Thursday 27th October 2016,
Hindu Human Rights Online News Magazine

When Hindus were blamed for mad cow disease (CJD)

When Hindus were blamed for mad cow disease (CJD)

In September 2005, the medical journal Lancet reported that the origins of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) or Mad Cow Disease, which led through the food chain to being variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) in humans, had its origins in the funerary practices of Hindus in India. This at least is the theory of Professor Alan Colchester of Kent University, and his daughter Nancy of Edinburgh University. Alan Colchester is recognised as being someone of considerable expertise on the subject so his ideas make interesting reading. Colchester is a clinical academic, who is involved with both NHS clinical neurology and his academic responsibilities and is a patron of the Human BSE Foundation. He claims during the 1960s and 1970s, India exported cattle feed composed of the ground up remains of human and bovine bones, with the human element in this mix being the component which triggered the onset of BSE. Now it is how the human remains got into the feed that is the most remarkable part of the whole hypothesis. The Ganges river, the sacred Ganga in Hinduism, is regarded as an auspicious place to cremate the remains of the dead. However poverty often means that relatives cannot always afford to pay for the firewood needed to complete the funerary process and hence incompletely burnt bodies are often deposited the river waters. As well as causing well documented environmental problems, this also led, according to Alan Colchester, to an area which has been much ignored. Peasants would collect the bones, along with those of animals, sell them to animal recycling plants, which would then cause them to find their way into the mixture exported for use as fertiliser and livestock feed in Britain.

There is nothing wrong with research of this type, especially since CJD is a horrific ailment, incurable, causing the brain to go sponge like as the victim slides into a vegetative state before death. So any progress in understanding this disease, and hopefully both finding a cure and preventing its entry into the human food chain at root, needs to be welcomed. However, we must ask ourselves just how pertinent is this latest theory, and is its direction academically honest or just trying to find scapegoats?

The Colchesters have not gone unchallenged. Professor Susarla Shankar, head of neuropathology at India’s National Institute of Mental Health in Banglalore, expressed considerable doubt about the hypothesis but agreed that it deserved further investigation. Any human material which could have possibly made its way into the bovine feed from the traditional Indian practice of bone collecting, would have been so scant as to be inconsequential. Also, and more importantly, not a single case of BSE had been found in Indian cattle. At the Indian Council for Medical Research are just as scathing, a senior epidemiologist insisted that India had not reported a single case of cattle or sheep dying of BSE. So in the absence of evidence, there was no means to support this study. Then there Dr David Brown of the University of Bath, an expert in prion diseases, who said that on a scale of probability, it would be down at the low end.

Alan Colchester has also not gone unnoticed by certain sections of the Hindu community, especially in India. In this he has expressed his sadness that scientific findings should be taken in that negative manner:

“I am sadly surprised that some Hindus have reacted this way. We are not attacking their beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hope that we have contributed to discussion on how to improve the situation in the Ganges. The ideal is for the body to be burned, but most people cannot afford enough wood for full cremation. Many complete corpses are thrown into the river.”

Now the actual origins of BSE remain obscure, although there is a very interesting disease from New Guinea which has been documented because of its eerily close similarity to CJD. Kuru was found among the South Fore of New Guinea, and due to the outbursts of laughter that marked its final destructive phase, it was also known as laughing sickness. First noticed in the early twentieth century, by the 1950s Australian government officials reported the kuru was rampant among the South Fore, with an epidemic that reached its height in the 1960s. Over 1000 of this New Guinea tribe died form this disease between 1957 and 1968, which entered the human food chain via a process of ritual cannibalism, in which the brains of the dead were eaten in ceremonial practices. Eating the brains ensured that the prions continued to re-enter the food chain, and cause the destructive vegetative state among their victims.

So here we have an example of ritualistic cannibalism causing CJD and BSE like symptoms among humans who ingest the infected material. In addition it is a commonly held idea that feeding cattle and sheep feed made from animal remains such as ground up bones, would lead to BSE, as well as scrapie in sheep, because these herbivores are not designed to be eating animal protein. They are not carnivorous, and are being fed material which is not natural for their digestive system by any stretch of the imagination. Now it does not take an academic of Professor Colchester’s calibre to comprehend that an animal which is not carnivorous, would have a negligible probability, if even that, at being cannibalistic in its diet. That brings us on the area in which Colchester has yet to be examined, that of diet in India.

