In the noisy debates over ‘cow-protectionism’, we gloss over the fact that it is Indian Muslims and, in some cases Dalits, who are being repeatedly targeted. And that bigotry, and not some misguided holy enthusiasm, is the intimation that ties all the attacks together. The lynch mobs count on two things – the ifs and buts uncertainty of government response as illustrated in the rationalizations of home minister and our short, fickle memory that is either too numbed or too distracted to stay focused on the issue.
We have already moved on from Mohammad Akhlaq who was killed in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that there was beef in his house and whose son, a corporal in the air force continued to believe his country would grant him justice. In March 2016, they were found hanging from a tree in a Jharkhand village, their hands tied together by the nylon chords used to hold cattle. Imtiaz was only 12 years old. A school-going child, he was escorting Ansari to a cattle fair in the hope of making a few extra bucks for his family. Later, it emerged that Ansari had been threatened just a few days earlier by a gang of extortionists who asked him for a Rs. 20,000 bribe for ferrying his oxen. The National Commission for Minorities team that investigated the killing reported a “brazen communal bias” in the police handling of the lynching and said that complaints by Muslim traders against the so-called cow-protections groups had been ignored. A few months later, the Jharkhand Chief Minister declared “If India is your country; the cow is your mother.” But no mother would allow murder in her name. There are many politicians who messed up passing all irrelevant statements, but none of them ever condemned or demanded action against the propagators.
Cow slaughter is banned in a majority of states and Union territories: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. However, the largest beef consuming state is not-Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir but Meghalaya, where more than 80% of the population consumes this meat.
According to the latest National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) round, around 1 of every 13 Indians—or 80 million people—eat beef or buffalo meat and the biggest chunk of beef-eating population are Muslims. After Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) make up the biggest group of the beef-eating population. Among Hindus, more than 70% of the beef-eating population is SC/ST, 21% is other backward castes and only 7% is upper caste (others category).
The cow protection movement has been a religious and political movement aiming to protect the cows whose slaughter has been broadly opposed by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. While the opposition to slaughter of animals including cows has ancient roots in Indian religions, the cow protection movement traces to the colonial era of British India. The earliest activism is traceable to Sikhs of Punjab who opposed cow slaughter in the 1860s. The movement became popular in the 1880s and thereafter, attracting the support from the Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayananda Saraswati in the late 19th-century, and from Mahatma Gandhi in early 20th-century.
The cow protection movement gained broad support among the followers of Indian religions particularly the Hindus, but Muslims broadly opposed it. Numerous cow protection-related riots broke out in the 1880s and 1890s in British India. The 1893 and 1894 cow killing riots started on the day of Bakri-id, a Muslim festival where animal sacrifices are a part of the celebration. Cow protection movement and related violence has been one of the sources of religious conflicts in India. Historical records suggest that both Hindus and Muslims have respectively viewed “cow protection” and “cow slaughter” as a religious freedom. The cow protection movement is most connected with India, but has been active since the colonial times in predominantly Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
Many ancient and medieval Hindu texts debate the rationale for a voluntary stop to cow slaughter and the pursuit of vegetarianism as a part of a general abstention from violence against others and all killing of animals. Some significant debates between pro-non-vegetarianism and pro-vegetarianism, with mention of cattle meat as food, is found in several books of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, particularly its Book III, XII, XIII and XIV. It is also found in the Ramayana. These two epics are not only literary classics, but they have also been popular religious classics.
The Mahabharata debate presents one meat-producing hunter who defends his profession as dharmic. The hunter, in this ancient Sanskrit text, states that meat consumption should be okay because animal sacrifice was practiced in the Vedic age, that the flesh nourishes people, that man must eat to live and plants like animals are alive too, that the nature of life is such every life form eats the other, that no profession is totally non-violent because even agriculture destroys numerous living beings when the plough digs the land. The hunter’s arguments are, states Alsdorf, followed by stanzas that present support for restricted meat-eating on specific occasions. This is the third part of the four parts series on the topic. Tomorrow we will highlight other aspects of cow slaughtering and goondaism on her name.
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