Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Hindu politics with 'Holy Cow'

The politics with cow is a big one in Hindu India, esp. under the government of Narendra Modi. In recent days, some of the union states have passed laws banning cow slaughter. Hindu chauvinists and bigots claim that cow is a holy animal and needs to be protected at any cost. As such, Muslims who are in the business of selling and slaughtering cows have been targeted for harassment and killing by Hindu zealots.

Many Hindus are unaware that in the ancient times before the coming of Islam and Christianity, beef was consumed by most Hindus. A study by D.N.Jha, a professor of history at Delhi University, “The Myth of Holy Cow”, reveals that beef was not only consumed in the ancient times, it was one of the sacrificial animals and sacrifice of cow formed part of certain rituals. There are references to Lord Indra savoured beef of sacrificial cow. As the society was transiting from pastoral to agricultural economy, the cattle wealth played important role, particularly oxen, bulls and cow. Prohibiting sacrifice of cow and reverence was later development as mentioned in Brahamanas – commentaries on Vedas written between 7th and 5th Centuries B.C.E.


As Irfan Engineer of CSSS (Centre for Study of Society and Secularism) has recently argued, Buddhism and Jainism gained salience in the later period. Emperor Ashoka showed concern for well-being of all animals and their health by arranging for their medical treatment and prohibiting animal sacrifice, but not cattle. Kautilya’s Arthashastra also refers to slaughter of cattle as common. The Hindus of Bali islands in Indonesia still eat beef. Among some adivasi communities, cow continues to be sacrificial animal on certain festive occasions. Some Dalit communities too continue to consume beef. 
The practice of beef eating might have stopped sometime after 8th Century CE as Adi Shankaracharya’s philosophy of Advaita Vedanta gained salience. Anti-Buddhist propaganda was also reaching its peak during the 8th century when Shankara modeled his monastic order after the Buddhist Sangha. An upsurge of Hinduism had taken place in North India by the early 11th century as illustrated by the influential Sanskrit drama Prabodhacandrodaya in the Chandela court, which is a devotion to Vishnu and an allegory to the defeat of Buddhism and Jainism. The population of North India had become predominantly Shaiva, Vaishnava or Shakta.  By the 12th century a lay population of Buddhists hardly existed outside the monastic institutions and when it did penetrate the Indian peasant population it was hardly discernible as a distinct community. Vaishnavites eventually frowned upon animal sacrifices and practiced vegetarianism.
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The piece below is from Irfan Engineer's article (Hindu Rashtra, Cow and Muslims – Part II) in the CSSS:


