The cow is once again at the center stage of national discourse. Indians, from time immemorial, depended on land and cattle for their survival. In fact, their wealth was measured in terms of acres of land and the number of cattle they owned. Cows and bulls tilled and fertilized their lands, and yielded nourishing food for them in the form of milk. This is why cows and cattle have a special place in their hearts. I, being from a farming family, have observed the phenomenon at close quarters.
My paternal grandfather, who was a pure lacto-vegetarian throughout his life, would treat his cattle very affectionately. He, after a pre-dawn wake-up, would clean his cattle sheds by removing dung and slush. He would leave his house with his herd of cattle before sunrise to rear them, while his sons would take care of the farming activities in his small landholding. The jingling of bells tied around the necks of his cows would herald his return in the evening to his frugal thatched hut engulfed by the power-deprived darkness. The sounds of cowbells and the snuffling and shuffling of his cows were all-pervasive in his backyard throughout the night. In spite of being a poor man, he had milk, curd and ghee in abundance in his kitchen. If any of his cattle would die, he would not even give away its skin. Instead, he would give it a proper burial in his land.
But these days, farmers when their cattle grow old or when they are in dire financial need, sell them off to slaughter houses. Though the people who buy cattle for the purpose of slaughter are Muslims, those who sell are mostly Hindus.
As far as consumption of beef is concerned, not only Muslims but even Dalits consume it. In fact, beef is not only affordable for the poor Dalits but has also been a part of their diet and identity for ages.
Now the question arises as to whether the Hindutva organisations that are at the vanguard of cow protection campaign consider Dalits as Hindus, or just because they consume beef they want to alienate them further and force them out of the Hindu fold?
Even the upper caste Hindus in States such as Kerala are known for their affinity for beef, though they are active in cow protection campaigns elsewhere.
Animals, owing to their inferior cognition, are subjugated and exploited by humans right from the beginning. Some are domesticated for milk while some others are slaughtered for meat. There is no doubt that slaughtering animals for food, whether they are goats or cows, involves cruelty on the part of humans and that is the main reason behind many people advocating vegetarianism.
In the words of singer and composer Paul McCartney, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian”. A goat does not undergo any lesser pain than a cow while it is consigned to a butcher’s knife. Therefore, advocating vegetarianism is good but it should not be done in the name of religion.
Moreover, the poor Muslims and Dalits must not be forced to stop eating beef, which is a cheap source of protein for them, even while their caste Hindu counterparts are allowed to enjoy the expensive mutton cosily.
It is a fact that non-vegetarianism is spreading rapidly in India and even those sections who have hitherto been vegetarians are slowly turning into non-vegetarians. Even the lacto-vegetarianism that is widely prevalent in India has resulted in widespread exploitation of animals for their milk.
So, the entire thing needs to be viewed from a different perspective rather than religious. These days, hardly a day goes by without a Hindu rightwing politician making an inflammatory comment on cow protection. Cases of cow vigilantes turning into lynch mobs, whose victims are invariably either Muslims or Dalits, are being reported from various parts of the country.
The unofficial ban imposed by the new rules on cow slaughter will further aggravate the unemployment problem in the country. A large number of Muslims and Dalits, who are dependent on meat and leather industry for their livelihood, will be distressed and their economic condition will further deteriorate. It is a well-known fact that worsening unemployment is like a bomb ready to go off and has the potential to stoke unrest.
The very fact that what is cooking in someone’s pot has become a national issue and is used to stigmatise and dehumanise certain sections of the population is very distressing.
The cow slaughter issue — though has the potential to fetch rich electoral dividends to the ruling party — can cause irreparable damage to the social fabric of the country by solidifying the already existing social discord among various sections of society.
Continued resistance and dissent are the only weapons people have to fight against a government that rules in an authoritarian manner with the help of its brute majority.
Therefore, it is paramount on the part of the civil society groups and the intelligentsia to once again raise their voices against the potentially dangerous manoeuvres of the government to preempt any further damage.
This article, authored by Dr. V.Ramachandra Reddy, was published in Telangana Today, a regional English daily in the state of Telangana, India on 29th June 2017.