Hindutva And The Politics Of Beef

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Oct 30, 2015 08:29 PM +05:30 IST
Hindutva And The Politics Of Beef

Whilethe controversial debate on beef-politics rages on, we look at the facts regarding the relationship between the ideology of Hindutva and the protection of  cow.

After the Dadri incident, the politics of beef has taken a central stage in Indian politics like never before. Just like the 2002-Gujarat riots were made the first-riots in the era of politicized TV channels, the Dadri lynching in 2015 has become the first beef controversy in the era of social media and digital networks. Media has succeeded in making an isolated event, probably with localized causes including personal rivalry, into a national debate on beef and cow slaughter.

Setting the stage

The stage had already been set for blowing up such an isolated event into a national controversy by a section of the media. A limited restriction on meat, in a localized area, during the festival time of Jains, an Indic minority, was debated in high decibels in certain TV channels, as ‘food fascism’. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court in a 2008 verdict upheld such a restriction, regarding which it noted that ‘surely the non-vegetarians can remain vegetarian for this short period’ and more significantly noted that in Indian society ‘with such diversity, one should not be over sensitive and over touchy about a short restriction when it is being done out of respect for the sentiments of a particular section of society.’

As far as the Dadri incident is concerned, what happened was a crime. Facts such as whether the lynched man ate beef or mutton or whether he stole a calf or not are immaterial and insignificant. A mob had taken law in its hand and had committed a crime in violation of Indian Constitution and hence those who committed the crime should be punished. The family of the lynched man should get not just monetary compensation but also justice.

The media and the op-ed propaganda using the Dadri lynching are no different from the mob lynching that happened in that dusty UP village. The calculated aim is to get some loose cannon balls from the saffron side to blabber and from that to essentialize the entire so-called ‘right wing’ as the ideological perpetrators of Dadri murder. Even this unethical media strategy can be deemed as ‘political’, as the media has explicitly stood with pseudo-secular anti-Hindu Congress and leftists.

But the real fascism comes when the ‘progressives’ started organizing the so-called ‘beef festivals’ in public spaces across India. The rhetoric in all these ‘beef festivals’ is always hate-filled and sharply anti-Hindu. One is reminded of the hatred that filled the passion plays in pre-holocaust Christendom where the celebration of the crucifixion of Jesus became a hate narrative against Jews, which often ended in mobs attacking Jews. Sure enough, in Kerala, beef-celebrators attacked a Hindu activist. In Karnataka PFI – an Islamo-fascist outfit killed a cattle-protection activist. In Maharashtra, a police officer was killed to revenge ‘beef ban’. Unlike the semi-literate mob in Dadri, these are well schemed, motivated killings backed by a network of ideologues.

The ideology has also developed a narrative that is seemingly liberal, rationalist and historical: Vedic seers relished beef; so did Vivekananda. For Gandhi, the cow protection is not central to his discourse. During the British Raj, ‘communal’ elements forged the beef issue as an anti-Muslim tool. And it was only Nehruvian secularism that has saved India from becoming a barbaric land where the cows get venerated more than humans. And the Hindu fundamentalists today are trying to make India a land of cow loving Nazis.

However, such a narrative does not stand the scrutiny of facts.

Vedic Beef to the British

It is a matter of speculation whether the alleged Vedic ritual killing of the cow is mutually exclusive with the so-called sacred animal status of the cow. However, Vedic literature had already started developing a value based tension in which the setting free of a cow meant to be killed became a virtuous act. The cow had become associated with Rta. Dr. Nandita Krishna points out that the case for Vedic beef eating rests more on shaky foundations while Vedic literature abounds with injunctions to protect cow:

The case for beef eating rests on one word -goghna- which appears in the Shatapatha Brahmana and Vashishtha Dharmasutra and was translated by one Taranath, in the early twentieth century as ‘killer of the cow’ or serving beef to the guests. However, this is at total variance with Panini, the ancient grammarian, who translates the word as ‘receiver of the cow’ or one who receives a cow as a gift. On the other hand, the Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda say that the cow is ‘Aghnya, one that ought not to be killed; Ahi, one that must not be slaughtered; Aditi, one that ought not to be cut into pieces. (Nighantu 11.4 by Yaska, commentator on the Vedas) The terms aghnya, ahi and aditi, are synomyms for gau, meaning cow. The Yajur Veda is replete with instructions to protect the cow: ‘Do not kill the cow which is the splendour of life and inviolable. (13,43). Yo men and women both of you together protect your cattle (6.11). The Atharva Veda (VIII.3.25) adds: ‘A man who nourishes himself on the flesh of man, horse or other animals or birds or who having killed untorturable cows, debars them for their milk, O Agni, the King, award him the highest punishment or give him the sentence of death.’

The Vedic veneration of cow is so much so that Dr. Koenrad Elst speculates that the most sacred syallable of the Indic religions, ‘Aum’, ‘the syllable that encompasses all Vedic hymns, that is also used at the beginning of the opening hymn, Aum, is nothing but a human vocalization of the sound made by the cow.’