The Hindu Nationalists revisited the issue of cow sometime in 1966. Newly created Vishwa Hindu Parishad attempted to mobilize Hindu community, not very successfully, in their anti-cow slaughter movement. In 1967, thousands of sadhus could be mobilized to march on the Parliament to demand ban on cow slaughter. Gradually cow and distribution of water of Ganges packed in small bottles worked its way up to become icon of Hindu Nationalist organizations and a useful tool to project Muslims as butchers of cow. The sacredness of cow was exploited and mythologized. Utility of cow urine and dung was overplayed and projected as cure of all sorts of of. Posters depicting all Gods and Goddesses inhabiting cows body were pasted in millions all over the country. In 2010, two leading newspapers reported that Go Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra, a RSS affiliate, got a US patent for an anti-cancer drug extracted from cow’s urine. 
Numerous gaushalas were opened in various states and state funds were utilized to fund expenses for caring old cows. In Haryana there are numerous gaushalas which are well funded by state and donations from individuals but the old cows underfed and suffering. Same is the story more or less of other gaushalas in other states with few exceptions. The gaushalas however, develop vested interest in keeping underfed and under-cared cows. More cows would mean more funds from the state. They therefore develop vested interest in lobbying for ban on cow slaughter and over projecting utilities and benefits of even old cows.
Gau raksha dals and the Hindu Nationalists
Gau raksha dals (cow protection squads consisting of 4-6 members) have sprung up in various states, and are particularly numerous, well networked and enjoy informal state patronage in the BJP ruled states. The squads on receiving information, blockade vehicles transporting cattle from seller to buyer if the owner of the vehicle or the driver is a Muslim, even if accompanied with proper permissions and necessary documentation. They often mercilessly beat up the driver thereby committing an offence and misappropriate the cattle unless their palms are greased. The driver so beaten up is then paraded before the press in order to portray Muslims as cow slayers and then handed to police. Police instead of charging the squad for the offence they committed, book the vulnerable driver.
This author has investigated such cases in Kachchh and told about such incidents in Rajasthan in the Mewat belt and other places in MP. In Ahmedabad alone there are 64 such squads. Constant reportage in media portraying Muslims as cattle slayers, uploading photoshopped pictures on social media has led to numerous communal violence. The 1969 communal violence in Ahmedabad was triggered off after rumours of Muslims beating cows were spread. Communal violence in Dhule on 5th October 2008 were triggered off after posters were pasted in the town by Hindu Rakshak Samiti showing a cow being brutally slaughtered by a bearded man wearing a skull cap. The Dy.S.P. we talked to said that the poster showed cow as a victim of bomb blast. The poster had certain objectionable text but the police stuck a strip of paper to cover the portion of the text that they found objectionable.
The Hindu Nationalists exploit cow as a symbol to extort money from the cattle transporters, promote hatred against Muslim community and to trigger off communal violence. However, the symbol of cow is exploited for wider political objectives – to forge political unity among various upper castes who altogether amount to less than 15% of the Hindu population and between upper castes and sections of OBCs. Political programme of cow protection has proved to be a useful tool to unite the otherwise politically divided upper castes and a section of OBCs and to wean away these sections from Congress and regional parties. It helps perpetuate the cultural and political hegemony of the upper caste and constitute non-negotiables of the “Hindu” culture, marginalizing the dalits and adivasis culture and dietary traditions. Worshipping cow as gau mata undermines the cultural diversity, diversity of religious practices and beliefs. Imposing cultural hegemony of cow as gau mata is not divorced from political hegemony of worshipers of gau mata over the rest who do not have tradition of worshipping gau mata and forming part of their dietary tradition.
No wander, in Gohana (Haryana) 5 dalits were brutally murdered while they were skinning a dead cow – their traditional occupation. They were falsely accused of skinning the cow alive, just as Muslim drivers / owners are routinely accused falsely of transporting cow to slaughter houses. The objective is not to protect the cow, but to assert cultural and political hegemony over dalits, adivasis and minorities. The MP and Maharashtra anti-cow slaughter legislations are precisely that political statement. Probability of punishment for the offence of communal violence in which scores and even hundreds of Muslim humans are killed is next to nothing – they are asked to forget the riots and get along in life with FIRs either not registered or registered improperly, if registered, cases not investigated properly and closed as A summary or B summary cases and criminal trials being mockery of criminal justice system. Punishment for killing dalit humans in Gohana and in scores of other anti-dalit violence is next to nil with a few exceptions wherein dalits and human rights organization mount a massive campaign and put in humongous effort to get the guilty punished. Punishments for offences under Atrocities Act are milder compared to punishment of cow slaughter – upto 7 years – and with certainty of punishment! The anti-cow slaughter Act also gives officials draconian powers of search and arrest and, worse, put the burden of proof on the accused. Immediately after the bill became law, there was a spate of attacks on the Muslim community by Hindu Nationalists. This was not unexpected, since the purpose of the law was, indeed, as much to harass them and to promote cow reverence as a means of consolidating the Hindu community behind the BJP. Cow is more important than dalit humans, adivasi humans and minority humans.
Cultural State
A state that protects cow more than it does human beings from marginalized communities; a state for which, security of cow and criminals is more important than that of human beings from marginalized and vulnerable sections of society, including women, is a state to worry about. A cultural state, as indeed a theocratic state is an anti-democratic state spending massive resources on defence, policing and security of a tiny minority rather than on food security and livelihoods of the needy. Cultural state invests heavily on snooping into bedrooms, kitchens, dresses that women prefer to wear, publishing houses, entertainment industry, media, etc., rather than prioritizing equitable development and provisioning of health care and education to all citizens. A cultural state leads to denial of liberties to its citizens, widens inequalities and therefore increases instability.

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