On coronavirus and cow urine

'Cow therapy' (Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

Anybody who’s observed a cow relieving itself cannot deny it. The sight is spectacular, unmissable: big, loud splashes of ochre painting the pavement, which is most usually the point of acquaintance between urban Indians and ruminants. To be sure, the sight of a cow is ubiquitous in both urban and rural India and cow urine — much like its source, a few years back — is now going viral on social media, advocated as a natural prophylactic and cure for the coronavirus.

An elected Indian political representative went so far as downing a couple of shots recently to prevent COVID-19, before he was hospitalised. It must be said that, indeed, he does NOT have the coronavirus. Nor is it known if it was cow urine that prevented it!

India’s tryst with urine goes back decades. Our fourth Prime Minister, the venerable Morarji Desai, was arguably the most famous pee proponent of them all. He attributed his longevity — he lived to be 99 — to regular consumption of his own produce every morning. Desai was also hellbent on a nation-wide prohibition on alcohol: his motto was likely, ‘why drink this when you can drink that’.

Down the years, India’s focus shifted from self-reliance to cow products. And cow urine has since been a favourite of the champions of India’s traditional pharmacopeia. There is now an entire Indian industry around cow ‘by-products’, but that caters mostly to the biogas/farming/fertiliser sectors. The creature’s excretory products, while still not a commercial hit, have to satisfy themselves with their five minutes of fame on Twitter. 

Which brings us to the point: that cow urine’s mythical anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-disease properties are bandied around by some elements (with alarming regularity) on Facebook, doesn’t imply that all Indians are walking around swilling a ‘gau mutra’ goblet. Agreed, there would always be some snake oil seers, everywhere, but to project their behaviour as a national standard would also be far from the truth.

The perception that Indians are resorting to quackery in their battle against COVID-19, thus, reeks of typical social media-led stereotyping. The fact is, this land of snake charmers and elephants has been lauded by World Health Organisation for its efforts to contain the viral outbreak despite its massive population and landmass.

Five recorded deaths and less than 200 positive cases in a country of 1.3 billion. It’s early days, but we may have just performed the modern version of the great Indian rope trick. Surely, cow piss alone couldn’t have done that?