When one compares ceremonial and ritualistic diets, with their religious and spiritual affiliations, between the South Fore and New Guinea, and the Hindus, which is then used against the Colchester theory on BSE, it makes very interesting reading. Kuru was a disease that propagated itself through a cannibalistic diet, albeit one with specific ritualistic significance, and undoubtedly what was felt to have spiritual significance. As has been already mentioned, a cannibalistic diet, however limited, needs to be carnivorous. It involves the eating of meat. The contrast with Hindu ritual could not be greater. Vegetarianism as opposed to cannibalism, is the preferred diet among Hindus aspiring to be spiritually enlightened. It involved the complete avoidance of meat and eggs in the diet. Even those Hindus that eat meat will not tend to eat other human beings, even in rituals. Now here it gets very interesting, because as we are talking about Mad Cow Disease, then we need to state the obvious fact that in India the cow is held to be sacred. Hindus that are non-vegetarian, will scrupulously avoid beef. So here we have the supreme irony of Alan Colchester, respected medical authority on BSE and academic pointing the finger at a nation of which the majority do not eat beef, and the funerary practices of a belief system which holds the cow to be sacred, Gau Mata.

Now one can say that this does not prove that BSE did not originate the bovine meal exported from India, nor that human remains did not get in there at all. No it does not but then again the Colchester theory, which lacked actual evidence in the beginning, and was met with scepticism, now looks even more shaky when the nation blamed for most likely causing it, has a spiritual tradition which frowns not only on eating beef, but eating meat in general. Hindu Dharma goes much further and in ethics is against the industrial scale rearing of livestock in sometimes horrendous conditions, to provide for the carnivorous diet of livestock which led to both scrapie and BSE, and then by the meat eating food chain to human variant CJD in humans. Yet the finger is now pointed elsewhere rather than looking at this unnatural form of feeding and rearing domesticated animals. Ironically it could actually be the Hindu ethics which emphasise a vegetarian diet, and as such means using land in a far less destructive manner than modern environmentally destructive farming methods, that are the agricultural methods of the future. It would ensure diseases such as BSE and CJD, if not actually eliminated, could be kept to a minimum.

So we have a very disturbing fact which the mainstream media do not want to look at. Alan Colchester may not be indulging in anti-Hindu diatribes consciously, but he, like all of us is a product of a certain social and political environment. It has been said before by HHR that anti-Hindu sentiment in many ways parallels anti-Semitism. In certain spheres it has actually taken over from it inheriting its irrational hate and lack of openness to reasonable debate. During the time of the Black Death in Medieval Europe, Jewish communities were wiped out, and not just because of the disease itself. They were accused of poisoning wells in order to exterminate their Christian neighbours via the Black Death, a disease which recent research has linked to something resembling Ebola, and not bubonic plague as was previously thought. The fact that Jews themselves were dying of this highly infectious disease, and that they too would need water from the wells, bypassed the intelligence of the fanatics who would not stop at any pretext to attack and annihilate them. That was made much easier by the atmospherics at the time which hated all those who did not show allegiance to the dominant faith, dominant church, and dominant god. Anyone “different” was singled out for merciless treatment. It was often the Jews, although it could switch to a more amorphous enemy such as witches or heretics.

We need to therefore ask ourselves if the same thing is happening here, in the latest findings on a brain destroying disease. It is obvious from reporting on terrorism that Hindus, despite being victims of the same destructive ideology for much longer than either Britain, Europe or the United States, and even though they have been verbally and physically attacked in the streets in the Islamophobic aftermath of the 7 July bombings in London, do not warrant equal treatment. High ranking politicians can go on national television and say that despite the annihilation of all Hindus in Kashmir, that constitutes freedom fighting, and must not be “confused” with terrorism. Now we have a senior academic and highly respected authority on a neurological disease saying that the funerary practices in a nation, that almost completely bans the killing of cows and sale of beef, where the majority avoid eating beef, where a vegetarian diet has long been held in esteem, and where cases of BSE and CJD do not exist, or are negligible, is the place responsible for introducing the disease to Britain. So is this cogent academic research? Or are Hindus just the convenient scapegoat once again, accused of being contemporary “well-poisoners”?



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About The Author

Ranbir Singh : Writer and lecturer, HHR chairman : BA (Honours) History, MA History from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London : , Have lectured previously at De Montfort University, London School of Economics, Sternberg Centre for Reform Judaism. Contributor to various political and human rights discussion outfits.