Beef—it's the oldest shibboleth in the Indian mind. The cow has been a political animal in modern India, but it has become more political under the present BJP governments at the Centre and in some states, which are obsessed with beef bans and cow slaughter.
It is with textual evidence from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain canons that historian D.N. Jha took on the sacred cow.
Nearly 15 years a go, writing about Prof. Jha, Sheela Reddy said, "For over a month, the mild, balding professor of history, Dwijendra Narayan Jha, has been shuffling to his classroom in Delhi University escorted by a police constable. Teaching ancient history does not usually endanger one's health, but ever since Jha went public with the best-kept secret in Indian history—the beef-eating habits of ancient Hindus, Buddhists and even early Jains in a book titled Holy Cow—Beef in Indian Dietary Conditions—his phone hasn't stopped ringing. "The calls are usually abusive," says Jha, "but sometimes they demand to know what evidence I have, and one day late in July it was an anonymous caller threatening dire consequences if I ever brought out my book.""
The cow as a sacred animal, Jha believes, did not really gain currency until Dayanand Saraswati's cow protection movement in the 19th century". The cow became a tool of mass political mobilisation with the organised cow-protection movement," the historian points out. "The killing of cows stopped gradually with the agrarian society and caste rigidity. The Brahmins found it convenient to say that those who ate beef were untouchable. But they themselves continued to consume it, recommending it for occasions such as shraadh. Simultaneously, they trivialised the beef taboo by saying that eating beef is like cleaning your teeth with your fingers. It was never a sin to eat it, merely an indecorum. There was never a taboo, only discouragement."
With this discovery, culled from ancient scriptures, medical texts, the Manusmriti and religious commentaries, Jha impishly "decided to take the bull by its horns" and publish a book on his findings. "There is a saying in Hindi: Laaton ke bhoot, baaton se nahin maante (Those used to force are not persuaded by words). So I had to give them the shock treatment," he explains.
Only, Jha's "shock treatment" did not stop with Hindus. Buddhists, he claims, citing canonical texts like Mahaparinibbana Sutta and Anguttara Nikaya, also ate beef and other meat. "In fact, the Buddha died after eating a meal of pork," he says. "Vegetarianism was not a viable option for Buddhist monks in a society that loved meat of all kinds—pig, rhinoceros, cow, buffalo, fish, snake, birds, including crows and peacocks. Only camel and dog meat was taboo in India."
Similarly with the early Jains. Citing the Bhagavatisutra, Jha points out that Mahavira once ate a chicken meal to gain strength for a yogic battle with an adversary. "His only condition was to ask the woman who cooked the meal to find a chicken already killed by a cat instead of slaughtering a fresh one," says Jha. "This has upset the Jains, but why are they not upset with the texts that carry these stories? I found these in bookstores run by devout Jain booksellers like Motilal Banarsidass and Sohanlal Jain Dharam Pracharak Samiti."
"Indian society has come to such a juncture," says Jha, "that historians have to play an active role in countering superstitions and unreason." He took up cudgels during the Ayodhya dispute and even objected to the TV serialisation of epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. "It politicised the myths and propagated a value system and religiosity not in keeping with a state-run broadcaster," he says. "Ramanand Sagar's version of the epics is not real history."
"Old and tired out" Jha may call himself, but there's something irrepressible about him. Bans and fatwas haven't stopped him from beginning work on his next book. "It will be called," says Jha with deadpan face, "Adulterous Gods and their Inebriated Women".
The above paragraphs are excerpted from Ms Reddy's piece in 2001.
Now professor Jha is nearly 76 years old. The History professor of Delhi University is getting Death threats.
The twist is... author himself is a Brahmin. His research on Beef eating habits of the Brahmins is what is getting him death threats..
Excerpts: _*"If they want to ban my book, then they will have to ban the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Sutras and the epics*._Where will they stop? I have given evidence, if they have counter-evidence, why don't they come forward with it? But they are so illiterate, they haven't even heard of those texts, let alone read them. I have texts and they go by blind faith," he says. "That is what a historian can and should do: *Counter faith with facts*,"