10/07/2015, 00.00
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Hindutiva’s discourse of hate, the life of "sacred cows" is “more precious than that of a human being"

by Ram Puniyani
Cows are sacred. Crimes against them are used to stir up political hatred for electoral purposes, even though India is a large beef exporter. Gandhi once said that there should be “fullest recognition of freedom to the Muslims to slaughter". Ram Puniyani, president of the Center for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, looks at the lynching of Muslims suspected of consuming beef.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Currently while one is trying to identify the guilty of the Beef lynching in Dadri1 or the lapses of the ruling government, what is being missed is the 'hate ideology', which is at the root of the incident. Interestingly, Narendra Modi has been keeping silent on the issue. One just has to recall his speech in the wake of 2014 elections and one may become clear about the reason for his silence. Mr. Modi stated, "Rana Pratap2 dedicated his life to gau raksha (cow protection). He fought wars and sacrificed young men to protect the cow..." He derogatorily referred to export of beef as Pink revolution and criticized it.

In the present hysterical atmosphere which is gradually intensifying around Mother Cow, one has to remember an incident just over a decade ago (2002) in Dulina village of Jhajjar, in Haryana. A mob of over a thousand people lynched five Dalits who were skinning a dead cow to sell the hide. In the context of Dulina lynching of five Dalits, Vishva Hindu Parishad's Acharya Giriraj Kishore in a press conference stated that "the life of a cow is more precious than that of a human being." The recent incidents are just the tip hiding the intense atmosphere of hate being created around this issue.

A few months ago in Malegaon, Maharashtra, police arrested three Muslims on the charge of storing beef. On the back of the Dadri incident comes the news of the burning of a truck in Aurangabad, allegedly carrying beef.

'Cow as mother' has now become the major tool in the hands of communal forces. As such 'Cow as mother' was the ploy used by Hindu communalism all through from late nineteenth century. At that time, there was a matching slogan of 'pig as an object of hate' from Muslim communalism on the battleground. As the classic novel Tamas by Bhism Sanhi showed, pigs were thrown in mosques to instigate riots; the same happen to beef in the temple. In turn, such incidents led to communal violence and boosted communal politics.

After independence, the 'pig in the mosque' was heard less often. Occasionally, one did hear of beef in temples by Bajrang Dal elements. But not too many casualties have been heard in this case. At a subconscious level, the issue of beef has been kept very much alive and now it has become more important as far as communal polarization keeps in mind electoral arithmetic. This has been added to the worsening scenario as far as communal harmony is concerned.

From an economic standpoint, the cow has been an important part of the agricultural economy. The use of old bullocks and cows for food has been the norm for large sections of society. Apart from the Adivasis, large numbers of Dalits, Muslims, Christians and even upper caste Hindus consumed beef, as a cheap and rich source of protein. Being a large country with a lot of cattle, India is also the major exporter of beef.

Historically, it is interesting to note that beef was part of the food habits in Vedic times (1500 BC-500 AD). It was only later that the cow was turned into a mother figure for identity politics. Bhimrao Ambedkar in his celebrated essay ‘Did Hindus never eat beef?’ demonstrates this very well. At a popular level, Swami Vivekananda confirms the findings of historians like Prof D.N. Jha, who traces the history of beef consumption to Vedic times. Swamiji points out, "You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it."3

This is corroborated by other research works sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission established by Swami Vivekananda himself. One of these reads, "The Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmans, ate fish, meat and even beef. A distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. One of the words that designated cow was aghnya (what shall not be killed). But a guest was a goghna (one for whom a cow is killed). It is only bulls, barren cows and calves that were killed."4

It is not that society cannot resolve the issue of contrasting food habits and faith in an amicable way. Gandhi shows the way and one wishes that we would heed what he has to say on the issue of beef eating, "... beef is not their (Muslims, added) ordinary food. Their ordinary food is the same as that of the millions. What is true is that there are very few Muslims who are vegetarians for religious reasons.”

“Therefore, they will take meat, including beef, when they can get it. But during the greater part of the year, millions of Muslims, owing to poverty, go without meat of any kind. These are facts. But the theoretical question demands a clear answer. As a Hindu, a confirmed vegetarian, and a worshiper of the cow whom I regard with the same veneration as I regard my mother (alas, no more on this earth!), I maintain that Muslims should have full freedom to slaughter cows, if they wish, subject of course to hygienic restrictions and in a manner not to wound the susceptibilities of their Hindu neighbours. The fullest recongition of greedom to the Muslims to slaughter cows is indispensable for communal harmony, and is the only way of saving the cow.”

By now the Muslim as the 'Cow killer' has been propagated so much by communal forces that yeoman efforts are need by those who want peace, tolerance and pluralism to overcome the hate built around this propaganda. The propaganda is highly inflammable and those indulging in divisive politics can easily bring to their agenda at community level, with dangerous consequences. The incident of beef lynching reflects the prevalent hatred which is there in the society and which can be and is being used for electoral purpose.

Also the worsening of communal scenario after the new government has come to power is a warning bell for the Indian Constitution's values of Fraternity in particular. One notes the immense rise in incidents of communal violence and intimidation of religious minorities as the communal organizations have become more bold and aggressive, and feel that they have immunity in the new dispensation. We need to restore the feeling of security, trust and tolerance in our society.

1 Dadri is located in the State of Uttar Pradesh, not far from the Union Capital of New Delhi.

2 Rana Pratap Singh, (1540-1597) was the ruler of Mewar, a region in north-western India in the present day state of Rajasthan.

3 Vivekananda speaking at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA (2 February 1900) on the theme of 'Buddhistic India', cited in Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536.

4 C. Kunhan Raja, 'Vedic Culture', cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol 1 (Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission, 1993), 217.

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