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Hindu Rashtra, Cow and Muslims
Wednesday March 18, 2015 10:52 PM, Irfan Engineer

Upper caste Hindus and Hindu Nationalist Organisations have had ambiguous attitude toward cow as an animal and as a symbol of Hindu Rashtra oscillating between reverence and irreverence. It is only lately that Hindu Nationalists have settled for projecting cow as a sacred symbol – not because cow is considered as sacred in wonderfully diverse and plural religio-philosophical texts of Sanatan Dharma but because it is a good tool to mobilize Hindus around and to project Muslims as binary opposite – process of "othering" them.

For Muslims are not only not forbidden to eat cow, a section of them are also involved in the slaughtering industry and cattle trade. Muslim rulers and religious leaders too had ambiguous attitude towards the animal – at times forbidding slaughtering of cow in spirit of living together with Hindus and at times asserting their cultural rights and signify their separateness.

Study of 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 BC.

Buddhism and Jainism gained salience in the later period and 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; 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 practised vegetarianism.

Muslim Ambivalence
The attitude of Muslim rulers and religious leaders oscillated from respecting the sentiments of the dominant upper caste Hindus to asserting their space and cultural rights. The Moghul Emperor Babar prohibited cow slaughter and directed his son Humayun to follow this example in his will. Emperors Akbar, Jehangir, and Ahmad Shah, it is said, prohibited cow slaughter. Nawab Hyder Ali of Mysore made cow slaughter an offence punishable with the cutting of the hands of the offenders. During the Non-Cooperation movement and Khilafat agitation, cow slaughter had stopped considerably as fatwas (religious edicts) were issued and none less than the Ali brothers campaigned for giving up eating beef. One of the reasons why Mahatma Gandhi asked Hindus to support the Khilafat agitation (launched by Muslims demanding that Britishers leading the Allied Forces being victors of First World War should not undermine Islamic Caliphate) was that Muslim leaders in turn could be persuaded to give up eating beef. Muslim religious leaders indeed returned the favour campaigning against cow slaughter and there was unprecedented Hindu-Muslim unity in the country struggling against the British Empire through non-violence.

However, every restriction, regulation and prohibition on cow slaughter legislated by various states has been resisted by those involved in the industry and avocation of beef trade, which happens to be dominated by the Quraishi Muslims, but also involves the Hindu khatik castes and other non-Muslims. Their resistance to regulations and prohibitions is largely motivated by their occupational interests. If FICCI and CII wants regulation free regime for their industries, so do these small time professionals involving Hindus and Muslims both. However, media unduly highlights the resistance of Muslims while under-reporting the resistance of non-Muslims. The challenge to the regulation and prohibition of cow slaughter legislation is mounted on multiple grounds, including freedom to pursue any occupation and trade under Art. 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution, and for convenience, Art. 25 providing for freedom to profess and practice religion. These grounds of challenge are promptly rejected by the Supreme Court that regulation or prohibition that is in public interest (being conservation of milch and draught animals and cattle wealth) does not amount to unreasonable restriction placed on freedom of occupation. Challenge on the ground of restriction on freedom to practice religion is rejected on the ground that beef eating is permissible but not essential and integral part of Islam.

The first generation of anti-cow slaughter legislations was more regulatory in nature and avoided total prohibition of cow slaughter. Those legislations prohibited slaughter of cows, calves (whether male or female) and heifer but permitted slaughter of animals after certain age by competent authority appointed by the state. These legislations were in fact challenged by the vegetarian spirited citizens on the ground that they did not fulfill the objectives of Article 48 of the Constitution included in the chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy, viz. which provided for "prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle". Supreme Court in Mohd. Hanif Quareshi v. State of Bihar rejected the challenge on the ground that cow progeny ceased to be useful as a draught cattle after a certain age and they, although useful otherwise, became a burden on the limited fodder available which, but for the so-called useless animals, would be available for consumption by milch and draught animals. The response of the States in setting up Gosadans (protection home for cow and cow progeny) was very poor. It was on appreciation of the documentary evidence and the deduction drawn therefrom which led their Lordships to conclude that they were inclined to hold that a total ban of the nature imposed could not be supported as reasonable in the interests of the general public.

The subsequent generations of anti-cow slaughter legislation veered towards not only prohibiting slaughter of cow and progeny but also penalizing the consumer of beef. In fact the MP even equipments storing beef could be seized, which includes refrigerators and utensils in which beef is likely to be stored or cooked. We now have legislations enabling the state to enter kitchens. Punishment for contravention of the provisions of the Act would be upto 7 years!

Hindu Nationalist Organisations and Cow Slaughter
If Hindu and Muslim religious and political leaders had ambivalent attitude towards cow, so did the Hindu Nationalist organizations. Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar who wrote a treatise on Hindutva in fact opposed revering cow. For him, cow was a useful animal and we should have a human approach towards the animal and Hindus should protect it out of trait of compassion. However, to him, cow was like any other animal, no less, no more. He writes, "Animals such as the cow and buffalo and trees such as banyan and peepal are useful to man, hence we are fond of them; to that extent we might even consider them worthy of worship; their protection, sustenance and well-being is our duty, in that sense alone it is also our dharma! Does it not follow then that when under certain circumstances, that animal or tree becomes a source of trouble to mankind, it ceases to be worthy of sustenance or protection and as such its destruction is in humanitarian or national interests and becomes a human or national dharma?" (Samaj Chitre or portraits of society, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 2, p.678) Savarkar goes further and states "…A substance is edible to the extent that it is beneficial to man. Attributing religious qualities to it gives it a godly status. Such a superstitious mindset destroys the nation's intellect. (1935, Savarkaranchya goshti or tales of Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 2, p.559)". "…When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by the cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected…(Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.341). "I criticized the false notions involved in cow worship with the aim of removing the chaff and preserving the essence so that cow protection may be better achieved. (1938, Swatantryaveer Savarkar: Hindu Mahasabha parva or the phase of the Hindu Mahasabha, p. 173).

When Muslims had given up eating beef and opposed cow slaughter during Khilafat movement, for Savarkar and the Hindu Nationalist then, cow ceased to be a emblem that could be profitably exploited to rally round Hindus and "othering" Muslims. But there is another reason why Savarkar was not happy with Hindus worshiping cow. He wrote, "The object of worship should be greater than its worshipper. Likewise, a national emblem should evoke the nation's exemplary valour, brilliance, aspirations and make its people superhumans! The cow exploited and eaten at will, is an appropriate symbol of our present-day weakness. But at least the Hindu nation of tomorrow should not have such a pitiable symbol. (1936, Ksha kirane or X rays, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.237). "The symbol of Hindutva is not the cow but the man-lion (*Nrsinha or Narsimha is considered the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was half-man, half-lion). The qualities of god permeate into his worshipper. Whilst considering the cow to be divine and worshipping her, the entire Hindu nation became docile like the cow. It started eating grass. If we are to now found our nation on the basis of an animal, let that animal be the lion. Using its sharp claws in one leap, the lion fatally knocks and wounds the heads of wild mammoths. We need to worship such a Nrsinha. That and not the cow's hooves, is the mark of Hindutva." (1935, Ksha kirane or X rays, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.167). Savarkar found an overdose of gratitude, compassion, notion of all living beings being one in the cow worship of Hindus. He wanted to Hinduize nationalism and militarize Hindudom and cow was not an appropriate object to worship or emulation to achieve that end. Narsimha was!

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