The Ashram ideal is to do without milk, as it holds that the milk of animals like meat is no food for mankind. For a year and more no milk or ghi was used in the Ashram, but as the health of the children as well as the adults suffered under this regime, first ghi and then milk had to be added to the Ashram dietary. And when this was done, it was clear that we must keep cattle in the Ashram.
The Ashram believes in goraksha (cow protection) as a religious duty. But the word goraksha savours of pride. Man is incompetent to 'protect' animals, being himself in need of protection from God who is the protector of all life. The word goraksha was therefore replaced by goseva (cow service). But as the experiment of doing without milk or ghi and thus serving the cow without any selfish considerations did not succeed, cattle were kept in the Ashram. We had buffaloes as well as cows and bullocks at first, as we had not yet realized that it was our duty to keep cows and bullocks only to the exclusion of the buffalo.
But it became clear day by day that cow service alone at present stood for the service of all sub-human life. It is the first step beyond which we have not the resources to go for the time being. Again cow slaughter is very often the cause of Hindu-Muslim tension. The Ashram believes that it is not the duty of a Hindu, nor has he the right to take away a Muslim's cow by force. There is no service to or protection of the cow in trying to save her by force; on the other hand it only expedites slaughter. Hindus can save the cow and her progeny only by doing their duty to her and thus making her slaughter a costly act which no one can afford to do. Hindu society does not discharge this duty at present. The cow suffers from neglect. The buffalo gives more and richer milk than the cow, and keeping a buffalo costs less than keeping a cow. Again if the buffalo brings forth a bull calf, people do not care what becomes of him because buffalo 'protection' or 'service' is not a religious duty for them. Hindu society has thus been short-sighted, cowardly, ignorant and selfish enough to neglect the cow and has installed the buffalo in her place, injuring both of them in the process. The buffalo's interest is not served by our keeping her, but is in her freedom. To keep the buffalo means torturing its bull calf to death. This is not the case in all the provinces, but where the buffalo bull is useless for agricultural purposes as in Gujarat for instance, it is doomed to a premature death.
On account of these considerations, buffaloes were disposed of and the Ashram now insists on keeping cows and bullocks only. Improvement of breed, increasing the quantity and enriching the quality of milk by giving various feeds, the art of preserving milk and extracting butter from it more easily, least painful methods of castrating bull calves, - all these things are attended to. It is in an experimental stage, but the Ashram does believe that the cow will pay for its keep if she is well treated and all her products are fully utilized.
Many perhaps are not aware that a man cannot simply afford to keep a cow and slaughter is inevitable so long as that is the case. Mankind is not so benevolent that it will die to save the cow or allow it to live on itself as a parasite. The cattle population at present is so large that if it is well fed, the human population will not have enough food left for itself. We must therefore prove the proposition that the cow if well kept is capable of greater production.
If this proposition is to be proved, Hindu society must discard some superstitions masquerading as religion. Hindus do not utilize the bones etc. of dead cows; they do not care what becomes of cattle when they are dead. Instead of looking upon the occupation of a tanner as sacred, they think it unclean. Emaciated cattle are exported to and slaughtered in Australia where their bones are converted into manure, their flesh into meat extract and their hides into boots and shoes. The meat extract, the manure and the shoes are then re-exported to India and used without any compunction.
This stupidity makes for the destruction of the cow, and puts the country to huge economic losses. This is not religion but the very negation of it. Tanning has therefore been introduced in the Ashram. None of us is still a skilled tanner. No tanner from outside who would keep the Ashram rules has been available. But all the same tanning is an integral part of Ashram industry, and we have every hope that it will be developed and propagated like spinning. The cow will cease to be a burden to the country only if dead cattle are fully utilized. Even then there will not be any profits. Religion is never opposed to economics, but it is always ranged in opposition to profits. If the cow is to pay for its keep, dead cattle should not be allowed to go to waste or to swell the profits of large-scale tanneries. This cannot be done by force. But Hindu society should keep the cow, treat her and her progeny well so long as they are alive, cherish them in their old age, and fully utilize their carcases when they are dead. Thus alone can the cow be saved, and in saving her we shall perhaps learn how to save the rest of the sub-human creation. Thanks to our ignorance, laziness and hatred, the cow today is hastening to her destruction. As for the other cattle, the less said about them, the better.
The Ashram suggests that all goshalas and panjrapoles should be organized religiously and scientifically. The rich should have their own goshalas and insist on using cow's milk and ghi only. Trading in cow's milk should be looked upon as a sin, and the well-to-do should manage public goshalas so as to make both ends meet. The cow would then soon be saved.
The Ashram at present has a limited object in view: to conduct a model goshala at the Ashram, to breed good cows and bullocks, to utilize their carcases fully when they are dead so as to show that cowkeeping is an economic proposition, to train workers and provide for their employment upon the completion of their training. This work is going on at present. There are many difficulties, but we are fully confident of success.