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Mainstream, VOL LV No 30 New Delhi July 15, 2017

Hindutva and Cow Agenda: Love for Cow or Hatred for “Others”?

Sunday 16 July 2017

by Ram Puniyani

There have been several brutal lynchings of Muslims and beatings of Dalits on the issue of Holy cow. Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Pehlu Khan in Mewat being just two of the cases from the long list. In these cases some pretext is cooked up to beat the cow-traders or those consuming meat or beef. The incident at Una shows that it is not only Muslims who have been on the chopping block of Hindutva vigilantes but as a byproduct of this emotive campaign launched by the Modi-Yogi parivar many Dalits also suffer in a serious manner. Earlier in Gohana five Dalits, who were skinning a dead cow, were done to death. Following this Acharya Giriraj Kishore of the VHP stated that the cow is very sacred for Hindus. Lately RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat called for an all-India ban on cow slaughter, in Gujarat the punishment for cow slaughter has been increased to life imprison-ment, while Subramanian Swamy of the BJP is calling for death penalty for those caught in such cases.

What is the real agenda of the hysteria being built around the cow? Why is this being intensified at this point of time? Is it that starting from the cow vigilantes to their highest priest Mohan Bhagawat, all are committed to the welfare of the cow? Are they out to see that they are doing all this for the love of this animal which, according to them, houses 33 crore gods and goddesses in her body and whose dung and urine have medicinal properties? It is unlikely that they have the welfare of cow at heart. Had that been so their primary concern would have been to ensure that cows don’t die by consuming plastic in such large numbers. Had they been concerned about society benefiting from the dung or urine of the cow, they would have tried to understand what veterinary science say about specialties of the cow vis-a-vis other animals. Had they been concerned about the cow incidents like the ill-kept cow shed of Hingonia run by the BJP Government of Rajasthan, where hundreds cows suffered ill-treatment and death, such incidents would not have happened. While talking on behalf of Hindus the needs of poor Hindus, those depending on cow-leather or the poor farmers for whom the cow is a part of their agrarian economy, are nowhere on the agenda of this politics.

As such cow was consumed in the Vedic period. It was also the object of sacrifice in the Vedic rituals. Swami Vivekananda, regarded as a mentor and philosopher of Hindutva by the RSS, while speaking to a large gathering in the USA, 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]

With the rise of agricultural society and coming of Buddhism in particular the sacrifice of cows was opposed. As reaction to Buddhism, Brahmanism came up and projected cow as its symbol and in due course established the hegemony of Brahmanism over Buddhism and the holiness of the cow. Since then the Brahmanical version of Hinduism has harped on the medicinal value of urine and dung of cow.

After independence many a leader within and outside the Congress, who had the Bramanical mindset, started demanding for a total ban on cow slaughter. This was outright rejected in the Constituent Assembly; instead cow protection on scientific rational grounds, along with protection of other milch animals, formed the Directive Principle of State Policy. “The state shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and draught cattle.” (Directive Principles of State Policy)

Over a period of time, under pressure from the Hindutva elements, as an appeasement to the dominant Hindu sentiments, various State governments went ahead to bring in laws for stopping cow slaughter, later punishments were listed for storing beef as well. During the last three years not only has that emotive intensification been increased around the cow, an aggressive stance against non-vegetarianism is also floating in the society. Wherever the BJP is getting a foothold, it is trying to force the society in the direction of vegetarianism.

Today most States have passed laws that prohibit cow slaughter, except Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Lakshadweep; Assam and West Bengal permit the slaughter of cows over ages of 10 and 14 years respectively. The Haryana Government has even created a uniformed police force unit for cow protection. Yogi Adityanath’s first major act as the CM has been in closing numerous abattoirs, resulting in the loss of livelihood of hundreds of people.

All this is in contrast to the sentiments and opinions of people like Mahatma Gandhi who stated: ‘I have been 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. We have been shouting from the house-tops that there will be no coercion in the matter of religion.’

The RSS-Hindutva poltics is constructed around emotive issues which divide the society. Issues like Ram Mandir, Love Jihad,Ghar Wapsi have been built up and these issues have created an atmosphere of Hate towards religious minorities. As a side result of this, the Dalits dealing with cow’s dead body have also been the victim of this politics. Modi-BJP has been cleverly using this in a systematic way to spread hate against Muslims in particular. Modi had stated: “Rana Pratap 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 criticised the same. While the holy cow has been used to polarise the society, currently it is the major issue for spreading Hate in the society.

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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