October 14, 2015

India: Of cow lovers and human haters (Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal)

Kashmir Times - October 11, 2015
Of cow lovers and human haters
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

There is something grossly absurd, rather barbaric, about a nation that wishes to map itself with progressive and developed nations of the world but chooses to dedicate itself to cow protection by legitimizing the slaughtering a man. The dangers to India's secular traditions and democratic ethos have never been as pronounced as they are today and problem is that majority Indians are yet to wake up to that reality. Developments in recent weeks with meat bans and beef row suggest this amply. It is not only about the fundamental right to choice of food. It is not only about the absurdity of deeming cow protection so important as to legitimize a murder. The beef discourse and the shockingly brutal killing of Akhlaq in Dadri are, at the end of the day, spokes in a larger vicious wheel constantly moving and endangering the country's secular and democratic spirit to satisfy the brutal urge of building a fascist Hindutva rashtra, not a Hindu rashtra.

Hinduism may regard cow as a significant animal, even sacred, but does not preach human slaughter on pretext of protecting the cow. The cow is revered because it gives milk and in ancient times supported and sustained livelihoods, something that it continues to do especially in agrarian households. But as per Hinduism all forms of nature are held in high esteem - trees, sun, monkeys, flowers, you name it. If it's not a cow, it is something else. The origins of the concept of 'gaumata' (treating cow akin to a mother) remain contested but according to feminist perception it is misogynist to the core as mothers' role certainly goes beyond just giving birth and providing milk. Most Hindus do not eat beef, though in some culture casa-beef (buffalo meat) is consumed. The socially oppressed classes among Hindus are also known to be beef consumers in certain areas. Upper caste Hindus may be free to adhere to their belief and penchant for protecting the cow but how can a country like India that belongs not only to Hindus but all its minorities equally impose a belief that some believe in on others. If it was really about cow protection, the discourse would have included cow leather that comes packaged in quality brands and also the ill-treatment of cows especially after they are old and no longer fit to be milched.

Mahatma Gandhi, a devout Hindu, had opposed ban on cow slaughter even though he affirmed his faith in the significance of protecting the cow. He opposed the ban on two basic premises. One that India was a plural country which belonged to people of all religions and beliefs. And, second that if a Hindu majority India would impose a Hindu culture on its population, it would give an essentially Muslim majority Pakistan to impose the Islamic culture of intolerance to idol worship on its Hindu citizens. Gandhian model of peaceful co-existence entailed that one adhered to ones beliefs without interfering in the beliefs of the other, without imposing one's own beliefs on the other and without hurting the sentiments of the other.

The Dadri lynching case defies the pacifist logic of this vision of plural and tolerant society. It provokes outrage, anger and has the potential of triggering responses that can create religious provocations on both sides and further polarise the communities, provocation from one side evoking a venomous response from the other and moving like a vicious circle. The Engineer Rashid episode is a direct fallout of the Dadri lynching. His campaign in pursuit of lifting of beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir on grounds that this violates the fundamental and religious rights of Kashmiri Muslims may have a legal, constitutional and ethical merit and a genesis that is rooted in Kashmir conflict and its mishandling by the Indian government. But his methods betrayed the ignorance of the larger and negative implications of the beef party that he used as his language of protest. Worse still, the BJP by seeking to legitimize the right to physically assault Rashid on the floor of the state legislative assembly betrayed not just scant regard for the dignity of the august house but also for the right to dissent.

The Dadri example, whose ugliness goes beyond the gory murder of a man rumoured to have slaughtered and eaten beef, unfortunately, has set the wrong precedent of ruling elite mercilessly legitimizing murders by invoking religious motifs and by perverse interpretations of religion and the idea of India. Action remains missing in Dadri, so does remorse in the area and elsewhere where the legitimacy for the act found a resonance including in official circles and highest echelons of power. The prime minister selling Digital India has not condemned it; his culture minister has gone about defending the act and diluting the heinousness and brutality of the lynching mob by pedaling the obnoxious theory of 'accident' and 'goodwill' of the mob 'who didn't intend to lynch or rape'; the police has gone on a tangent of not hunting for the accused and investigating who provoked the mob but in finding whether the meat in the slain man's refrigerator was mutton or meat. The brutality of the act is followed by the shocking brutality of defending and normalising the act.

The Dadri story at one level blends into the landscape of the culture of intolerance that has been put in top gear since Modi government took over the reins of power - the crackdown on NGOs, threats to minorities and dissenters and murders of rationalists. At another level, it propels that agenda of perpetuating intolerance and injecting heavy doses of communal poison into the society. It evokes insecurities and panic; it promotes divisiveness; it militates against the very idea of India as an independent, democratic and secular country with a tolerant society; both the incident and its wrongful legitimization and normalization set a precedent that make India a ticking time bomb ready to burst up into flames.