For those who believe in Aryan invasion/migration theories (AIT/AMT), the Vedic period was around 1500-1200 BCE. Those who reject the AIT/AMT posit the Vedic age variedly ranging from 4000 BCE to 2500 BCE. The skeletons discovered in a ceremonial burial in Rajastan, dated around 2000 BCE, is now considered as the oldest case of leprosy. The burial can be considered as belonging to Vedic or proto/pre-Vedic Indian culture, depending upon the stand one takes on AIT/AMT.According to the archeologists, the ‘second-millennium burial practice are suggestive of Vedic tradition’ had the burial pit filled with ‘vitrified ash from burned cow dung’.

Clearly the Indic tradition of using cow based products in rituals has a continuity spanning more than 4000 years in the least. In classical Indian medical treatises like ‘Sushrita Samhita’ and ‘Ashtanga Sangraha’ cow-products based medicines have become an integral part. Panchagavya has a long history both in medicine and agriculture. Irrespective of the ideology of the party in power, Indian institutions of science and technology have regularly published papers on the role of this cow-product based formulation in both medicine and sustainable agriculture.

For example in 2012, then the Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad informed the Parliament that a study titled ‘Evaluation of the immunomodulatory activity and safety/toxicity of Panchagavya Ghrita’ had been conducted by Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS). He also mentioned that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has conducted research in cow urine and has secured the IP generated through patents on the ‘use of Cow Urine Distillate (Go-Mutra) as Bioenhancer of Anti-Infective and Anti-Cancer agents and also on the ‘Pharmaceutical Composition containing cow urine Distillate as an Anitoxidant’.

During Islamic invasions, cows were slaughtered by invaders as well as fanatical chieftains who wanted to humiliate and convert Hindus. The Samanvaya process of Indian civilization had its impact on India’s Islamic rulers, and some of them had banned and restricted cow slaughter. It was not a linear evolution. Mughal emperor Akbar banned cow slaughter and made it punishable by death. However, his son Salim recorded with glee how he desecrated a Hindu temple by slaughtering a cow in it. In 1645 while Aurangazeb was Governor of Gujarat, he converted the Chintaaman temple into a mosque (Quwat-ul-Islam). But before that he ordered a cow to be slaughtered in the shrine. In 1757, Ahmed Shah Abdali desecrated the Golden Temple of Sikhs by filling the sacred tank with the slaughtered cows.

With the British the cow slaughter was set to become a widespread economic offensive and also a theo-cultural onslaught. The 1857 uprising had its trigger in beef-pork controversy. The last Mughal emperor promptly banned cow slaughter and made it punishable by death. According to historian Mahdi Husain, Bahadur Shah considered the ban on cow-slaughter ‘a necessary step in cementing Hindu-Muslim concord.‘ After accepting the leadership of the rebellious soldiers on 12th May 1857, he agreed to enforce a ban on cow slaughter. On 28th July, he confirmed it and announced that anyone slaughtering a cow would be shot dead. The announcement was repeated by the Mughal emperor on Bakar-‘id on 2nd August. Husain says that it enabled Bahadur shah to ‘maintain communal harmony in Delhi during the most crucial period of the war (May to September 1857).

When the British established their ‘Raj’ officially in India, they saw the Hindu tradition of cow veneration a stumbling block to taking the animal to their dining tables. Science writer John Reader writing critically on the British attitude provides benign tilt to the British attitude:

Britain’s colonial administrators inclined to salivate at the mere thought of a well-roasted joint, generously apportioned, regarded the sacred cow as the ultimate absurdity among a host of ritual customs and traditions that thwarted their attempts to bestow European civilisation on India. People would be better fed and their land better used, if the Hindus would kill a cow and eat beef occasionally, they reasoned.

Karl Marx also echoed the same colonial-missionary view when he accused Hinduism of ‘brutalising worship of nature’ for making man the ‘soverign of nature’ fall before ‘sabala the cow’. Thus, cow veneration was considered a downfall, superstition and abomination. Making Indians eat beef was considered a civilizaing mission. The British mission in spreading beef consumption in India may not have been actually ‘civilizing’ India but rather subjugating her in a thorough manner – making a national uprising possible only centuries after.

Extermination of another ‘sacred animal’

A similar scenario developed in the plains of United States where the colonizers were hunting another ‘sacred animal’.  For Native Americans the buffalo was a sacred resource to be utilized according to human need. For many tribes, the animal is sacred because in their sacred lore the buffalo and humans share a common mythological origin. The nomadic lives of the Native American tribes centered round the sacred bison. Though they did consume the meat of the bison they never slaughtered them wanton and venerated it as a ‘sacred animal’.

If in India cow veneration was deemed uneconomical burden for the Indian farmer, in United States extermination of the sacred bison, was essential for the agricultural settling of native Indians. United States Interior Secretary Columbus Delano wrote in 1872 that he would not be sad for the ‘disappearance’ of the bison as he regarded it as a means of ‘hastening their (Native Americans’) sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors’. But the real reason was no civilizational altruism but aim for political subjugation as US Representative James Throckmorton would reveal in 1876:

There is no question that, so long as there are millions of buffaloes in the West, the Indians cannot be controlled, even by the strong arm of the Government. I believe it would be a great step forward in the civilization of the Indians and the preservation of peace on the border if there was not a buffalo in existence.

