Sunday, August 07, 2016

Wrath Of Gau Rakshaks: Recall Gandhi’s Words On Hypocrisy Of Cow Protection


“Oh Hindu brothers, help us… those who are Hindus should assemble for cow protection and should write and make over five ‘chitthis’ to others, failing which he will be sinful of killing five cows.” These circular letters called patias were distributed all over Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from 1885 onwards to stoke communal passion.

The cow has always been a source of major consternation for administrators not only in colonial North India, but also in the Mughal Empire. Having experienced a serious revolt on the issue of animal fat being used to lubricate guns in 1857, the British found the issue too sensitive to mess with. The killing last month of a Muslim in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh on the suspicion of killing a cow and eating beef, confirms the continuity of the British legacy. Though UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav announced compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the victim, there is hardly any administrative attempt to prevent the recurrence of such events.

In fact, there are enough signs to suggest that western UP has turned into a tinderbox that blows up at the slightest provocation. The successive riots in Muzaffarnagar, Ghaziabad, and Noida in the past two years confirm communal polarisation of the worst order, where cow protection has emerged as the immediate rallying point. There are many instances when a group of activists of the cow protection committee stopped trucks carrying cows with the help of police officials and seized the animals. In some cases, the seizure of a truck triggered clashes.

What is interesting is the fact that the underlying theme of cow protection directed against Muslims in the 19th century is not dissimilar to the propaganda of modern times. But there is another aspect of cow protection that traces its genesis to the pathological aversion of Brahmins to those castes (scheduled castes) that draw their sustenance from disposing of bovine carcasses.

There have been instances of members of scheduled castes lynched by mobs in west UP and adjoining Haryana, merely on the suspicion of taking cows for slaughter. In the 19th century, cow protection assumed more of an anti-Dalit character than anti-Muslim. It acquired exclusive anti-Muslim features only after the advent of the Arya Samaj movement that developed its deep roots in Punjab and west UP. Over time, the cow protection committees in UP, Punjab and Bihar turned into potential trouble-makers. In his book Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, scholar Gyanendra Pandey has referred extensively to official records to bring out this aspect of the cow protection movement.

Perhaps nobody understood the sinister aspect of the movement as clearly as Mahatma Gandhi, who was an ardent advocate of cow protection. Yet Gandhi termed cow protection committees as cow-killing committees and admonished Hindus for killing cows by neglecting them wilfully. He attacked the hidden hypocrisy behind cow protection and vehemently opposed any move to enforce a ban on cow-slaughter by legislative decree.

As the nation again remembers the Mahatma and pious platitudes are repeated, it is worth remembering what he wrote in his seminal text, Hind Swaraj, about cow protection. “Just as I respect the cow so do I respect my fellow-men. A man is just as useful as a cow, no matter whether he be a Mohammedan or a Hindu. Am I then to fight with or kill a Mohammedan in order to save a cow?… Therefore, the only method I know of protecting the cow is that I should approach my Mohammedan brother and urge him for the sake of the country to join me in protecting her. If he should not listen to me, I should let the cow go for the simple reason that the matter is beyond my ability. If I were overfull of pity for the cow, I should sacrifice my life to save her, but not take my brother’s. This, I hold, is the law of the religion.”

However, in today’s times — as in his times — there will be few takers for Gandhi’s advice.

Editor’s Note: INNLIVE has reproduced this piece in view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks about cow vigilantism in India, made during his first town hall, on 6 August. 

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