The narrative the media are trying to build — that Savarkar was somehow against cow protection itself and would’ve admonished gau-rakshaks — will fall flat because nothing can be farther from the truth. He was a vocal advocate of gau-raksha.
Last month witnessed the release of two back-to-back biographies of Savarkar by Vikram Sampath and Vaibhav Purandare.
The fact that it took almost half a century for an English biography of a nationalistic icon to come out speaks volumes about our national apathy towards revolutionary anti-colonial heroes.
Perhaps it is a manifestation of the changing times that we are finally ready to stop demonising them and regurgitating the colonial propaganda, and stop insulting our martyrs by calling them misguided patriots or terrorists.
Both the works of Sampath and Purandare provide ample ammunition in helping understand the Savarkar phenomenon.
There is a lot to be learnt and celebrated about him — the difficult but inspiring childhood of a precocious boy, his role in the revolutionary movement for independence, him enduring inhuman incarceration in the Andamans with great fortitude, his Himalayan contribution to Indian political philosophy, his works as a social reformer and what not.
However, the usual suspects in the media, the intellectual heirs of those who have ignored or demonised Savarkar for decades, are not interested in highlighting any of these aspects.
Most of them are instead publishing excerpts from the books where Savarkar makes a case to not treat the bovine as divine. In the interviews with authors, leading questions about his views on cow worship are asked so that Savarkar can be used to run down present day gau-rakshaks.
The narrative they are trying to build — that Savarkar was somehow against cow protection itself and would've admonished gau-rakshaks — will fall flat because nothing can be farther from the truth. He was a vocal advocate of gau-raksha.
In fact, Savarkar's first brush with communal riots as a 11-year old boy in his hometown Bhagur, was also precipitated by cow-related violence among other things. As Sampath writes, 'these experiences taught him how poorly organized and disunited the Hindu community was' and 'this made Hindus doubly vulnerable to attacks.'
Yes, Savarkar didn't want Hindu society to treat the cow as a divine creature. “The cow eats at one end and expels urine and dung at the other end. When it is tired it lies down in its own filth. Then it uses its tail (which we call beautiful) to spread this filth all over its body. How can a creature which does not understand cleanliness be considered divine?,” he reasoned.
"Why are cow's urine and dung purifying while even the shadow of a man like Ambedkar is defiling?" Savarkar raised a pertinent question to Hindu society.
When it came to cows, his approach was utilitarian. He believed the cow was meant for the man and not the other way around, hence, it must be looked after well to maximise her usefulness. After all, the Hindus treated the cow as holy only because she was so useful to them.
Today, some vested interests are quoting aforementioned arguments of Savarkar to run down gau-rakshaks but his intention was exactly the opposite. "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," he said.
Clearly he was making a case that worshiping the cow was of no use if it is prioritized over its protection. He said,
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.
This is a far cry from what the trigger-happy Hindutva-baiters want us to believe by quoting Savarkar out of context, exactly the same modus operandi they have employed in painting him as a British stooge based on the mercy petitions written by him during his incarceration in the Andamans.
In any case, Savarkar's appeal to Hindus to not consider the bovine as divine was in no way a nod for non-Hindus to go ahead with killing cows as if it was their religious duty.
As Purandare writes, “Savarkar wrote that Hindus might be naive but they weren't cruel” unlike those who kill the cow as part of their “dharma”' and thus had “no right to ridicule cow worshippers for their beliefs”.
Savarkar charged cow killers with possessing an ‘asuric instinct’ and urged all non-Hindus to “discard their religious cow hatred and consider cow protection done for economic reasons to be their duty.”
Some too-clever-by-half agenda-peddlers have even said that Savarkar advocated eating beef, conveniently throwing the context again in the dustbin. He was talking of extreme situations.
If a fortified city of the Hindu nation was under siege and was running out of rations, then rather than dying of starvation and surrendering, he believes it would be better to slaughter cows, use their flesh as food, to fight and defeat the enemy.
According to Savarkar, sacrificing the cow was acceptable in national interest. He cited examples of Indians kings who would capitulate in front of foreign invaders whenever the latter threatened to harm the cows, temples or Brahmins.
“Foolishness led to the sacrifice of the nation for the sake of a few cows and Brahmins and temples,” he said.
Savarkar was forthright and unwavering in his views. It will serve us all well if we attempt to understand why he said the things that are being gleefully misused by the media. Quoting him without context is a disservice to his memory and will not work in this day of social media awareness.