The extermination of sacred bison became a feverish military and economic activity.The nineteenth-century American ruling elite were well aware of the importance of conservation of wildlife and the threats of extinction. But there was a political equation behind the extermination of bison. It was only in 1886, with the report of William T Hornaday, the chief taxidermist of the National Museum, reporting only traces of about 600 wild buffalo that Washington was shocked because ‘now that Indian was no longer a threat, Washington could afford to be shocked.’

Dan Brister, the executive director of ‘Buffalo Field Campaign’ points out the clash of worldviews behind the slaughter:

At the root of the buffalo slaughter lies a clash of cultures. The dominant Euro-American worldview holds that nonhuman animals are not entitled to the same rights as humans. Human comfort comes before animal survival. To the Lakota and other plains tribes, the notion of “people” encompasses more than the human race. Buffalo are people. Agreements have been worked out since the earliest days when people and buffalo shared life inside the earth, and the buffalo made the original sacrifice for the humans.  These agreements are renewed every year through seasonal reenactments like the Sundance, a ceremony through which people sacrificed their bodies to the buffalo.

After the holocaust of the sacred bison in the American plains, along with the bleached bones of the massacred bisons also lay the shattered spine of the resistance of the Native American tribes against the atrocities and transgressions of the Euro-American colonisers.

Victorian Holocaust and Indic Resistance

The same scenario could have been reenacted in India with the difference of India being mainly an agrarian rather than nomadic society. In India, forest-dwelling communities and agrarian communities had developed syncretic relations, in which Hinduism played a major role. Cow veneration giving way to respect for all life also played an important role in the evolution of these relations. the British systematically destroyed and distorted these bonds.

The repeated famines which plagued India during the colonial regime had as one of their causes the robbing of the grazing land for Indian livestock by both the colonial forest department that prevented villages from getting fodder for their livestock, and the railways that refused to haul fodder.

Behind the myth of uneconomical cows exerting pressure on the meager natural resources of India lies the fact of the ruthless destruction of Indian pastoral communities by the British and the systematic destruction of grazing commons. Historian Mike Davis points out the cascading effect of the collapse of the Indic system, with a focus on the cattle population. This systematic collapsing of the system ultimately resulted in severe repeated famines:

The traditional Deccan practices of extensive crop rotation and long fallow, which required large farm acreages and plentiful manuring, became difficult to maintain as the land became more congested and cattle less numerous. “More than any single asset, in the dry-crop regions of Bombay, the use of agricultural bullocks was vital to efficient farming operations.” Between 1850 and 1930 the ratio of plough cattle to cultivated land in the Deccan steadily declined, making it almost impossible, according to Charlesworth, to raise per capita agricultural output. At the same time, the quality of bullocks also deteriorated as expert nomad cattle breeders were deliberately squeezed out of the economy. Similarly, the government did little to sponsor the planting of drought-resistant fodder crops. Kaiwar estimates that between 1843 and 1873 cattle numbers in the Deccan fell by almost 5 million. The 1876-78 drought killed off several million more, with cattle populations plummeting by nearly 60 percent in some districts.

It is in this connection that one has to see cow veneration as performing an important survival function during the raging colonial famines. What anthropologist Marvin Harris says about cow veneration as sustainer of agricultural system during prolonged conditions of drought in India, applies even better to the repeated famine conditions of the colonial period:

The prohibition against eating meat applies to the flesh of cows, bulls, and oxen, but the cow is the most sacred because it can produce the other two.  The peasant whose cow dies is not only crying over a spiritual loss but over the loss of his farm as well. Religious laws that forbid the slaughter of cattle promote the recovery of the agricultural system from the dry Indian winter and from periods of drought……During droughts, the cows often stop lactating and become barren.  In some cases, the condition is permanent but often it is only temporary.  If barren animals were summarily eliminated, as Western experts in animal husbandry have suggested, cows capable of recovery would be lost along with those entirely debilitated.  By keeping alive the cows that can later produce oxen, religious laws against cow slaughter assure the recovery of the agricultural system from the greatest challenge it faces ‐ the failure of the monsoon.

Unlike in the United States where the Euro-Americans succeeded in exterminating the sacred bison, the British in India could not popularize beef and destroy the sacred cow and thus make Indian agriculture completely collapse because the political resistance to British took the form of cow protection in a very virulent way. It is not an accident that the first economic boycott of British goods and advocacy of self-reliance (Swadeshi) was advocated by the Punjab-based cow protection movement of Namdhari Sikhs.

It is here interesting to note that while colonial historiography and its dialectical descendant Marxist historiography of today have attributed cow protection as an anti-Dalit Brahminical reactionary movement, historical facts prove otherwise. Baba Ram Singh Kuka whose Kuka movement was the fiercest cow protection movement in North Western India was also a strong advocate for the abolition of untouchability. Their cow protection along with the economic boycott of British resulted in a violent suppression of the movement with the execution of sixty-nine Namdharis, including women and children, who were placed in front of canons and blown away. The macabre execution continued for three days in July 1872.

It was in the 1870s that the bisons were getting exterminated in the other side of the planet. But in India the physical extermination of the cows was stopped by the sacrifice and resistance of spiritual groups like Namdharis and later Arya Samajists. However, the British propaganda as well as their efforts to use cow veneration as a tool to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims took deep roots in the modern polity. As shall be seen, this aspect of the British legacy would later be inherited by the Nehruvian regime.

