Sandip Trivedi, a highly regarded string theorist with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, said he has never heard of Einsteinian pain waves. "It doesn't exist," he said with a chuckle.
Even though established science has not endorsed the many claims of cows' fans, they continue unmindful. "In the cow there is panacea," VHP's Mansinghka said. "Just overzealousness," Trivedi said. The cows were unavailable for comment