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Mainstream, VOL LV No 28 New Delhi July 1, 2017

Cow—Metamorphosis from being a Divine Anmal to a Political Animal!

Saturday 1 July 2017


Though many Biblical stories are associated with many animals, it is rare to see an animal elevated to the status of the divine in the Western societies. Why divinity of the cow is unique to India? Cow is not only the main source of nutrition after land and vegetation, it is also the principal means of production in the agricultural village communities in India from time immemorial. The approach of the peasants towards cow was, however, mixed. On the one hand, as a key source of their livelihood these beast of burden would be worshipped on auspicious days but it is impossible to see a farmer holding the reins of two bullocks dragging his plough without a small whip in the other hand. Just because cow or bullocks are considered divine, the farmer would not refrain from making them toil or put them to economic use.

Among Tamils, the day after Pongal (the Sankranti day), they would deck their cows and bullocks with kumkum (sindhoor) and turmeric paste and worship them by showing aarti and after the festivities are over, they would promptly sell the old among the same cattle to the agents of butchers the next week, may be with a heavy heart. Without selling them, they cannot pay for the new cattle they will have to purchase before the next sowing season starts after three months. This apparent duality in the farmers’ approach to cattle is also an inseparable part of the bovine economy which is an integral part of the farm economy. It would be perverse to interpret it in such a manner that farmers are maniacs who kill the same “goddesses” they worship! Some may not sell the cows and let them die a natural death but they would definitely sell the old bullocks. Does the BJP/RSS do a service to the farmers by depriving him of his meagre income by imposing a cattle-slaughter ban?

The Indian peasantry used to worship cattle but they never used to go and kill people in the name of cattle. In Andhra, they would even send for Dalits to take away the dead cattle. Or, they would exchange old cattle for forest produce with tribals.

Literary allusions and historical evidence amply prove that not only Dalits, tribals, Muslims and Christians, but even Hindus of the upper varna layers were in the habit of eating beef from ancient times onwards. It was only in the early post-independence days, when the Hindu ultra-Right forces wanted to use cow protection to rehabilitate themselves from the stain of Gandhi killing, the holy cow turned into a political animal. Cow came in handy to construct a political identity. The Hindu conser-vative lot in the Constituent Assembly first started making cow a religious symbol only to subsequently make it a political symbol, resulting in some measure of constitutional ambiguity. Madhya Pradesh, the conservative bastion of Hindu orthodoxy, saw one of the first early legislations on cow protection. Cow became inseparable from communal politics from then onwards.

But cow politics assumed different political overtones at different stages. It might appeal to the upper castes and be directed against Dalits as in Una. It might become a majoritarian political symbol as Yogi is using it in UP against Muslims. In Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, the saffron hordes used to denigrate tribals for eating beef and tell them that they can come under the Hindu fold only by giving up eating beef. This is also one of their propaganda weapons against Christians when they used to propagate among peasants that the majority Christians would take away all their cows and eat them! Dalits can be dubbed sub-human only if they can be culturally distinguished from the rest of Hindus. They eat beef, so they are inferior!

In the era of proto-fascism—the stage of emerging fascism or fascistic transition—and crypto-fascism—disguised fascism—cow also becomes a powerful cultural symbol, for Hindutva’s cultural politics.

Any civilised human being would shudder at the idea of killing human beings in the name of protecting cows and call it banal. And theorist Hannah Arendt was quite right in describing the shallowness of fascism as the banality of the evil. The Sangh Parivar is out to create an aura of superiority over their politics of banality, a religious aura just as Hitler cultivated a racist Aryan aura. Fascist clouds in India hence float with the aura of religious superiority. The poor cow meows through these clouds and acquires a cultural-religious symbolism!

For fascism, populism need not be based only on economic issues alone. It can foremost be a populism on cultural-religious issues, too. Populism essentially means momentary or short-term deception of the masses by flaunting something dear to them and their aspirations.

Cow, thanks to its quasi religious imagery, is a potent symbol for wielding fascistic power. The tribals and Dalits might claim that they have been eating beef from time immemorial. But the Hindu communal-fascists tell them: We are the self-appointed leaders of Hindus. We will dictate to you what to eat and what not to eat. All fascisms are authoritarian and all authoritaria-nisms have fascistic streaks.

Fascism is always a mass phenomenon. Simultaneously, it is also a mass deception. What better way to deceive the upper-caste Hindu youth than to tell them that the cows are more important to them than affordable education or jobs? What bizarre way to empower hapless and jobless youth by making them cow vigilantes? The peasant boys may be powerless against the landgrabbing corporates but they can wield their swords against the neighbourhood Dalits.

Chauvinism is the life-line of fascism. There is no fascism sans atrocities. And there are no fascists without their soft targets. Whipping up chauvinism against some or the other minority is what sustains fascists politically. That is why fascism is always a parochial politics. Digital India and cow vigilantes, going hand in hand in Modi’s India! Wholesale eviction of urban poor in the name of smart cities is not possible without blind mass support of the majority. So make the minority the targets of hate. Fascism is politics of hate.

Why not even a fraction of the concern for saving cows is not to be seen for saving the girls from rapists? The fascist fraternities in the academia/universities and the media owe an answer—who are more threatened in Modi’s India? Cows or our girls?

How long can cow remain a political Kama-dhenu? Even the promise of building a temple for Ram in his alleged birthplace and perversely criminal demolition of a Masjid could not sustain the fascistic aura of the saffron political forces for long in the 1990s. Can the religious aura of the cow successfully substitute for Ram now? Can cow worship really save the Indians, including Hindus, from the evils of Modi’s brand of modernity? Let us see.


[This is the English translation of what appeared in the Hindi website, JanChowk, in a slightly abridged form.]

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