Cow(ard) politics: Something Bovine, Nothing Divine

April 17, 2015

by Sourav Banerjee

After the BJP government of Maharashtra followed by Haryana banned sale, possession and consumption of beef in their respective states recently, other BJP-led state governments are mulling to impose it sooner or at least before their sun sets in Delhi, as one of their top ranked leaders Rajnath Singh recently vowed to extend the ban to the rest of the country. However, with the current ban in place now we have almost all the states in the country barring Assam, Bengal, Meghalaya and Nagaland that have become too much cow friendly, while people are strayed in the vast grazing land of vicious cow politics.

As beef-eating in India has been perceived as the identifying mark of the Muslim community thus symbolises Islam, it is indeed a celebratory moment for all the Hindutwavadi supremacist forces (Sangh Parivar including BJP, RSS, VHP etc) if not for the majority of general Hindu masses, as in essence, more than anything else the ban is to negate the existence and survival of Islam in India, thus a step forward towards converting India into a much dreamt exclusive Hindu Rashtra or Bharat. Despite the agro-economic grounds set to justify the ban by BJP, it fails to hide the party’s disgusting loyalty towards neo-Vedantic Hinduism and Hindu resurrectionist forces whose cultural identity is allegedly threatened by Muslims, the ‘beef eaters’.

Why banning the ban

It’s been more than a century since the sanctity of this holy creature has been time and again invaded by the communalist forces for their vested political interests, as they drag the poor four-legged animal from the private sphere of faith and mutual aid and relations to the public space of political debate by making it a symbol representing a particular faith and identity.

Hindu brigades have always had a clear cow protection agenda based on scanty reading and appropriated interpretation of Hindu religion as well as history, thus lacks proper reason and justification behind depriving a substantial minority (Christians and Muslims) in the country, especially the Dalits, OBCs, and tribals of meat, for whom it has been a cheap source of proteins as well as an integral part of food culture and cuisine for long. Interestingly more than fifty per cent of people engaged in meat production and related trade of skin, hides, bones etc are Hindus and they are beef consumers. This ban therefore, is an assault on the right to life involving livelihood and a dietary choice of not only Muslims, but even of Hindus, in whose name the game has been played for ages. In other words, it limits the dietary preferences of a substantial section of Indian people.

Moreover, the law provides a social and legal sanction to Hindu fanatics to intimidate its political and cultural rivals (especially organised violence against Muslims and Christians) associated with the cattle trade and relevant purposes. It is evident, as the Haryana law includes police action even against drivers of vehicles transporting beef and the impounding of such vehicles. 

In light of all these, this ban unlike other regular bans time to time ritually imposed upon the books, literature, films and etc in India clearly sends the alarming signal of right-wing Hindu upsurge in recent times. It is indeed tough and pathetic to swallow that in the ‘world’s largest democracy’ and one of the oldest civilisations, one’s very basic dietary freedom to have famous century old ‘Tunda (beef) Kebabs’ in Luckhnow can fetch him/her a punishment greater than a grave criminal offence like rape for which the term is 7 years; or for deaths due to criminal negligence, which attracts the maximum prison term of two years.

Beef Economy

An expansive definition of ‘beef’ in the law in question has serious livelihood ramifications for millions of families directly and indirectly dependent on cattle trade and related industries like tanneries, gelatine, animal fat soap industry, pharmaceuticals and meat exports.

According to a recent report, 30,000-35,000 animals (buffaloes and bulls) are slaughtered in Maharashtra every day with an average of 150kg of meat extracted from each animal. Around 1.5 million people are directly employed by the industry at various levels including transportation of animals, butchering them, processing meat and transporting beef to markets in India and abroad. Despite beef eating being a religious taboo for quite a long time in India, ironically, another report titled ‘Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch’ tells us that “beef is the largest consumed meat in India.”

Let alone the consumers and workers, the ban would also take a toll on the farmers, as bereft of enough financial resources to feed their own stomach they will have to continue spending a substantial amount on the upkeep of bullocks and buffaloes that are useless for farm work but cannot be disposed off. Such malady represents the story of a poor man gifted with an elephant, or in contemporary world, a daily wage worker presented with a Merc. As in all three cases above, however great the intention is, ultimately it will fall on the weakest. It will further impoverish them and ruin the economies of millions of poor households.

