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Cow in Contemporary Political Chessboard
07/05/2010
By Ram Puniyani

Karnataka BJP Government has passed “Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill 2010” (June 2010). There has been a strong opposition to this move from the civil society. Some of social activists point out that this piece of legislation is “communal in intent and anti-farmer in consequence”. There have been series of meetings to express the concern of people, especially those of dalits and farmers to this legislation. Some of them said that implementation of the bill in its present form will deprive citizens the freedom to choose their food. Mr. Girish Karnad the noted film personality asked “As long as their choice of food is not affecting others, why its consumption should be prohibited?” Others pointed out that the bill is trying to polarize the majority and minority communities through this bill. It was also pointed out that Gujarat, where such a law already exists, was a leading beef exporter in the country. The points made also indicated that the controversial anti-cow slaughter Bill, if implemented, would discourage farmers from rearing cattle and will lead to a shortage of milk.
 
It is not the first time that the debate around Cow slaughter bills, beef eating is taking place. When BJP led NDA was in power it went to the extent of appointing a committee to go into the matter and the committee concluded that cow protection should be made fundamental right and there is a need to constitute Central Rapid Protection Force to prevent cow slaughter, and also to invoke POTA to detain those smuggling cows! The Cow obsession of BJP is a part of deeper agenda of targeting Muslim minorities as they want to Brahminize the society by creating situations where beef eating becomes a taboo for large sections of society.
 
Needless to say beef is amongst the cheapest sources of proteins for the poor, especially dalits and adivasis. Till just a couple of decades ago there were many communities who were preferring beef to other expensive protein rich food. At the same time the minorities, Muslims and Christians, for whom, beef is neither a taboo nor a compulsion, are being looked down on this pretext. Large propaganda campaigns are on through which minorities are being demonized around the issue of beef eating and cow slaughter. One recalls the incident of Jhajjer where 5 dalits were done to death on the suspicion of killing a cow and VHP’s Acharya Giriraj Kishore justified the event as saying that cow is so sacred for Hindus that killing of dalits does not matter. Similarly, Sheikh Rahman a cattle trader was killed in Orissa on the cooked up charge of selling cows for slaughter.
 
When Uma Bharati became the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister she converted her official residence into a sort of Goshala, (Cow Shed). Currently the products from cow dung and cow urine are being promoted as divine medicines to cure many ailments. Even patents have been obtained for drinks based on Cow urine. The practitioners of scientific medicine have all the doubts about efficacy of these, beyond placeboes, as no scientific study and trial of these has taken place. The procedures laid down to introduce a new drug in the market are not followed and through mushrooming chains, the cow products as medicine are proliferating in number day by day.
 
The ‘Cow’ seems to be the next emotive chariot which probably is being projected after the decline in the fervor for Ram Temple issue. One has no problems in respecting animals of one’s choice, but the fear is this is/will be further used as the issue to divide the communities. In our plural democratic society how can faith of section of one religious community dictate the policies of the state?
 
As such most of the propaganda that beef eating was brought to India by Muslims is a mere hog wash. Most of the serious researches into the sacred Hindu book, Vedas, show that Beef eating was a norm in Vedic times. Researches and studies by Mahmahopadhya Bharat Ratna Pandurang Waman Kane’s ‘Bhartiya Dharmgrantho Ka Itihas’ (History of Hindu Holy books), Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “Did The Hindus Never Eat Beef?” in “The Untouchables Who were they and Why they became Untouchables (Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches vol.l7 (Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai 1990, first edition 1948 pp 323-328) and the contemporary Historian, D.N. Jha, The Myth of Holy Cow, all point out that beef was popular food in Vedic times. Swami Viveknand emphasizes the same point in a different way. While addressing a meeting at Shakespeare club, Pasedena, Californian, USA (Feb 2, 1900) he 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. (Vivekanand, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekanand, Vol 3, Calcutta, Advait Ashram, 1997)  Similarly the major ideologue of Hindutva, Savarkar said that there is nothing sacred about cow, it is a useful animal.  
 
After the advent of agricultural society, rise of Jainism and Buddhism the concept of non-violence came up in different forms and later after 8th century Brahmanism projected Cow as its icon. Since then Cow is the projected as sacred, as ‘mother’ and gradually large sections of Hindus started regarding her so. In deference to the sentiments of Hindus, most Muslims Kings prohibited cow slaughter. Babur in his will to Humayun writes, “Son, this Nation Hindusthan has different Religions. Thank Allah for giving us this Kingdom. We should remove all the differences from our heart and do justice to each community according to its customs. Avoid cow-slaughter to win over the hearts of the people of this land and to incorporate the people in the matters of administration. Don’t damage the places of worship and temples, which fall in the boundaries of our rule.”
 
Since the rise of communal streams during freedom movement the communalists have been resorting to all the tricks to rouse emotions around matters of faith. So killing pig and putting it in the mosque & cow slaughter issue have been resorted to times and over again. It was during freedom movement itself that we see that the apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, a total vegetarian offering beef to his Muslim guest. A story goes that when one of his Muslim friends’ son from South Africa visited him in Sevagram Ashram, it happened to be the festive day of Bakr Id. Gandhi offered beef to the boy, the boy in turn refused to eat beef saying that he will not have any non vegetarian food in the Ashram as the Ashram practices non violence. What a touching sentiment on both the sides. Respect others’ practices!
 
Today with the rise of communalism we need to recount the examples set by Gandhi in matters pertaining to community relations and the efforts to demonize and communalize by resorting to such symbolisms of cow or Ram Temple should be put aside to focus on the issues of living in peace and harmony in a plural society.