Tilak, Gandhi, Savarkar and Ambedkar

Lokmanya Tilak clearly saw the British game plan and was cautious in respecting the civil rights of Muslims and instead rightly targeted the British government for disrespecting the Hindu sensitivity. In an article in the Kesari dated 22-August-1893 he wrote:

Just as the Hindus have the right to celebrate their festivals so also the Muslims have theirs, and so long as neither group deliberately crosses the path of the other or tries to hurt its sentiments, a government should give equal protection to both. We do not say that British, like Mahadaji Scindia, should secure from the Muslims a sanad of cow-protection for the sake of the Hindus and even if we were to say so the British government would not listen to it. But government should always bear in mind that it is tantamount to unnecessarily provoking the Hindus to allow the opening of cow-slaughter shops in predominantly Hindu localities where formerly there were no such shops.

Again in Kesari dated 13-February-1894 he wrote:

If a Muslim slaughters a cow in a Hindu locality he should be punished. In the same way if a Hindu in his religious zeal enters a Muslim locality to forcibly free a cow, he must also be punished.

For Gandhi cow-protection was not about simply Hindu sensibilities and religious feelings. He saw it as the greatest civilizational gift Hinduism should give to the world in general and fellow Indians of other faiths in particular-

Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond this species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. … Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world.

Ambitious ‘no less than to see the principle of cow protection established throughout the world’ Gandhi wanted to set his own house in order.Towards this end he wanted no constitutional provision for cow protection but wanted Hindus to convert Muslims to the same Hindu mindset that venerates the cow:

Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education, and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put and end to it. It will not be possible to save those animals that are a burden on the land or, perhaps, even man if he is a burden.

Norwegian eco-philosopher Arne Naess who propounded the concept of ‘deep ecology’ had admiringly written the influence of Gandhi and his conception of ‘essential unity of man and for that matter all that lives’. And for Gandhi cow protection was in a way symbolic of justice to all non-human lives.

Interestingly Savarkar had some convergence of thought with Gandhi on the issue of cow protection and veneration. In 1934, he considered cow protection a ‘humanist act’ and a ‘personal, familial’ and in the case of India ‘national duty’. To him the movement for cow protection had to be based and popularized on ‘clear-cut and experimental economic and scientific principles’ and then only it could be genuine. In his 1938 speech at Hindu Maha Sabha he reiterated the same:

A worshipful attitude is necessary for protection. But it is improper to forget the duty of cow protection and indulging only in worship. The word ‘only’ used here is important. First protect the cow and then worship it if you so desire.

Gandhi had also suggested that the cow protection should ensure that incorporates scientific principles. For example, he wanted Hindus to learn the ‘science of cattle-breeding’ and replace the cruel methods like castration by ‘the humane treatments developed in the West’.

Dr.Ambedkar, who had written elaborately about how beef-eating was used by dominant castes to perpetuate untouchability, had empathy for the cow veneration of Hindus. His approach to cow veneration anticipates Marvin Harris decades before:

The love of the ancient Hindoo and for that matter of the modem for agriculture transcends that of the ancient Greek and is just manifested in the worship of the cow. The Hindoo devotion to the Cow has been an enigma to most of the foreigners and above all has been an efficient lore in the hands of those half-baked theological failures, who go to India to conduct their missionary propaganda for blackmailing the Hindoo. The origin of cow worship is as much economic as that Roman practice of not offering wine to the Gods from unpruned vines. The cow and for that matter all draft animals, is the soul of the farmers. The cow gives birth to oxen which are absolutely necessary to the cultivation of the farm. If we kill the cow for meat, we jeopardize our agricultural prosperity. With full foresight, the ancient Hindoos tabooed cow-flesh and thus prevented cow killing. But man hardly pays any attention to dry rulings. It must have religious sanction; hence the grotesque mythology around the cow in old Hindoo religious literature.

No wonder the protection of cow and her progeny found a place in the Directive Principles of Indian Constitution.

Scenario in Post-Independent India

After independence, the British legacy of viewing cow protection as a superstition and stumbling block to progress was inherited by the Nehruvian government and most of its technocrats.

However, the Gandhi-Savarkarite thought of holistic cow protection was emphasized by India’s first agriculture minister K.M.Munshi. In a view that was surprisingly ecologically advanced for his times, Munshi emphasized on the role of the cow in particular and livestock in general as transformers of the quality of soil and saw them as important nodal points in the matter-energy cycles of agro-eco system:

Mother cow and the Nandi are not worshipped in vain; they are the primeval agents that enrich the soil — nature’s great land transformers — that supply organic matter which, after after treatment, becomes nutrient matter of the greatest importance. In India, tradition, religious sentiment and economic needs have tried to maintain a cattle population large enough to maintain the cycle, only if we know.

Gandhian economist J.C.Kumarappa saw  cow protection as symbolic of a cow-centered economy. He also pointed out that during the war, the British need to feed the army with beef had an adverse impact on the Indian cattle. Interestingly some of the gentlemen who got rich through the supply of beef to the British were Hindus.

