Hindutva And Cow: Love For Cow or Hatred For “Others”?



There have been several brutal lynchings of Muslims and beatings of dalits on the issue of Holy cow. Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Pehlu Khan in Mewat being just two of the cases from the long list. In these cases some pretext is cooked up to beat the cow traders or those consuming meat or beef. The incidence of Una shows that it is not only Muslims who have been on the chopping block of Hindutva vigilantes but as a byproduct of this emotive campaign launched by Modi-Yogi parivar many dalits also suffer in a serious manner. Earlier in Gohana five dalits, who were skinning the dead cow were done to death. Following this Acharya Giriraj Kishor of VHP stated that the cow is very sacred for Hindus. Lately RSS Chief Shri Bhagwat called for an all India ban on cow slaughter, in Gujarat the punishment for cow slaughter has been increased to life imprisonment, while Subramanian Swami of BJP is calling for death penalty for those caught in such cases.

What is the real agenda of the hysteria being built around cow? Why at this point of time this is being intensified? Is it that starting from the Cow vigilantes to their highest priest Mr. Bhagawat, all are committed to the welfare of cow? Are they out to see that this animal, which according to them houses 33 crore Gods and Goddesses in her body and whose dung and urine have medicinal properties doing all this for the love of her? It is unlikely that they have the welfare of cow at heart. Had that been so their primary concern it would have been better to ensure that cows don’t die by consuming plastic. Had they been concerned about society benefitting from the dung or urine of cow, they would have tried to understand what does veterinary science say about specialties of cow vis a vis other animals. Had they been concerned about cow the incidence like ill kept cow shed of Hingonia run by BJP government of Rajasthan, where hundreds cows suffered ill treatment and death, would not have happened. While talking on behalf of Hindus the needs of poor Hindus, those depending on cow leather or the poor farmers for whom cow is a part of their agrarian economy, are nowhere on the agenda of this politics.

As such cow was the consumed in Vedic period. It was also the object of sacrifice in the Vedic rituals. Swami Vivekananda regarded as a mentor and philosopher of Hindutva by the RSS, while speaking to a large gathering in USA said:

“You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.”

[Vivekananda, cited in Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536.]

With the rise of agricultural society and coming of Buddhism in particular the sacrifice of cows was opposed. In reaction to Buddhism; Brahmanism came up and projected cow as its symbol and in due course established the hegemony of Brahmanism over Buddhism and holiness of cow.  Since then the Brahmanical version of Hinduism has harped on the medicinal value of urine and dung of cow.

After Independence many a leader within and outside Congress, who had Bramanical mind set started demanding for a total ban on cow slaughter. This was outrightly rejected in the Constituent Assembly; instead Cow protection on scientific rational ground, along with protection of other milch animals formed the directive principle of state policy. “The state shall endeavor to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and draught cattle” (Directive Principles of State Policy).

Over a period of time under pressure from Hindutva elements, as an appeasement to dominant Hindu sentiments various state Governments went on to bring in laws for stopping Cow slaughter, later punishments for storing beef as well. During last three years not only that emotive intensification has been increased around cow, an aggressive stance against vegetarianism is also floating in the society. Wherever BJP is getting foothold, it is trying to force the society in the direction of vegetarianism.

Today most states have passed laws that prohibit cow slaughter, except Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Lakshadweep; Assam and West Bengal permit the slaughter of cows  over ages of 10 and 14 years respectively. The Haryana government has even created a uniformed police force unit for cow protection. Yogi Adityanath’s first major act as CM has been in closing numerous abattoirs, resulting in loss of livelihood of hundreds of people.

All this is in contrast to the sentiments and opinions of people like Mahatma Gandhi who stated, ‘I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus. We have been shouting from the house-tops that there will be no coercion in the matter of religion.’

The RSS-Hindutva poltics is constructed around emotive issues which divide the society. Issues like Ram Mandir, Love Jihad, Ghar Wapasi have been built up and these issues have created an atmosphere of Hate towards religious minorities. As a side result of this the dalits dealing with cow’s dead body have also been the victim of this politics. Modi-BJP has been cleverly using this in a systematic way to spread hate against Muslims in particular.  Modi had stated “Rana Pratap dedicated his life to gau raksha (cow protection). He fought wars and sacrificed young men to protect the cow…” He derogatorily referred to export of beef as Pink revolution and criticized the same. While holy cow has been used to polarize the society, currently it is the major issue for spreading Hate in the society.

Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to [email protected]


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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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