Thursday, 5 March 2009

India's latest drink: cow urine

Overheated Indians can cool down with a very original new drink soon: a soft drink made of cow urine.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist movement in India, is planning to launch a new drink at the end of this year. The bovine brew is said to be in the final stages of development, according to the project leader Om Prakash. He is the head of the Cow Protection Department of RSS, one of India’s biggest and oldest Hindu nationalist movements. The new drink will be called ‘Gau Jal’, or ‘cow water’. Prakash: “At the moment we are doing some laboratory tests and the plan is to launch the drink hopefully by the end of this year.” Will it smell and taste like urine? “No, not at all, and it will have a nice taste too,” says Om Prakash from their brewery in Hardwar, one of four holy cities on the River Ganges. “Any toxins will be removed from the cow urine and it won’t be like carbonated drinks. It is going to be very healthy.” Cows have a holy symbolic status in India. To slaughter or eat a cow in India is illegal in most parts of the country. For many years cow dung is used as a fuel and disinfectant.
The drink is the latest attempt by the RSS – which was founded in 1925 and now claims eight million members – to cleanse India of foreign influence and promote its ideology of Hindutva, or Hinduness. Hindus revere cows and slaughtering them is illegal in most of India. Cow dung is traditionally used as a fuel and disinfectant in villages, while cow urine and dung are often consumed in rituals to "purify" those on the bottom rungs of the Hindu caste system. In 2001, the RSS and its offshoots – which include the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party – began promoting cow urine as a cure for ailments ranging from liver disease to obesity and even cancer.
The movement has often been accused of using more violent methods, such as killing 67 Christians in the eastern state of Orissa last year, and assaulting women in a pub in Mangalore last month. It also has a history of targeting foreign business in India, as in 1994, when it organised a nationwide boycott of multinational consumer goods, including Pepsi and Coca Cola. The cola brands are popular in India, now one of their biggest markets, but have struggled in recent years to shake off allegations, which they deny, that they contain dangerous levels of pesticide. Mr Prakash said his drink, by contrast, was made mainly of cow urine, mixed with a few medicinal and ayurvedic herbs. He said it would be "cheap", but declined to give further details about its price or ingredients until it was officially launched. He insisted, however, that it would be able to compete with the American cola brands, even with their enormous advertising budgets. "We're going to give them good competition as our drink is good for mankind," he said. "We may also think of exporting it."