What they said

It is the high time that the old rhetorics of cow(ard) politics should be challenged, based on the central question that did Hindus, especially the Vedic Indians, never consume beef? On the contrary, according to eminent Historian Dr DN Jha, the earliest textual evidence of beef eating in particular comes from the oldest Indian texts – the Vedas and their auxiliaries – which are religious in nature and range in date from 1500 BC to about 600 BC. These texts include most normative works like the Dharmasutras, Smrtis, Puranas, Buddhist canonical works in Pali and Sanskrit and even some Jain literatures as well.

Lets recollect what our father of constitution Dr BR Ambedkar and other social reformers have said on beef-eating and Hinduism. Ambedkar on the essay titled ‘Did The Hindus Never Eat Beef?’ said, “So far as the evidence from the Rig Veda is concerned the conclusion is based on a misreading and misunderstanding of the texts. The adjective Aghnya applied to the cow in the Rig Veda means a cow that was yielding milk and therefore not fit for being killed. This application of the utility of the cow did not prevent the Aryan from killing the cow for purposes of food. Indeed, the cow was killed because the cow was regarded as sacred…The killing of cow for the guest had grown to such an extent that the guest came to be called ‘Go-ghna’, which means the killer of cow. Not only Hindus, but Brahmins themselves ate cow meat too. That the Aryans of the Rig Veda did kill cows for purposes of food and ate beef is abundantly clear from the Rig Veda itself. In one of various instances in Rig Veda (X. 86.14) Indra says, ‘They cook for one 15 plus twenty oxen’. The Rig Veda (X.91.14) says that for Agni were sacrificed horses, bulls, oxen, barren cows and rams.”

Savarkar, pioneer of the ‘Hindutva’ dream in his Marathi book ‘X kirane’ lambasts cow worship by  saying that “if someone from the animal kingdom is worth worshipping, then why not start worshipping pig, as  among the nine lives/avatar of Vishnu , there is one which is Varahvatar (Varah stands for pig) also. It further reads “the cow is neither God nor mother but purely a useful animal. We should not worship it but we must breed and nurture the animal because we can reap the best advantages from it.” Such radical observations obviously throws a tight slap on the faces of his modern day disciples, no matter how much they try to eulogise Savarkar and the likes.

Another noted historian Damodar Kosambi specialised in ancient India writes in his work ‘The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India (1964)’, “A modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism, whereas Vedic Brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef.”

Building Resistance

This beef ban move by BJP-led governments of several states evoked strong protest in different parts of India while it was condemned by thousands of justice loving people including artists, academic scholars, eminent personalities and students as well. Universities of Hyderabad  – EFLU (English and Foreign Languages University) and Osmania University of Hyderabad – organised a ‘Beef Festival’ to mark their protest. Kolkata, Maharashtra and Chennai too saw the public ire on the ban, where a group of lawyers and rights activists held a beef eating protest. According to newspaper reports The Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the Communist Party of India Marxist, has decided to hold a nationwide ‘Beef Festival’ to protest the ban in Maharashtra. Earlier, a rally in Bangalore had drawn more than 20,000 people where UR Ananthmurthy, well known Kannad author and professor, tore up a copy of the Bill and lambasted the then state government for a communally motivated Bill. Following his footsteps, eminent playwright and actor Girish Karnad too was vocal against the ban, as he was in attendance among several others at an event in Bangalore to protest the beef ban. “I just see this as sheer wickedness of the government. They mean to provoke and we are here to protest against this kind of goonda behaviour,” he said.

Given the cow bonhomie its due (dis)credit, however, I doubt if the cows are strong enough to uproot the thousand years of liberal and secular cultural history of India and turn it to a liberated zone for cows with grassy meadows and grazing lands usurping the whole floor area of the country, where only the worshippers of everything about a cow, from cow dung to Cowka Cola (commercialised health drink made from cow urine) will be blessed. I wonder, who’s actually more blessed, cow or man? And without much hardship I found it’s the cow, as there is no such law or Act exists in Indian constitution that guarantees a ban on human slaughter as in the case of cows, violation of which attracts fines ranging from Rs. 10,000 – 1 lakh and a maximum prison term of ten years. Famous writer Salman Rushdie summed up this tragic malady in a tweet harped on immediately after the ban became operational in Maharashtra. It goes, “Congratulations Maharashtra: it is now safer to be a cow than a woman, Dalit, Muslim in the state.”