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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 37 New Delhi August 31, 2019

Holy Cow on Indian Political Chessboard

Saturday 31 August 2019

by Ram Puniyani

Lynching alone has not been the only fallout of making the Holy cow as central to the agenda of the Hindu nationalist BJP and its co-travellers towards Hindu Rashtra. In the dreaded pheno-menon of lynching the major victims have been the religious minorities and Dalits as highlighted in their letter by 49 eminent film and other personalities. This is just the beginning of the story around the Cow. Much more is in store around the Cow.

Now Shrikant Sharma, a Minister in the Yogi Cabinet in UP, has announced the scheme whereby those tending to the stray cattle will be paid Rs 30 per day and the government has kept a budget of Rs 110 crores for the same. This has been necessitated as the stray cattle, particularly Cows, have increased tremendously in number due to the vicious atmosphere created by the Cow vigilantes. These cattle are attacking the fields of the farmers, causing a huge loss to the already sagging agrarian economy. Many accidents are taking place due to the large number of stray cattle.

Another point which most of us missed was the one mentioned in the Election Manifesto of the BJP (2019). The manifesto announced the formation of ‘National Cow Commission’ (Rashtriya Kamdehenu Aayog) with a budget of Rs 500 cores. This Commission will plan the Kamdhenu Chairs in Universities for study and increasing awareness about the virtues of the Cow. This Commission has the project of starting Housing colonies around the cowsheds, medical shops of cow products among others. While one needs to welcome the development of rural economy where the cattle find more organised and scientific utilisation, singling out the Cow for this honour is a pure political ploy.

One more fallout of cow vigilantism has been the coming up of many groups involved in the extortion business from the cattle trade and transport of these. Niranjan Takle, an investi-gative journalist, found out that the going rates for transporting trucks with cows is Rs 15,000 per truck and for buffaloes Rs 6500 per truck. This is for half the part of the travel. He could find this by posing as a cattle trader, disguised as Rafiq Kureshi. This extortion is related to the leather trade as he points out that after the slaughter the leather is to be given to the middle men. These vigilante groups also resort to intermittent violence to keep up the pressure which helps the regular extortion racket going.

The other interesting point is that while on one hand India is emerging towards the top of the table in lynching incidents, it is also emerging as the top exporter of beef. Contrary to the popular notion, the major people profiting from this trade are not Muslims but Hindus/Jains. Look at some of these companies who lead in beef export, Al Kabeer, Arabian Exports, MKR Frozen Food, Al Noor; the impression they give is as if they are owned by Muslims. The fact is that most of them are owned by Hindus or Jains.

This Cow/beef issue has been brought up mainly for their agenda of polarisation. There are claims that there have been no major riots during BJP rule; the fact is the while no spectacular riots have been orchestrated, the low intensity violence and lynching around cow-beef have been marshalled to achieve the purpose of this polarisation to greater effect. We know that cows were sacrificed during the Vedic period and beef was the consumed. Apart from the scholarly works of Dr Ambedkar (‘Who were the Shudras’) and Prof D.N. Jha (‘Myth of Holy Cow’), Swami Vivekananda draws our attention to the same fact. He points out that cow meat was consumed during the Vedic period. It was also the object of sacrifice in the Vedic rituals. While speaking to a large gathering in the USA he said: “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.” (Vivekananda, cited in Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536)

While the currently prevalent Hindu nationa-lism draws mainly from the RSS stock, the other main Hindu Nationalist stream has been that of Hindu Mahasabha to which Savarkar belonged. He is a great inspirational figure for the RSS combine, but had a different opinion on Cow. He said Cow is the mother of bulls not of humans. Also that it is a useful animal and should be treated as such. In Vigyan Nishta Nibandh (Pro-Science Essays) he writes that cows should be protected because they are useful to humans not because they are divine. Among the two streams of Hindu Nationalism, the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS is the one ruling the roost and is using Cow as an identity issue to divide the society.

Interestingly the same BJP, which is creating such mayhem in the name of the Cow in major parts of North India, is quiet on this issue in Kerala, Goa and the North-East. On the eve of Independence Dr Rajendra Prasad approached the Mahatma with an appeal to get cow slaughter banned. Gandhi’s reply is an ideal which should guide our plural society, "In India, no law can be made to ban cow slaughter. I do not doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have long pledged to serve the cow, but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.... It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians, and other religious groups here. The assumption of the Hindus that India has now become the land of the Hindus is erroneous. India belongs to all who live here.”

So while the country waits for welfare measures to raise the indices of our social life, the BJP rulers are more focused on allocating budget on Cow tending or promotion or pseudo- research, which in no way serves the purpose of the much-needed social welfare.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai. 

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