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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

Hindutva and Cow Terror: Politics of Hatred

Saturday 14 April 2018

by Jayanta Kumar Dab

It was in the late 19th century that the cow emerged as an important rallying point for mass political mobilisation in India. Hindu nationalists sought to unite Hindus against the British colonial rule and subsequently, against Muslims amidst the growing Hindu-Muslim communalism in the early 20th century. The cow has since become a potent symbol of Hindutva, a Hindu supremacist ideology espoused by the Sangh Parivar. And now the cow has become a symbol of annihilation of the minority communities.

Hindutva proponents view India as a Hindu nation, define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values, and seek to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life. In recent years, the Sangh Parivar has accelerated efforts to promote its Hindutva agenda and is pushing the cow slaughter issue to the political centre-stage.1 Indeed, the accession to power by the Sangh Parivar forces at the Centre has aggravated this politics of hatred, and this is also evident in the recent decision to shut down all the ‘illegal’ butcher shops in Uttar Pradesh by the Yogi Adityanath Government. At the same time, it won’t be a proper analysis to narrow down this politics of cow symbolism and underlying hatred only to the rise to power by the Sangh Parivar forces in this country, as one can see the case of consumption of cows being either banned or restricted in most of the States from earlier on itself.2

The list of the victims of Gau Rakshaks is enlarging day by day throughout the landscape from Kerala to Kashmir and Gujarat to Assam. The recent incidents have seen the phenomenon of terrorising the Muslim and Dalit communities at various levels from eating beef to herding it. Recently, in the name of protecting the holy cow which turned into a political animal and also became inseparable from communal politics, there have been countless incidents of lynching, maiming and robbing of Muslims and Dalits by the members of extremist outfits affiliated to India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP.

The Hindutva mobs earlier murdered Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri on the suspicion of storing/eating beef, then lynched Mazlum Ansari and Imteyaz Khan of Jharkhand for carrying cows, killed Pehlu Khan of Mewat for dairy farming, and recently murdered two Muslim youth, Abu Haneefa and Riyazuddin, of Assam in the name of ‘smuggling cows’. Here they want to inject the message of terror into the minds of the marginalised communities that ‘‘whatever you do related with cow is an offence and punishable with capital punishment by our lynching mobs, if it is even for your livelihood”.3

Likewise, on June 29, 2017 a mob beat up and killed Asgar Ansari, a Muslim trader in the eastern State of Jharkhand, for allegedly carrying beef in his car. Three days earlier, a Muslim dairy owner, Usman Ansari, was beaten up and his house set on fire.4 The last two incidents are the latest in a string of attacks carried out by activists belonging to outfits like the Bharatiya Gau Rakhsha Dal (BGRD) and its regional units as well as organisations like the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that are part of the Sangh Parivar, a family of Hindu Right-wing organisations of which the BJP is a part.5

The attacks, which are illegal and being described as cow vigilantism, have surged in recent years. According to a newspaper report, 63 incidents of ‘‘violence centred on bovine issues’’ were reported between 2010 and 2017; 97 per cent of these occurred after the BJP came to power in May 2014. Twentyfive of these incidents were reported in 2016 alone, the most so far in a single year. However, 2017 seems poised to break this record as around twenty cow vigilante attacks were reported in the first six months of this year, with the violence showing no signs of abating. Although Dalits have been targeted occasionally by the cow vigilantes, Muslims have borne the brunt of their attacks. Of the 28 people killed in such attacks so far, 86 per cent were Muslims.6 Side by side, the incident at Una in Gujarat shows that it is not only Muslims who have been on the chopping block of the 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 imprisonment, while Subramanian Swamy of the BJP is calling for death penalty for those caught in such cases.7 Unfortunately, a judiciary, which is supposed to ensure that Indian rulers govern as per the rule of law and many times call for scrutiny of the issues of public concern before it, has so far kept quiet emboldening the criminals. In fact, a judge of the Rajasthan High Court, instead of looking into the atrocities being committed by the cow saviours (Rajasthan tops the list in cow violence), ordered that the cow be made a national animal and anybody found killing it should be given death sentence.8

The latest victims have been the beef-eaters of IIT-M who were victims of a murderous attack by the ABVP (the RSS student wing) activists in the campus. The continuing murderous attacks by the Hundutva cadres in the name of the cow make one thing very clear: that these fascist elements are totally illiterate about present-day India.9 It is true that many Hindus consider the cow to be sacred, oppose cow slaughter, and do not eat beef. But it is a fact that 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.10 Moreover, the Hindutva cadres have absolutely no knowledge of India’s history, specially Vedic history, which they glorify as the golden period.11

As such cow was consumed in the Vedic period. It was also the object of sacrifice in the Vedic rituals. Swami Vivekanada, regarded as a mentor and philosopher of Hindutva by the RSS, while addressing a meeting at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA (February 2, 1900), on the theme of ‘Buddhistic India’, declared:

“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.’’12

This is further corroborated by other research works sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission, established by Vivekananda. According to C. Kunhan Raja, a prominent authority on the history and culture of the Vedic period:

‘‘The Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmanas, 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.”13

One of the greatest researchers and authorities on Indian politics, religion and culture produced a brilliant essay on the subject, titled ‘Did the Hindus Never Eat Beef?’ All those who are really interested in understanding the Indian past and wish to challenge the supremacist myth-making for cleansing and marginalising the minorities must read this monumental work of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. He quoted hundreds of ancient Hindu scriptures to show that beef-eating was rampant in ancient India or Vedic India. His conclusion was:

“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 Rig Veda Indra says : ‘They cook for one 15 plus twenty oxen.’ The Rig Veda says that for Agni were sacrificed horses, bulls, oxen, barren cows and rams. From the Rig Veda it appears that the cow was killed with a sword or axe.”14

