In July 2016, a group of self-proclaimed gau rakshaks (cow protectors) publicly thrashed four persons for allegedly skimming a cow in Una district of Gujarat. On April 3, 2017, another group of alleged gau rakshaks killed a dairy farmer in Alwar district of Rajasthan, in the name of ‘cow protection’.
The highlight of the second incident was that the driver of the dairy truck was easily let off because he was a Hindu. The cattle owner, however, was beaten to death because he was a Muslim.
Why were they lynched? It is probably because the incidents involved cows. In India, cows are considered to be divine. Such a notion is based on the Vedas written in ancient India. It was the Rig Veda that ascribed divinity to cows. The Atharva Veda mentions the cow to be a form of Vishnu.
With this ancient cultural baggage around cows, I can understand why people are excessively zealous about protecting them. What I don’t understand is why people don’t feel the same towards other animals. Ganesha has an elephant’s head. So why aren’t we too concerned about elephant protection? Why don’t the ‘protectors’ thrash elephant poachers and hunters? Hanuman has been described in Rig Veda as an incarceration of Shiva. So why do people kill monkeys? Why has the government approved the culling of monkeys in Himachal Pradesh, and even giving away monetary rewards for this?
After all, why do we over-emphasise ‘cow protection’, even today? During 1920s and 1930s, when India was fighting for independence, political organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League rose in prominence. The demand for Muslim nation led to the counter-demand for a Hindu rashtrya.
Against this backdrop, the cow became a divisive symbol – one that was used to divide the nation’s citizens on the basis of religion. The cow was chosen as the symbol, probably to emphasise the fact that Muslims ate beef, and thus, could never unite with Hindus (to whom the cow was sacred). In British India, the Arya Samaj led a cow protection movement. Later, groups such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtra Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also carried out such movements to rouse patriotic fervour among Hindus.
Such groups were largely successful in creating a divide between the Hindus and the Muslims. The resultant enmity between the Hindus and Muslims has led to several instances of mob lynchings post independence.
Because of certain political motives, gau rakshaks have continued to traumatise Indian civilians in the name of religion. India is a developing country, and to ensure development, it needs to focus on all sections of its population – be it Muslims, Dalits or any other community. Ignoring the atrocities done by any one section of the society (whether majority or minority) amounts to inequality.
We need to stop glorifying certain aspects of the Vedas, because we no longer live in ancient India. The situations and conditions are much different now. Favouring and supporting gau rakshaks will only divide India, even further.