Holy cow: Why cow 'research' centres at these two DU colleges are facing the heat

Access to hostels at publicly-funded educational institutions is important for students who come from deprived communities and students who hail from the remotest parts of the country
Pic: Edexlive
Pic: Edexlive

As Delhi University's Hansraj College courted controversy after constructing a cow research centre within its premises, a similar cow-tale from another college under DU has come to light. Turns out, what Hansraj did only recently, DU's Lakshmibai College (LBC) did it back in March, 2021. The LBC college has designated an area within its premises where it is playing host to a mother-daughter cow duo. 

Moreover, according to the LBC principal's Facebook page, the college had held a 'havan' (ritual prayer) on May 20, 2021, at a COVID care centre set up within its premises when the country was fighting the deadly second wave of the pandemic. 

Such rituals are not uncommon at Hansraj or the LBC. The cow shelter at the LBC is a part of what the college calls a 'village model'. A document on the college's website states that 'Mera Gaon - Gokul' (My village - Gokul) is a step towards developing a sustainable ecosystem and includes an organic waste management system that can provide the college with commercial benefits. However, when contacted, LBC Principal Pratuysh Vatsala said that any such commercial benefits have not been availed as of now.

Pic: Edexlive

The project also includes a vegetable garden, mushroom cultivation, bee farming, animal husbandry and compost formation. Vatsala also claimed that the money for the project has been coming from the personal contribution of teachers. However, an LBC faculty member who spoke to Edexlive on the condition of anonymity said that no such contribution was made by the teachers as far as they know. 

Strangely, the decision to create all of this was not put forward before the Academic Council, the faculty member said. However, the LBC Principal said that it didn't pertain to them. "This has nothing to do with the Academic Council, the Council is purely for academics. It is not that they permit something and only then it has to be done." Vatsala said that the governing body of the college has approved it and added that the cowshed is being used to teach students of environmental sciences more eco-friendly ways to live. 

Holy cow
Talking specifically about the cow shed, the document reads, "Understanding the purposes of Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog, the college has taken the initiative to preserve the desi breed of cow on the college campus... In addition to the cow’s milk, her dung and urine would be utilised in a gobar gas plant and for Panchgavya." Panchgavya is a concoction made from curd, ghee, cow dung and cow urine and is touted as a cure for serious diseases that modern medical science is still fighting

The Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA), which comes under the Ministry of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, was established in 2019 and made national headlines in January 2021 after it proposed conducting a 'cow science awareness exam' across the country. Media reports of the time suggest that the exam, which was proposed to be voluntary, was supposed to be held for students of all ages and was open to the general public. The Print reported that the 54-page reference material for the exam was riddled with claims such as, “Panchgavya taken daily by an individual can keep a person healthy and hearty. Dreaded diseases like psoriasis, any skin disorders, eczema, split wound heal very fast upon consumption of PanchGavya." This exam was postponed due to administrative reasons in mid-February.

Pic: Edexlive

This then brings us to what goes on inside the cow sheds. LBC principal Vatsala said, "We can use this village model for socio-economic research, mapping air quality and even performing a havan." While the eco-park may facilitate some of what Vatsala is claiming, the faculty member claimed that many teachers in the college have a problem with the religious connotation and unscientific claims it brings along with it. "There are rituals happening within the college premises. An educational institution needs to remain unbiased when it comes to religious beliefs and such open bias by the college towards one religious identity is problematic."

The faculty member claimed that teachers are not openly opposing it fearing mob harassment. "Even if we assume that one or two teachers are contributing to maintain it, the college is nobody's personal property to carry out these projects without consultation. The funding of it is unclear and neither do we know where the products procured out of the project, if any, are going," the faculty member said. 

Tale of one cow at Hansraj
Meanwhile, over at Hansraj College, the land where a women's hostel was supposed to be set up has reportedly been turned into the Swami Dayanand Saraswati Gau-Samwardhan ewam Anusandhan Kendra, which is a cow research centre — with one cow inside it. Hansraj College principal Rama Sharma told the Indian Express that the centre will not just do “research on various aspects of the cow" but will also provide “pure milk and ghee” for the monthly havan conducted on the campus and for the students.

In her defense, Sharma said that the site reserved for the women's hostel was too small to accommodate students in the first place and said that architects had told the college that a hostel could not be built there. However, the move and the principal's justification has irked the students of Hansraj — especially the female students who cannot afford accommodation near the college.

A second-year student of Philosophy (Hons) Hansraj and the Students' Federation of India Unit President, Sama, said, "This site has been reserved for a women's hostels for years now. We always knew that it was too small for it, now the gaushala (cow centre) has taken up half of that land."

There is now a cow 'research' centre at this site. Pic: Specially arranged

Access to hostels at publicly-funded educational institutions, especially in an expensive city like Delhi, is more important for students who come from deprived communities and students who hail from the remotest parts of the country. Sama herself hails from one of the most backward districts of India, Bastar, in Chhattisgarh. 

Sama said that the students were always told that the construction of the women's hostel is being delayed due to lack of funds and technical issues. "Our fight against it is because instead of getting proper land and funding for the women's hostel, the administration is prioritising a gaushala over it," she said.

Criticism has been pouring in from all quarters. In a Facebook post, an English teacher at the Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College under DU and a former member of DU's Academic Council, Saikat Ghosh, said, "There could have been a women's hostel (the land being originally earmarked for that purpose). Alternatively, there could have been an enabling unit centre to house assistive technology for persons with disabilities. There could have been an outreach centre where accessible educational modules could be prepared for underprivileged children in the neighborhood. There could have been an infirmary and emergency medical intervention unit for the students. There could have been a day-care center for toddlers of working mothers employed by the college..."

Ghosh added that instead of resolving the pending needs of the students, employees and the society that surrounds the Hansraj College, the institution has created a "gaushala". Edexlive attempted to talk to Principal Rama Sharma, however, she remained unresponsive to texts and calls.

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