Republic of Cow!

Politics over beef  — the Hindutva project to undermine Indian democracy

 

The ascent of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP to power in India has rekindled a brand of politics that many thought had been consigned to history  —  that of the cow. It has created a discourse that is not only questions many of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution, but also raises doubts over the future of the country as a secular and democratic republic.

A “rule of mob”, supported by the ruling dispensation in many cases, has descended upon the country. The Sangh parivar’s target is clear — it wants a country of upper castes, for the upper castes and by the upper castes. They have also chalked out a strategy to achieve that goal — periodic outbreaks of violence against Muslims and Dalits.

Politics over beef is not new to India. Wendy Doniger, noted author and a scholar of Sanskrit for over 50 years, traced the origin of politics over the cow to the 19th century as an implicit objective to oppress the Muslims.

Mahatma Gandhi attempted to make vegetarianism, particularly the taboo against eating beef, a central tenet of Hinduism, tying it to his idea of nonviolence.

In the modern age, the pioneer of the cow protection movement was M.S. Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS. A thorough reading of the autobiography of Verghese Kurien — the Milkman of India — provides an insight into Golwalkar’s thoughts.

Golwalkar was the brains behind the 1960s’ cow protection movement that forced the government of the day to set up a committee to consider the demand of a nationwide ban on cow slaughter. The committee lasted 12 years.

Kurien opposed this ban for economic reasons. “It was important for us in the dairy business to keep weeding out the unhealthy cows so that available resources could be utilised for healthy and productive cattle. I was prepared to go as far as to allow that no useful cow should be killed,” Kurien wrote in his autobiography.

He then cited a conversation with Golwalkar where the then RSS chief outlined his vision, and it had nothing to do with gau bhakti (cow reverence). It was a political move then; today it is a social move to finally create the India of Golwalkar’s vision.

In India, traditionally, the slaughter of cattle has always been associated with either the Muslims and Christians or the Hindu lower castes — the Dalits. Beef forms an important part of the diet for Muslims. The Dalits, on the other hand, were scavengers and their eating habits still reflects their ancient status at the bottom of the food chain, forced to eat even rats. Beef presented an alternative source of nutrition to them and has since been included in their diet — it was more of an economical habit than a cultural one.

Amid the hoopla, the consumption of beef by Hindus is forgotten. Doniger wrote that even “after the fourth century BC, when the practice of vegetarianism spread throughout India among Buddhists, Jains and Hindus, many Hindus continued to eat beef”. She paraphrased ancient ritual texts, known as the Brahmanas and others, that taught religious duty (dharma), from the third century BC. These texts said a bull or cow should be killed to be eaten when a guest arrived.

Doniger credited the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, to explain the transition of Hindus to non-eating of cows: “Once, when there was a great famine, King Prithu took up his bow and arrow and pursued the Earth to force her to yield nourishment for his people. The Earth assumed the form of a cow and begged him to spare her life; she then allowed him to milk her for all that the people needed.”

The cattle slaughter legislation was the BJP’s attempt to live up to its 2014 election manifesto, where it promised to protect “the cow and its progeny” in a nod to its Hindu nationalist roots. This was an attempt to appeal to India’s Hindu population, which holds cattle — particularly cows — to be sacred. State Assemblies have also begun to follow suit and pass laws that would make cow slaughter a punishable offence.

Alongside their dietary choices, most of India’s leather business is also handled by Muslims or the so-called lower castes. A blanket ban on the slaughter of cattle specifically aims to cut off their source of livelihood. For a nation that so reveres its gau mata (mother cow), India remains one of the largest exporters of beef in the world. Its buffalo meat export has grown from Rs 3,533 crore in 2007 to Rs 26,685 crore in 2016.

“The new rules of buffalo trade on which we were not consulted has come as a surprise and shock for the industry. It is not possible for individual farmers to sell their spent animals for slaughter (directly to us) without going to the nearest animal market,” Fauzan Alavi, spokesperson for the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, the trade lobby of buffalo meat exporters, said.

Incidentally, demands to stop cattle slaughter have not just been limited to the BJP or Sangh leadership. Rajasthan High Court recently recommended to the Centre that it should declare the cow as the national animal. Even a body of Muslim intellectuals said it would extend support to any proposal to ban cow slaughter and declaring it as the national animal.