When he was the chairperson of the Agrarian Reforms Committee of INC, Kumarappa recommended optimum utilization of cow dung to achieve village self-sufficiency. He advocated the development of an entirely new package of cow-centerd technology and that included bio-gas plants and also use of bio-gas slurry as manure.

Soon after independence cow protection assumed a communal colour. Nehru inheriting the British view on cow slaughter saw it through the prism of both communalism and communism. He considered the issue of cow ‘unimportant and reactionary.’ So when President Rajendra Prasad pressed upon Nehru to bring a central legislation for banning the cow slaughter the Prime Minister refused.

Later in April 1955 he threatened with resignation if the bill banning cow slaughter was passed in the parliament. However the theatrics by Nehru were already made irrelevant by the attorney general who had declared in 1954 that cow slaughter was an “exclusive sphere of the State Legislature” and by the end of 1947 many important districts in North India which included Allahabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Jhansi, Meerut etc. had all banned cow slaughter.

Legislation prohibiting cow-slaughter in Bihar was challenged on the grounds that it violated the religious freedom of Muslims in the famous 1958 Mohd Hanif Qureshi case. The Supreme Court rejected Qureshi’s petition pointing out that the Quran does not make cow-slaughter mandatory for Muslims. An Islamic scholar Tahir Muhammad elaborates the stand of Islamic law concerning cow-slaughter in India:

It is undoubtedly true that to discharge the qurbani-liability on the Baqrid day, killing a cow is not farz, wajib or even mandub. On the contrary, though the Prophet did not prohibit the eating of the cow, he did warn his people of beef-borne diseases, in view of which eating the cow should be regarded as makruh. By no logic of interpretation can killing a cow be regarded as an essential religious practice of Muslims. On the contrary, abstaining from doing so conforms to the Islamic teaching that Muslims must respect the religious sentiments of others if this does not deprive them of their faraiz and wajibat (obligatory religious practices).

Nehru’s hagiographers had tried to present those who supported cow slaughter ban as biased conservatives juxtaposing them against the supposedly ‘scientific tempered’ Nehru. But a closer scrutiny proves otherwise. For example despite the displeasure of Nehru it was under the determined leadership of Dr. S. Sampurnanand, the then Chief Minister of UP, that the state successfully adopted the cow slaughter ban legislation. Far from being a biased conservative Dr. Sampurnanand was a radical reformer who advocated open-jail system.

Confessions of Golwalkar and transformed stands

In 1966 RSS – Jan Sangh made the ban on cow-slaughter a major issue and started a campaign that was received well by the rural populations of North India. In November of that year a rally of Hindu monks and advocates marching towards the Parliament were prevented by the police who opened fire and killed six of the agitators. This led to violence, and unruly mobs attacked the houses of Congress leaders including that of K.Kamaraj – a prominent Congress leader from Tamil Nadu. Indira Gandhi quickly capitalized on the issue and asked for her potential Gulzarilal Nanda’s resignation, Nanda was then the home minister and also one of the heavy-weight detractors of Indira. (29)

Following this RSS had to cut a sorry figure and pass a resolution in their apex body that they had to condemn the acts of hooliganism and incendiarism causing damage to public and private property by anti-social elements during the anti-cow slaughter demonstration in front of the Parliament House. The resolution called the ‘attack by these elements’ on Kamaraj’s house as ‘particularly reprehensible’. (30)

However, the indefinite hunger strikes taken up by Hindu seers including some Shankaracharyas compelled Indira Gandhi, who had famously declared that she would not ‘cow before the cow worshippers’ to reverse her stand. Apart from agreeing to implement a ban in all Union territories she also established a high-level committee of inquiry to investigate the possibility of bringing a central legislation to bring cow slaughter ban. It included among others RSS chief M.S.Golwalkar, Shankaracharya of Puri, Verghese Kurien Chairman of NDDB and Justice Sarkar, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Kurien in his autobiography narrates how both he and Sarkar used to smoke cigarettes to the discomfiture of Shankaracharya. The committee was essentially a sham. For example, Kurien was briefed by the government to prevent any ban on the cow. Ultimately after fruitless repeated meetings over 12 years, it was scrapped by the Janata government. But Golwalkar and Kurien developed a deep friendship and Golwalkar explained his rationale for cow protection to Kurien in private.

The RSS chief confessed that he started the movement ‘actually to embarrass the government.’ But seeing a housewife who after finishing her morning work, took the petition from house to house ‘to collect signatures in that blazing summer sun’ he realized that the woman was actually doing it for her cow, which was her bread and butter. This made him realize the importance of the cow. Then he saw that ‘the cow has potential to unify the country – she symbolizes the culture of Bharat.’ And in a way echoing Kumarappa about the cow-centered life of India, Golwalkar said to Kurien:

What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not a fool, I’m not a fanatic. I’m just cold-blooded about this. I want to use the cow to bring out our Indianness. So please cooperate with me on this.

