Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) international president Ashok Singhal has demanded a nation-wide ban on cow slaughter. He emphasised that protection of cows are necessary for the nation’s progress and said “by banning cow slaughter India will become a Hindu nation by 2020”. BJP government in Gujarat demolished hundreds of temples in the name of development and Rajasthan too followed the same policy. Modi, the ‘so called’ Hindu icon, had changed his tone and has randomly started appeasing Muslims. However, some Hindu radical groups stuck to beef ban and are connecting it with nation’s progress.
The idea of ahimsa seems to have made its first appearance in the Upanisadic thought and literature. Gautama Buddha and Mahavira had vehemently challenged the efficacy of the Vedic animal sacrifice. Thus, although both Buddhism, and, to a greater extent, Jainism contributed to the growth of ahimsa doctrine, neither seems to have developed the sacred cow concept independently. The practice of flesh eating and killing cattle for food was customary right through the Gupta period and later is sufficiently borne out by references to it found in the Puranas and the Epics. Strange but verified, most of the characters in the Mahabharata are meat eaters. Draupadi promised to Jayadratha and his retinue that Yudhisthira would provide them with a variety of game including gayal, sambara and buffalo.
It’s interesting to note that Ayurveda provides an impressive list of fish and animals and speak about the therapeutic uses of beef. Somesvara shows clear preference for pork over other meats. Similarly, the Dharmasastra commentaries and religious digests from the ninth century permit beef in specific circumstances. Most consider this as a disapproval of the cow slaughter and meat eating in general. Others put it in the context of demons and evil spirits (Yātudhāna) stealing the cattle and the milk, and mention that the beef eating was common in the Vedic times. Though alternative translations by Swami Dayananda Saraswati reject such claims and give the ‘correct’ interpretations and translations in the light of the Brahmanas and Vedangas. According to Dayananda and Yaska, the author of Nirukta (Vedic Philology), Yātudhāna means Cattle -eaters (Yātu – Cattle / flesh of Cattle + Udhāna – eaters/ consumers). Multiple Rigvedic verses, contain references to the slaughter of cattle, horses and other animals, as well as meat eating; however, translation is debated and doubtful. The Atharva Veda bans only the eating of the raw flesh and the human flesh. The Yajurveda mentions Ashvamedha or the horse sacrifice, and even Purushamedha or the human sacrifice (Yajurveda (VS 30–31)). The Purushamedha or human sacrifice was purely ritualistic, and there is no proof of a human ever being sacrificed.
Eating any meat is a subject of personal preference which comes under the Fundamental right afforded by the Constitution of India. As per the Constitution, when it was written post India’s Independence, the beef slaughter was written into the constitution as a state subject; that is, every state can exercise its right to ban or allow cow slaughter. I must remind you that this ban or no ban of cow slaughter is only for trade. Even in a banned state, one can kill a cow and eat its meat and share it with others without trading it for monetary gain. This is part of every citizen-of-India’s Fundamental Right guaranteed by the constitution, which cannot by banned by any legislative body like the parliament or assembly. To knock over the clause of ‘Cow slaughter for trade’ from state subject to national needs a 2/3rd majority in the parliament. Hindu scriptures belong or refer to the Vedic period which lasted till about 500 BC according to the chronological division by modern historians. In the historical Vedic religion of Hinduism, meat eating was not banned in principle, but was restricted by specific rules.
The Rig Veda (10.87.16-19) speaks about the flesh of the cattle and the horses.
Beef is the culinary name of meat from bovines, especially cattle. In almost every part of the world, beef is harvested from cows, bulls, heifers, etc. Acceptability of beef as a food source varies in different parts of the world according to the availability. Hindu scriptures like Manusmriti, Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmins, Grihsutras, Dharmasutras and others, have mentions of beef eating by various Hindu deities.
Manusmriti (Chapter 5 / Verse 30) says, “It is not sinful to eat meat of eatable animals, for Brahma has created both the eaters and the eatables.”
Manusmriti (5 / 35) states: When a man who is properly engaged in a ritual does not eat meat, after his death he will become a sacrificial animal during twenty-one rebirths.
Maharishi Yagyavalkya says in Shatpath Brahmin (3/1/2/21) that, “I eat beef because it is very soft and delicious.”
Apastamb Grihsutram (1/3/10) says, “The cow should be slaughtered on the arrival of a guest, on the occasion of ‘Shraddha’ of ancestors and on the occasion of a marriage.”
Rigveda (10/85/13) declares, “On the occasion of a girl’s marriage oxen and cows are slaughtered.”
Rigveda (6/17/1) states that “Indra used to eat the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo.”
Vashistha Dharmasutra (11/34) writes, “If a Brahmin refuses to eat the meat offered to him on the occasion of ‘Shraddha’ or worship, he goes to hell.”
One of the greatest scholar and propagator of Hinduism Swami Vivekanand says, “You will be surprised to know that according to ancient Hindu rites and rituals, a man cannot be a good Hindu who does not eat beef”. (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekanand, vol.3, p. 536).
The subsequent Brahmanical texts Grhyasutras and Dharmasutras provide ample evidence of the eating of flesh including beef.
So, the first inference we can draw is that Muslims rulers or religion have nothing to do with beef consumption in India. Beef had been associated with Indian dietary practices much before the advent of Islam. Many scholars believe that a challenge to Brahminical order appeared with the emergence of Buddhism. It posed a threat to the Brahminical value system. The low castes were slipping away from the grip of Brahminism. The rebellion and the emergence of a new derivative religion pushed hard the concept of the protection of cattle wealth, which was needed for the agricultural economy. It is that, this ideology took up the cow as a symbol of their reverence, physical and ideological as well. Buddha’s pronouncements were based on scientific reasons. Those were not based on mere assertions.
Cow and Calf slaughter was recently banned in Maharashtra — a move that took almost two decades to materialize and was initiated during the previous Sena-BJP government. The data shows that Indian States can be classified into five categories — north-eastern States with no restrictions on cattle slaughter; Kerala with no law but a caveat; Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam which allow the slaughter of cattle with a certificate; Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Odisha which ban cow slaughter, but allow the slaughter of other cattle with a certificate; and the rest of India which bans the slaughter of all cattle. Cow slaughter ban has made many people jobless and traders have incurred losses, as their only source of income was meet export.
Democracy is supposed to guarantee basic human rights to every individual. It is also supposed to show good Governance with focus on public interest. The livelihoods of millions are affected by this beef ban. The government has failed on both counts i.e. basic human right to work has been taken away from beef traders and the ban can hardly be called good Governance because the interests of beef traders have not been taken into account. What are they supposed to do? Fold their tents and move to another state hoping that the beef won’t be banned there?