Despite the political grandstanding over the cow’s sanctity, an ugly truth prevails: the animal is frequently mistreated, housed miserably, fed rubbish or left to fend for itself. Cow protection is just a smokescreen that the fringe needs to achieve their long-term goal of turning India into a Hindu Pakistan.

The mistreatment of cows has been widespread in India, said Naresh Kadyan, India representative of the International Organisation for Animal Protection. The politicisation of cattle welfare has distracted from the problem of how India’s cows — some 283 million, according to a 2003 census — are treated.

While cows used to be prized for their economic value, they are now “unproductive, as they have been replaced by machines,” Kadyan said, adding that cows had “become a tool of publicity and politics to divide society”.

In states such as Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh — where the consumption of beef is less common than in the south or north-east — cows are treated well until they are unable to provide milk. “When they become unproductive, they are then kept in animal shelters that are like full-time jails,” he said. “There’s no scientific care for the rest of their lives. They have no exercise, no freedom of movement, and no land to graze on,” Kadiyan said.

A 2010 investigation by the India chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) found rampant abuse of cows in the dairy industry. They were frequently injected with oxytocin, although the hormone causes stomach cramps and pain, to boost milk yields.

“Most (cows) are chained by their necks in narrow stalls, where they are unable to stretch or move normally,” according to Peta. “Lack of proper food causes them to suffer from digestive problems, and lack of exercise causes lameness.”

Unproductive cows may also be turned out of their farms, resulting in the sight that is so familiar in Indian cities: the solitary cow, wandering the streets and picking plastic out of refuse bins. The Peta report also said that at least half of the cows sold to slaughterhouses die before they even get to the abattoir because they are forced to walk there.

Firebrand Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath, who became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has promised to improve the conditions of cows in the state. In May, his government announced a Cattle Healing Mobile Van Service — an ambulance for cows, which may be summoned by anyone who spots a cow in distress. He has also proposed to establish “cow sanctuaries”.

Some of these shelters are to be housed on the premises of penitentiaries because jails have land and manpower to tend to cattle.

However, not everyone agrees with this move. “These shelters will function without any sort of scientific approach,” Kadiyan said. “These are just so-called animal rights activists using the cow as a political tool — to misguide others to achieve their own political targets or for personal gain or profit.”

Kadiyan calls them animal rights activists. In reality, they are foot soldiers of an administration that is intent on imposing its brand and idea of Hinduism on all Indians. It doesn’t matter if they are not followers of Hinduism — they have two options: follow or perish.

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Anatomy of ‘Lynchistan’

Decoding the inner workings of India’s lynch mob syndrome

 

A common thread unites Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Junaid Khan — they were lynched by Hindu mobs in the name of cow protection.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP took power in 2014, mob lynchings have become the new normal. The BJP’s rise and the regular pro-Hindutva sermons issued by party leaders have instilled a sense of invincibility in these gau rakshaks (cow protectors).

Chief among them is Mohan Bhagwat, sarsanghchalak of the RSS, the BJP’s ideological mentor, who has repeatedly urged the Centre to ban slaughter of cows. Party MPs, including Yogi Adityanath, who became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in March, has issued open threats against beef trade. Adityanath’s appointment as the state’s chief minister was followed by an unprecedented crackdown on slaughterhouses.

In the backdrop of this violence lies the BJP’s ideological goal — to create an India of the upper caste by suppressing the Muslims and confining the lower castes to their “rightful” place at the bottom of the food chain. Its idea of India stems from the Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu and Bunch of Thoughts by M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS’s second sarsanghchalak.

Mukul Kesavan wrote in The Telegraph that “the anti-cow-slaughter campaign has become for the BJP and its vision of Bharat what the anti-blasphemy law used to be for Zia-ul-Haq and his vision of Pakistan: an occasion for the public enactment of the supremacy of a religious majority and, correspondingly, the subordination of religious minorities.”

Kesavan described a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington where he realised that “lynchings were public performances, designed to strike terror into minds of black people, specially blacks who had forgotten their place vis-à-vis their white betters.”

He also drew a parallel between the lynchings of the Ku Klux Klan and the violence of Hindu mobs. The Ku Klux Klan, he wrote, “used violence to intimidate free blacks, to ritually enact their ‘inferiority’. White vigilantes attacked black men and killed them in the name of protecting white womanhood. Between 1890 and the middle of the 20th century nearly 3,500 black men were lynched in the name of white supremacy.”