[The story narrated by Kurien also says how from his death bed Golwalkar asked the Gujarat RSS chief to convey his blessing to Kurien after his death. The RSS head of Gujarat expressed his surprise to Kurien why Guruji chose only Kurien from Gujarat to give his blessings. Kurien passed away in 2012. Though a Syrian Christian, Kurien was ‘… keeping with his wish, was cremated as per Hindu ritual’. ]

Golwalkar also stated that Hindus should not indulge in cow protection merely because Muslims kill the cow, and he characterized such an attitude as ‘negative’ and ‘reactionary.’ He also stated that it was wrong to blame the beef-eating tribals of North-East and consider them non-Hindus. If at all they should cease to eat beef it should be a gradual, voluntary process and should not be implemented on them from an equal plane and not from a high pedestal. He also rejected the idea of not including tribals as Hindus if they have the custom of beef eating.

Over the decades the Sangh attitude towards the cow protection has clearly taken a transformation. Today Sangh runs research institute on cow products and desi cow breed protection. A look into the activities of Sangh affiliate ‘Go-Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra’ (GVAK) show that they have mostly moved away from the legislation demanding mindset as well as an anti-Muslim narrative to a holistic cow protection mindset. Consider the following examples:

•    In 2002 GVAK along with the Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (cimap) filed a patent for cow-urine distillate based formulation as a ‘bio-enhancer’ of antibiotic drugs. In 2005 the patent was granted.
•    A Saraswati Vidya Mandir School in Bhopal has been working for the past 10 years to conserve non-renewable energy by using biogas plant from a Goshala. The plant saves around 2 cylinders of LPG each day.
•    In 2010 a US patent was obtained on “a composition (RCUD) for protecting and/or repairing DNA from oxidative damages’ was obtained by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and GVAK.
•    In 2013 GVAK developed a cow-urine based drug for crop protection in collaboration with National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), a Lucknow-based laboratory of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The point here is that the Sangh had come out of the old confrontational narrative of cow protection and is now ready to take the path of a holistic cow protection testing its validity in a scientific framework, which may validate or falsify its claims. Further the Sangh affiliate has also taken up the protection of Desi breeds of cow. The importance of livestock diversity is vital to the future food security and ecological health of the nation.

Progressive Time Warp: Tale of two books

However, the Marxist and Nehruvian historiographers and propagandists seem to have stuck in a time warp and still view the cow protection through the colonial prism. Unfortunately, they also tap into a market of the mind which belongs to a bygone era of stereotypes. A classic example is the book ‘Myth of the Holy Cow’ written by Marxist historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha in 2001. The book did not create any agitation or violent backlash in India. It was of course debated in the op-ed, columns, ‘letters to the editor’ sections of English newspapers and in the internet circles – most probably with some intemperate email reactions from trolling internet Hindus.

Beyond that, there was no public property damaged or violent mobs baying for the blood of the author. The government of India under Vajpayee did not want to burn the book. Yet when the book was out in the international market, it went with the byline ‘a book that government of India demands to be ritually burnt’.

The author was projected by the Western press as one threatened next only to Salman Rushdie. Soon the academic cottage industry in the South Asian departments of US academic citadels had incorporated this urban legend into their discourse on Hindu nationalism. Wendy Doniger and Martha Nussbaum recycle the allegations in their new book published by Oxford University Press in 2015:

To take another example: the only shocking thing about D N Jha’s book …is the news that anyone has been shocked by the argument that people used to eat beef in ancient India. …Yet the cover of the book proudly proclaims “A Book the Government of India Demands be Ritually Burned,” and the flyleaf assures us that the book has been “banned by the Hyderabad Civil Court and the author’s life has been threatened.” The Observer likened the book’s reception to that of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses …  Jha was so violently attacked, physically as well as in the press, that he had to have a police escort 24 hours a day for several years after his book was published in India. The shocked resistance to the idea that Hindus ever ate beef inheres for some in the fact that it contradicts the party line of the Hindutvavadis, who argue that We Hindus have always been here in India, and have Never Eaten Cows; Those Muslims have come in and Kill and Eat Cows and therefore must be banished or destroyed.

Even Frontline – the Marxist Indian tabloid which attacked Vajpayee government in a sustained way – had no such report of physical attack on Jha in the claimed period 2001-2003, though anyone in India can get police protection around the clock alleging threat to life- a classical political trick done by Indian politicians to raise their market value.

The only incident that can be construed as a response from the NDA government was Vajpayee asking the eminent Gandhian historian Dharampal . Dharampal and his colleague T.M.Mukundan came out with a book that explained the historical origins of the present-day controversies surrounding the cow protection. Titled ‘The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India’, the book exploded the stereotype of Muslims as butchers. On the contrary, it showed how many prominent Muslims as well as the Parsis and Sikhs actively participated in the anti-cow slaughter movement and how the movement was originally aimed at the British.

With data from Urdu press of the colonial times as well as correspondence of the British officials Dharampal showed that the cow-slaughtering Indian Muslim was a colonial myth created by the British and that Indian Muslims were not beef consumers, as alleged by colonial rulers, communal elements, and Marxist secularists. It was the initiative of a ‘Hindu nationalist’ Prime Minister that historically documented this fact that shattered a communal stereotype whereas the Marxist historians capitalized on the colonial stereotypes of irrational Indian cow worship.


