Sivarama Swami continued to try to justify the unjustifiable in exploiting cows for “ahimsa milk.” While shaking his finger at us to emphasise “consent,” he goes on to say:

“Cows and bulls display behaviour—yes, they display behaviour!—that shows their consent with the milk they give, and the work they do.”

Well, that’s most reassuring. But just how would a cow who has been reared as a milk slave go about refusing consent? I addressed the issue of consent previously, arguing that:

Consent—even when there’s an ability to understand and communicate the concept, which is doubtful for animals—is a function of power. You have to have some power, and some autonomy, in order to be able to make the choice to give or withhold consent. Animals who are property possess no power and no autonomy. Their entire existence, and every aspect of it, is dependent on the whim of the property owner.

If ISKCON’s bulls, or oxen, are consenting to labour as agricultural work slaves and for hauling tourists around in carts for entertainment, then why do ISKCON videos and photographs show bulls on so-called “ahimsa” farms fitted with nose rings (for example, see here)? A nose ring is a device used to control animals by causing pain to the sensitive tissues of the nasal septum. If they are consenting, why do we see these oxen being disciplined—struck—with goads and whips?

ISKCON’s Minimum Cow Protection Standards state, regarding ‘Training Oxen’, “Training should be by voice commands or Indian technique of pierced nose with rope halter,” and, “Not Allowed: 1) Using whips excessively, beating, rough treatment, and violence to the oxen.”

So it’s quite permissible to use whips on oxen. Just don’t whip them excessively, whatever that means. Make sure you whip them “ahimsically.” And forcing oxen to perform hard labour apparently doesn’t count as “rough treatment” or “violence.” Yet, this would never be held to be the case for humans—just another instance of blatant speciesism.

If they are giving consent, why are calves forcibly separated from their mothers and weaned, albeit at three to six months, (as I was told is standard practice by someone from the Ahimsa Milk Dairy Foundation and as is confirmed here regarding the Bhaktivedanta Manor dairy farm) so that their milk can be appropriated? Shouldn’t the timing of weaning be up to mother and baby?

It’s a very strange sort of “consent” that requires nose rings, whips, goads, and forced separation. It’s a very peculiar definition of “ahimsa” that includes deliberate torture.

Former ISKCON Minister For Cow Protection, Balabhadra Dasa, says he sees making oxen perform labour as “tough love.” And that, “By working the male cows in such a way, a deeper bond is created between humans and cows.” Balabhadra obviously does not understand that there is a difference between an affectionate, voluntary, consensual bond and the forced bondage of slavery. Humans held hostage or otherwise in captivity often bond with their captors—this is known as ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’ However, we would never accept that evidence of this “bond” indicates consent or means that being held captive is in the captives’ best interests. We would never think this demonstrates “love” on the part of their jailers. The idea should be viewed as equally repugnant pertaining to animals.

“Tough love” is an oxymoron that speaks of abusers trying to justifying abuse in the name of “love.” It implies the very opposite of consent. It’s simply a euphemism for aggression. Balabhadra’s notion of “tough love” for oxen is very reminiscent of male abusers claiming that they “love” the women they abuse. What other choice is there but “consent” when you have no other options; when you are completely dependent on your owner for every requirement of survival? That’s not “consent”; that’s capitulation in the face of domination and bullying. “Consent” is just one more insidious lie in the ignominious business of extracting so-called “ahimsa milk.” The claim of “tough love” is also redolent of authoritarian parents and teachers declaring that inflicting harsh physical punishment on children is “tough love” and really for their own benefit rather than for the sadistic pleasure in inflicting it.

Since we’re considering that analogy, what difference is there, morally, between beating another for the pleasure of it and exploiting cows for the pleasure of consuming their milk? There is no moral difference whatsoever. In both cases, we’re inflicting violence for the trivial reason of pleasure alone, which is no moral justification at all. Just as there is no need to exploit cows for milk, since we have no physiological need to consume milk, there is absolutely no necessity to exploit oxen for agricultural labour in 2018 in advanced economies, by a wealthy organisation that can easily afford farm machinery and has no problem with otherwise extensively utilising modern technology of every kind. This retrograde nonsense is an attempt by Hare Krishnas to revive a medieval model of farming for the sake of religious sentiment alone. And religion does not suffice as a reason to exploit animals.

Nor is there any moral justification for forcing oxen to pull humans around in carts for the frivolous reason of entertainment. The notion that animals are “consenting” to engage in such ludicrous, pointless activities is utterly absurd. Coerced “consent” is no consent at all. It’s simply a violation of fundamental rights.

Abusers can be expected to try to make their abuse appear respectable. This is exactly what Sivarama is attempting, but failing, to do, in his defence of “ahimsa milk.” Don’t fall for the lie of “consent.” Just do the right thing by animals: go vegan.

By Linda McKenzie


 This essay, and others in this series, is based in the abolitionist animal rights theory of Gary Francione and Anna Charlton. To learn about abolitionist animal rights, see here.

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