They also took pictures of their handiwork, which were often published as postcards. It was a “form of white terrorism in America, specifically designed to intimidate black Americans,” Kesavan wrote.

Most lynchings in India take place in the Hindi belt of the north, where the BJP has traditionally wielded more power. The lynch mobs see clear complicity of the people at the helm in the violence where the prime minister, as the chief minister of Gujarat, had himself advocated extrajudicial encounters. The mobs feel empowered. They also know that they enjoy impunity and patronage from the power.

Another aspect of emboldening the lynch mobs is their glorification by the ruling dispensation. The body of Ravi Sisodia, an accused in the murder of Akhlaq, was draped in the Tricolour and hailed as a martyr after he had died in jail.

Modi’s silence on this rabid expression of violence also provides tacit approval of their actions. Forest fires in Portugal elicit a quicker response from their leader than the gruesome murder of a 15-year-old boy.

This has created an “us versus them” mentality among the fringe elements where even police are mute spectators, while the courts are too busy debating whether a peahen reproduces by merely drinking the peacock’s tears.

The lynchings take place not just in the name of cows. It has ranged from fake WhatsApp messages alleging that a rape accused was an illegal Bangaldeshi immigrant through allegations of child trafficking to civic officials allegedly lynching a political activist after he tried to stop them from photographing women defecating in the open.

These were not the only instances. At the height of last year’s students’ movement in Jawaharlal Nehru University, there were repeated, some successful, attempts at attacking students, teachers, and activists on the court preemies. Some lawyers even managed to beat up students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar when he was lodged in jail at the time.

Decoding lynchings from the point of view of neuroscience, Sumaiya Shaikh, a medical scientist with a PhD in neuroscience, wrote in The Wire that a mob lynching differed from physical harm or a killing. According to her, several components come together — the attackers, spectators and the outnumbered victim(s) for this public spectacle that dates back to the medieval ages. “It needs the public humiliation of the victim and, unlike a lawful process of punishment, a lynching is a demonstration that the sentiments of the attackers are beyond the law or the government,” she wrote.

The perpetrator category of ‘participants’, Shaikh wrote, “isn’t an individual but a group that unites to act as a single entity. Within this group, there is trust, recognition, validation, power and anonymity for its members. Every action and thought of a group of this sort, like the workings of an insect swarm, consists solely of achieving their shared objective.”

But not all lynchings are spontaneous outbursts of mob sentiment. Two cow vigilantes had tailed the van of Asgar Ali alias Alimuddin on a bike from Chitarpur in Ramgarh, a known beef hub, to Bazartand in the heart of the district town on June 29 morning, providing regular updates during the 15km stretch to their friends in the marketplace waiting to kill, a chilling example of premeditated mob murder in India.

Apoorvanand agreed that “the spate of violent attacks are in no way spontaneous expressions of mob anger. They are the product of systematic incitement to violence by Hindu nationalists.”

The “atmosphere of sustained hatred against Muslims makes attacks on them seem spontaneous and the product of mob anger. But few question why the mob is angry in the first place,” he wrote.

In April 2017, when a man succumbed to his injuries suffered in a mob attack in Rajasthan, the state’s home minister told reporters that cow protectors were trying to stop people from trafficking cows. The chilling logic — those who are lynched are on the wrong side of the law and those who lynch are protecting it — gives further credence to the work of these lynch mobs.

The absence of laws against lynchings also allows these mob vigilantes get away with little or no punishment whatsoever. The founding fathers of the Constitution of India, perhaps, expected that India had moved on from the medieval practices and didn’t see the need to include any clause against mob violence. They didn’t realise, however, that the party which would hold the country’ts reins from 2014 would steer it back to the dark ages of mob justice.

A draft law to address the menace was unveiled on 7 July by the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching as a response to a spate of lynching incidents that have rattled the nation over the past few months. The draft Maanav Suraksha Kanoon (Masuka) defines lynching as “any act or series of acts of violence, whether spontaneous or planned, committed to inflict extra judicial punishment, or as an act of protest and caused by the desire of a mob to enforce upon a person or group of persons any perceived legal, societal & cultural norms/ prejudices.”