Real Problems and Half Truths

The tendency of the Nehruvian press and Marxist propagandists to essentialize Hindutva through fringe elements has had a serious cascading effect. Basking in the media limelight the fringe elements have become a serious threat to evolving genuine cow protection strategies and discourse. For example organizations like Gau Raksha Dal stop trucks carrying, mostly smuggling, cattle and taking the law on their own hand beat the drivers of these vehicles in an inhuman way. These fringe groups can soon become a real headache for livestock farmers who under the present system have no other way but to dispose off their ‘unproductive’ livestock. With the depletion of native livestock germplasm and the inability to sustain cross-breed livestock past their productivity the farmers would really end in a fix with violent groups enforcing a mindless and heartless cow protection.

Today the beef taboo has actually positioned Indian beef in a better standing in the international beef market. An OECD-FAO study enumerates how Indian beef has a comparative advantage over other countries in International beef market:

First commercial beef-ranching is not practised in India and the male and unproductive female buffaloes are allowed to be slaughtered.  Since these animals do not produce milk they are rarely fed expensive nutritious feeds and therefore the cost of producing meat is much lower than other beef-exporting countries. Second, as the production is going up while the domestic market is limited, India will have surplus to export which at present stands at around 30 % of its total production. Third, the beef produced in India is halal meat, which is preferred in a number of South Asian, African and the Middle Eastern markets.

Thus both the Hindu and Muslim syncretic environment has created a unique advantage for India. The beef-ranching is today considered one of the worst offenders of global climate change. If Indian meadows have not become the beef-ranches for the United States it is mainly because of the beef-taboo that Indian culture has evolved and the flexibility in allowing the culling of animals which is also equally an integral part of Indian culture.

Perhaps Hindutvaites can think in terms of creating legislations like the ‘Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act,’ a federal US law that has resulted in technological innovations which have helped reduce the cruelty and stress for the animals that are slaughtered.

However those who want to destroy this unique niche created by web of bio-cultural threads have often peddled half-truths to make beef a part of consumerist food culture in India. ‘India Today’ in its cover story on ‘the politics of beef’ stated that Indian cows are a major source of Green House Gases (GHGs) causing global warming:

Like buffaloes, sheep, and goats, cows excrete high quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) capable of trapping 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide that irretrievably escapes into the atmosphere. India’s total livestock population of over half-a-billion, also including goats, camels, horses and other such animals, accounts for more than a sixth of the total GHGs from the world’s livestock. Data published last year in the Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences shows that India’s livestock annually produces 14.32 million tonnes of GHGs, which is 15 per cent of the global total.

But it never bothered to tell its readers another fact which is part of basic ecological knowledge. The energy potential of cow and buffalo dung comes to 562.2 Peta-Joules (PJ) and 336 PJ respectively. This potential can be used by 17 million biogas plants and 1,50,000 community biogas plants for reducing GHG emissions by 5 Tonnes of Carbon (TC)/year and 10.8 TC/year respectively. The climate change benefits in terms of carbon emission reductions are to the tune of 110 TC per year provided the available potential of bio-energy technologies are utilized.

Experts contend that optimum biogas production has the potential of reducing GHG emissions by 138.33 million tonnes of CO2-e from manure management. Under Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) by mid 2012 India had bio-energy projects with a carbon credit of 730.8 million tonnes worth Rs 20,1730 million. (43)  It is only discounting all these aspects that ‘India Today’ makes cows an eco-liability and hence implies that they should be slaughtered.

From 2008 to 2014 every year the National Geographic society has been taking a survey of Greendex – a measure of environmentally sustainable consumption which include vital areas such as food, habitat, transport etc. And in each years Indians have come first in the survey. And the report notes the following about India’s sustainable food habits:

India, which has ranked first in food sustainability in every Greendex, came out far ahead again, thanks to its culturally dictated eating habits. Nearly one in four Indians is a vegetarian, and those who aren’t, tend to avoid beef, the most environmentally damaging meat.

So cow-protection is an Indic phenomenon that has evolved over the millennia with historical, social, cultural, ecological, political and spiritual dimensions. It is part of the web of Indian life and hence cannot be mechanically implemented in a ruthless manner through blunt legislation. It also cannot be used to stereotype Hindus and negatively caricature the political enemies of Marxists and Nehruvian secularists.

If positioned rightly cow-protection can be as Gandhi rightly envisaged one of the greatest civilizational gift to an ailing planet from Hindus. Hence it becomes important for those who stand by cow protection that they create the discourse holistically and devise the strategies scientifically and in an all-inclusive manner. From Golwalkar to Go Vighyan Anusandhan Kendra (GVAK) mainstream Hindutva has moved towards a holistic inclusive and tentatively scientific discourse. Unfortunately the so-called secularist propaganda on cow-protection is caught in a time warp – perhaps intentionally to serve vested political interests at the cost of national interests.


