By Kanika Sori:
There is a certain narrative gaining major currency in the public discourse nowadays: Hindus always held the cow to be sacred and were always opposed to the killing of the cow. Only the first half of that contention is true. In fact Hindus used to sacrifice and consume beef on such huge scale during both Vedic and post-Vedic age that Buddhism was born out of sheer disgust at the amount of animal bloodshed for Hindu rituals and sacrifices, way more than the consumption requirement of the population. But this still wasn’t a call for vegetarianism in the name of Ahimsa; Buddhists continue to eat beef till date. So do many Hindu castes and communities. The only real vegetarians in India were Jains. That Hindus, both Brahmins and non-Brahmins, never ate beef is an outright lie!
Vegetarianism was a much later adopted strategy by Brahmin and Bania castes to establish Brahminical supremacy over Buddhism. The claim of the militant Hindu gang that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar endorsed the Hindutva project and opposed beef-eating is yet another lie. He advocated Dalits to convert to beef-eating Buddhism. Ambedkar rigorously studied Rig Veda, Satapatha Brahmana, Dharma Sutras and even Buddhist literature to demonstrate just how prevalent beef eating was among Indo-Aryans. In a brilliant essay titled ‘Did Hindus Never Eat Beef?‘ he meticulously argues all of these points with specific citations for anybody facing too much of cognitive dissonance after reading this.
Historian D.D. Kosambi notes in ‘The Culture And Civilisation Of Ancient Indian‘ (1964), “A modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism whereas Vedic Brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef.” In today’s independent India, the beef-hating Brahmanical vegetarianism made cow slaughtering and beef-eating not only a taboo, but also illegal in many states of India. Albeit on shaky economic grounds, it has even secured a supportive-protection in the Indian constitution: Article 48 of the Indian constitution directs the State to take necessary steps for prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves. To deny people the right to eat their traditional diet is the denial of the right to live with dignity and without fear. The ban on cow slaughtering and the violent cow protection movement – where a ‘legal’ ban exists – are nothing short of state-sponsored caste and religion-based discrimination.
The ‘holy cow’ myth is just food fascism. This culinary politics is nothing but an attempt to wipe out cultural identities other than Brahmins, be it Dalits, Shudras, tribals, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians or any other distinct group. In fact, eating habits are not just an outcome of religion in India. As outlined in recently concluded Anthropological Survey of India, a social group’s geography and economic activity have a greater effect on food habits than individual religion. The study shows that most communities in Kerala (72 to be precise) prefer beef to the expensive mutton. In Rajasthan, on the other hand, live the Rabaris, a Muslim community reputed to be the finest breeders of cattle in the country. They revere cows and shun beef.
The tragedy is that while the forces of militant Hinduism are persuading Keralites to go easy on beef, the Maulvis are campaigning among the Rabaris to start eating it. It is unlikely that such canvassing will succeed given historical experience with alcohol. So much is the extent of sharing between different religions and communities whose leaders are forever battling each other. More worryingly, the food-fascism cuts across political parties and beef-eating remains an uncomfortable issue to most upper-caste vegetarian intellectuals and non-beef eating liberals. They are hardly likely to admit their wars have been meaningless. As the papers start appearing, IF they’re not swept under the carpet, the conscience-keepers will scream slander; politicians will play up the differences and sundry hypocrites will refuse to accept the fact that they share human vices as well as virtues with their countrymen.
To think that Muhammad Akhlaq was lynched to death by a mob in Dadri recently for a meticulously shaped lie ingrained by planned indoctrination over many years is too tragic to even put to words. It’s worse to know that there have been innumerable murders by such individual as well as group vigilantism in the past for the same myth. This cultural imperialism has rendered meaningless the very concept of human rights. This is a crime against humanity perfectly fitting the category of ethnic cleansing. The moral compass of the country seems to have gone for a toss in the environment of cultivated hatred when Ministers seek to protect criminals, call them innocent and seek to justify their crimes shamelessly. And there is no leader of any substance and courage in sight willing to drive the country out of this mess. Is there no one to put such politicians and their rogue gangs in their right place: the prison? Are we that broken? Are we at a point where only a UN intervention can ensure justice and put an end to this criminal design? Maybe we are.