Masuka is expected to fill a glaring hole in India’s constitution. Whether the ruling dispensation makes any efforts to get it passed without delay is, however, still up in smoke.

 

#NotInMyName: Hashtags don’t work, mass mobilisation does

Protests like “Not In My Name” only strengthen RSS resolve against liberal values

 

Several cities across India reverberated with slogans of “Not In My Name” on June 28 as thousands thronged the streets to protest the spurt in lynching of innocents in the name of gau bhakti (cow reverence).

Crimes against Muslims have gone up leaps and bounds since the Hindu nationalist government of the BJP under Narendra Modi’s leadership came to power in 2014. Most of these crimes have strategically targeted Muslims, either in the name of the holy cow, or on the pretext of child trafficking (as in Jharkhand). But Muslims are not the only victims.

Last July, Modi and Amit Shah’s home state, Gujarat, erupted in an uprising after seven Dailt men in Una were publicly flogged by gau rakashaks (cow vigilantes) for skinning a dead cow.

Moreover, atrocities are not just limited to north India, the so-called cow belt, or states ruled by the BJP — the murder of a Dalit man for marrying an upper caste woman in broad daylight in Chennai highlights this.

If the attacks in Una exposed India’s gruesome underbelly of cow vigilantism, the Chennai murder shone light on the impact that caste still holds in a so-called progressive society.

To disregard these attacks would be to undermine the progressive polity that a majority of the educated Indian hope would dictate the discourse. Looked at from this point of view, the “Not In My Name” protests across India does more harm than good — it highlights selective outrage of the Indian elite. Moreover, Modi’s statement against attacks by cow vigilantes a few days after the protests should also not be taken as a victory. Modi has a habit of uttering a customary rebuke against vigilantism — he did it after the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri in 2015, he did it again at the height of the protests in Una, and he did it now.

Modi, very calculatedly, used the term “gau bhakti”, highlighting that there was nothing wrong in worshipping the cow and using it as a political tool. He even invoked Vinobha Bhave to drive home his point. It could be argued that Modi’s remarks about “Kabristan-Shamshan” in the run-up to the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh gives tacit support to these fringe elements, his silence provides further encouragement to them.

The Modi government’s tenure has been blighted by attacks on civil liberties, educational institutes, liberal and free thinking, press, to just name a few. Sporadic protests against the government will not yield dividends. It only works to further widen the already-existing divide between those who see Modi as the messiah and those who see him as the demon, responsible for all the atrocities that have occurred since his ascension to power.

There were no hashtags on Twitter and Facebook over the death of five farmers in Madhya Pradesh, allegedly in police firing. Several other farmers have since committed suicide, both in Madhya Pradesh and other states. Over 100 people died in queues while waiting to get their old notes exchanged following demonetisation. It may be true that the brutal murder of a 16-year-old for allegedly being a beef-eater sparked the protests, but India has been here before over the past three years.

India has not become communal all of a sudden because Modi is the prime minister, he is the prime minister because India is inherently communal. Protests like “Not In My Name” fan the communal hatred even further, especially in RSS sakhas. These protests consolidate the BJP’s hold on the upper caste. The RSS highlights these protests as a liberal conspiracy against the Hindus, and the liberals are playing into their hands. A standalone protest for the murder of a Muslim boy will not change anything, it needs to filter through to the absolute bottom layer if it wants to make an impact on the populace. The issues need to be broader, long-term policies and targets need to be fixed. Moreover, the protests need to be organised and cannot be selective.

The BJP wants to divide and conquer, the best way to defeat them is use the same policy against them. They don’t necessarily care about the Muslims, but they need the Dalits. The protests should include atrocities against the Dalits as well, they should not be left to fend for themselves, like what happened to them after Una and Saharanpur. This is a fight for the idea of India and all Indians must be included in the fight — the farmer and banker, Dalit and upper caste, Hindus and Muslims, the educated and the illiterate, the Malayali and the Gujarati.

Civil rights movements at the height of the Arab Spring brought down dictatorships inTunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, forced changes in Kuwait, Lebanon and Oman, and constitutional reforms in Morocco and Jordan. India, for the time being, still remains a democracy. And actions must be taken to preserve the values of that democratic, socialist, secular republic before it’s too late.

A few roaring protests, coverage in the international media will scare the government and its ruling party. And that will be the ideal moment to strike.