  1. Hinsa Virodhak Sangh vs Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat & Ors on 14 March, 2008:http://indiankanoon.org/doc/560071/
  2. Nandita Krishna, Sacred Animals of India, Penguin India, 2010, pp77-8
  3. Koenraad Elst, Origin of Aum, http://koenraadelst.blogspot.in/2013/05/the-origin-of-aum.html
  4. Gwen Robbins etal, Ancient Skeletal Evidence for Leprosy in India (2000 B.C.); URL:http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0005669
  5. See for example: M.N.Sreenivasa in ‘Microorganisms in Sustainable Agriculture and Biotechnology’ (Ed. Tulasi Satyanarayana, Bhavdish Narain Johri, Anil Prakash), Springer Science & Business Media, 2012 pp. 62-5.
  6. ‘Medicinal use of Panchagavya’, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, 31st Aug, 2012
  7. Mahadi Husain, Bahadur Shah Zafar; And the War of 1857 in Delhi, Aakar Books, 2006, p.38
  8. John Reader, Human ecology:how land shapes society, New Scientist, 8 September 1988
  9. Karl Marx, The British Rule in India 1853, Selected Works of K. Marx and F. Engels, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, vol. 1., p. 493
  10. Daniel Brister, In the Presence of Buffalo: Working to Stop the Yellowstone Slaughter, Graphic Arts Books, 2013
  11. Peter Farb, Ecology, Time-Life series, 1971,pp.158-60
  12. Daniel Brister, 2013
  13. Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World, Verso Books, 2002, pp.328-9
  14. Marvin Harris, India’s Sacred Cow, in Anthropology Contemporary Perspective (Ed. Phillip Whitten and David E.K. Hunter), 1990,p.202
  15. Anna Bigelow, Punjab’s Muslims: The History and Significance of Malerkotla, Journal of Punjab Studies, Vol 12 No 1, 2005, p.70
  16. R.Inamdar, Political Thought and Leadership of Lokmanya Tilak, Concept Publishing Company, 1983, pp.209-10
  17. (YI, 6-10-1921, p. 36) from The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, (Ed. R. K. Prabhu & U. R. Rao), Navajivan Mudranalaya, 1966,p.371
  18. (YI, 29-1-1925, p. 38), ibid., p.371
  19. (H, 15-9-1946, p. 310),ibid., p.371
  20. Arne Naess, The Ecology of wisdom, Counterpoint Press, 2010, p.90
  21. From: ‘Cow-protection and cow-worship: English translation of Savarkar’s assorted views on cow-protection and cow-worship‘ from URL: http://www.savarkar.org/en/rationalism/cow-protection-and-cow-worship accessed on 27-Oct-2015
  22. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, Vol-12, Education Dept., Govt. of Maharashtra, p.7
  23. M.Munshi, Our Greatest Need: And Other Addresses, Hindustani Cellulose & Paper Company, 1953, p.89
  24. Joseph Cornelius Kumarappa, The Cow in Our Economy, Akhil Bharat Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan, 1963 (For biogas and slurry see for example: Industrial Economist9 p 10)
  25. Attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru by Arthur Stratton, One man’s India, Norton, 1955. p.68
  26. Steven I. Wilkinson, Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p.117
  27. Hanif Quareshi & Others vs The State Of Bihar(And Connected … on 23 April, 1958: http://indiankanoon.org/doc/93885/
  28. Tahir Muhammad, Interaction of Islam and Public Law in Independent India, in Perspectives on Islamic Law, Justice, and Society, (Ed.Ravindra S. Khare), Rowman & Littlefield, 1987, pp.103-4
  29. Ananth V. Krishna, India Since Independence: Making Sense Of Indian Politics, Pearson, 2011, p.73
  30. Resolution No. 1 of Karya Kari Mandal, 1966, from RSS Resolves 1950-2007, Suruchi Prakashan, 2007, pp.34-5
  31. Verghese Kurien, I too had a dream, Roli Books, 2012, pp.181-5
  32. Piyush Patel, White Revolution hero Dr Verghese Kurien passes away, DNA, 10-Sep-2012
  33. S.Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Jagarana Prakashana, 1966, p.70
  34. S.Golwalkar, Spotlights, Sahitya Sindhu, 1974, pp.142-3
  35. Sopan Joshi, Liquid Asset, Down to Earth, 15-Aug-2002 and ‘US stamp on cow urine drug booster’, Telegraph, 19-July-2005
  36. Bhanvi Arora, School makes 5000 chapatis for 500 students in a day using biogas, DNA (Bhopal),18-Jun-2014
  37. http://www.neeri.res.in/divisonal_patent.php?DIV=9
  38. Nagpur firm’s drug developed for crop protection gets US patent, PTI report dated 16-Sep-2013
  39. Wendy Doniger, Martha C. Nussbaum, Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right, Oxford University Press, 2015, p.312
  40. Dharampal & T. M. Mukundan, The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India With Some British Documents on the Anti-Kine-Killing Movement 1880-1894,SIDH,2002
  41. OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2014, OECD Publishing, 11-Jul-2014, p.184
  42. Beef, Ban & Bloodshed, India Today, 19-Oct-2015
  43. Mrinalini Goswami et al.,Replacing Conventional Fuels through Biogas for Mitigating the threats related to climate change in India: A state-wise assessment for emission reduction, in ‘Management of Water, Energy and Bio-resources in the Era of Climate Change: Emerging Issues and Challenges’ (Ed.N. Janardhana Raju, Wolfgang Gossel, AL. Ramanathan, M. Sudhakar) Springer, 2014, p.197
  44. Andrea Stone, Global Survey Says We’re Eating Better, But Our Diet Is Still Unsustainable, National Geographic, 29-Sep-2014

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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