Ambedkar concluded his essay with the following words: “With this evidence no one can doubt that there was a time when Hindus, both Brahmins and non-Brahmins, ate not only flesh but also beef.”15 What is more important, whether or not one should eat beef is a matter of personal choice. An individual or a group has a right to what one wishes to eat, but one has no right to offend the sentiments and religious feelings of others. The Supreme Court of India has also endorsed this viewpoint. The matter of beef has gone in a case to the Apex Court of India. It has said in a judgement that it was up to a person whether he wanted to eat beef or not and it was no crime in law if he did so. Not many among the minorities eat it because of the accommodative culture the country has developed. For the same reason, the Hindus too do not take pork out of respect for the Muslim’s belief. In fact, India has survived as a nation, despite its diversities, because it has respected the different sensitivities and identities. Otherwise, a vast country like India would have disintegrated long ago.16 Unfortunately, the ideology of the ruling BJP is the anti-thesis of pluralism. The party believes in polarisation. Take the case of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s recent comments. His reported remarks to a national newspaper were that ‘‘Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef’’ because ‘‘cow is an article of faith here”.17

The violence unleashed by the Hindutva cadres on the vulnerable sections of Indians also underscores hypocrisy as an integral trait of the RSS. In fact, to say that it indulged in double-/triplespeak would be an understatement in its case. The RSS cadres are killing indiscreetly poor Indians, not only for slaughtering cows but for even transporting these animals. At the same time the RSS/BJP are ruling single-handedly the States of Goa, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal and Manipur where cow slaughter is legal and beef is a staple diet. The RSS dictum seems to be that in some areas you will go to hell for slaughtering cows and in some areas you will rule for slaughtering cows.18 In this context, the question arises in the minds of our countrymen: can the saffron forces dare to impose a visa ban on foreign diplomats who eat beef? Can they direct the Foreign Office to boycott all official diplomatic functions where beef is eaten? Can they break trade relations with all those economic entities dealing in business with beef-associated products? No, they would never do that. They would only go for soft targets to create terror.19

Indeed, given the links between cow vigilantes and the ruling BJP, rarely has action been taken against the perpetrators of violence, especially in BJP-ruled States. Often, it is the victims of the vigilantes who are punished. In the BJP-ruled States, existing laws banning cow slaughter have been amended to expand the scope of such bans and to increase punishments for violation. Gujarat, for instance, amended its animal protection law this year to make cow slaughter punishable with life imprisonment. Other BJP Chief Ministers have endorsed hanging those who slaughter cows and have even exhorted vigilantes to do more and not stop at sloganeering. Little action is being taken to rein in the vigilantes or punish them. Emboldened by such state support, violence targeting Muslims is being unleashed in the name of protecting the cow.20

India’s reluctance to take stern action against the BGRD’s unleashing of violence against Muslims will deepen the communal division in the country. Its failure to bring to justice those who orchestrated and unleashed horrific violence on Muslims in the Bombay and Gujarat ‘‘riots’’ of 1992 and 2002 respectively prompted hundreds of Muslim youth to take up arms against the Indian state. If the ongoing violence against Muslims in the name of protecting the cow persists and goes unpunished, another generation of angry and alienated Muslim youth will turn to militancy and terrorism again.


1. Poulami Banerjee (2017), ‘‘Hinduism vs. Hindutva: The search for an ideology in times of cow politics’’ in Hindustan Times, April 10.

2. ‘‘Hindutva cow Terror : Time to Resist and form Larger Fraternity’’, May 5, 2017, accessed from www., retrieved on September 12, 2017.

3. Sudha Ramachandran (2017), ‘‘Hindutva Terrorism in India,’’ July 7, 2017, accessed from, retrieved on September 12, 2017.

4. The Times of India, June 30, 2017, p. 1.

5. Sudha Ramachandran (2017), op. cit.

6. Ibid.

7. Ram Puniyani (2017), “Hindutva and Cow Agenda : Love for Cow or Hatred for Others ?’’ in Mainstream, Vol. LV, No.30, July 14-20, New Delhi, p. 28.

8. Shamsul Islam (2017 a ), ‘‘Cow and Hindutva : Myths and Facts’’ in Mainstream, Vol. LV, No. 26, June 16-22, New Delhi, p. 13.

9. Ibid., p. 14.

10. Sumit Chakravartty (2016), ‘‘Grim Scenario on Eve of a Milestone’’ in Mainstream, Vol. LIV, No. 36, August 12-18, New Delhi, p. 5.

11. Shamsul Islam (2017), op. cit., p. 14.

12. Cited in Swami Vivekananda (1997), The Complete Works of SwamiVivekananda, Vol. III, Advaita Ashram, Kolkata, p. 536.

13. Cited in C. Kunhan Raja (1993), ‘Vedic Culture’ in Suniti Kumar Chatterjee and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. 1, The Ramakrishna Mission, p. 217.

14. B. R. Ambedkar (1990), ‘Did the Hindus never eat beef?’ in Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. VII, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, pp. 323-24.

15. Ibid., p. 324.

16. Kuldip Nayar (2015 a), ‘‘Rising Intolerence’’ in Mainstream, Vol. LIII, No. 45, October 30-November 5, New Delhi, p. 5.

17. Ibid., p. 6.

18. Shamsul Islam (2017), op.cit., p. 15.

19. Kumudini Pati (2017), ‘‘Why RSS pushes for the Cattle-slaughter Ban’’ in Mainstream, June 30-July 6, New Delhi, p. 13.

20. Sudha Ramachandran (2017), op.cit.

Dr Jayanta Kumar Dab is an Assistant Professor, Tamralipta Mahavidyalaya, Tamluk, Purba Medinipur, West Bengal.

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