- DEVDUTT PATTANAIK– The cow has been converted aggressively into a symbol for a religious orthodoxy demanding its place in a secular nation state
If you love cows and care for them, you have three choices:
Choice A: Build goshalas or cow shelters where the animals can be taken care of. But this is an expensive proposition. There is heavy investment and no returns whatsoever, despite all the talk of the great medicinal value of cow urine and cow dung.
Choice B: Ban beef, stop farmers from selling cows and bulls to butchers, outlaw the culling of cattle, punish cow smugglers, declare all slaughter houses illegal, lynch people who eat beef, and justify all this using complex arguments. This results in a large number of cows (which can no longer give milk) and bulls or oxen (that are too weak to be draught animals), being abandoned to simply wander the streets eating garbage and plastic or just starving to death since Choice A is unavailable. It also destroys industries and creates widespread unemployment.
Choice C: Build local slaughterhouses near farms so that commercially unviable cattle can be humanely culled nearby, without their having to endure great suffering while being transported in horrible conditions to distant slaughterhouses. This controversial suggestion was made by none other than N.S. Ramaswamy, founder-director of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and noted animal rights activist.
Guess which is the preferred option of the rising multitude of go-raksha vigilantes? Not A, as it is too expensive and tedious, and involves too much work. Not C, because we are conditioned to believe that violence can do no good. So it is Option B, which has the advantage in that it gives people power. It allows them to terrorise and dominate Muslims and liberals. It gives them global attention and makes them the focus of a controversy-hungry media. It is this rather than cow protection that the go-rakshaks really seek.
There is no love for cows in the go-raksha brigade — an idea systematically and meticulously unravelled in the essay ‘Why is the Cow a Political Animal?’ by Sopan Joshi, a Research Fellow at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, published in Yahoo! in May this year. It is all about power, a yearning to dominate. So, all the talk about the economic reasons for saving cows, and the importance of cow milk, cow urine and cow dung are just a rationalisation for that one single goal: to dominate and reclaim masculinity, following the perceived emasculation by the Muslims, the British and now the liberals.
New form of Hinduism
A new form of Hinduism is emerging around the world: one that is tired of being seen as passive and tolerant, like a suffering docile wife. It wants to be aggressive, violent. So it prefers Durga and Kali to the demure Gauri; Shiva as Rudra and Virabhadra and Bhairava rather than as the guileless Bholenath or the august Dakshinamurthy; and the Krishna of the Mahabharat to the affectionate Bhagavata Krishna. It visualises Ram without Sita. It wants its Ganesh to lose that pot belly and sport a six-pack ab. All this while insisting, with violence if necessary, on the values of vegetarianism and seva and ‘giving up the ego’, which is the principle of ‘sanatana dharma’ — not just a religion but a way of life.
This new form of Hinduism is what we call Hindutva. We can call it a sampradaya, a movement within the vast ocean of Hinduism that has many such movements, traditions, forces and counterforces. Hindutva sampradaya, like all sampradayas in history, insists it is the true voice of Hinduism. Like all sampradayas, it rejects all alternative readings of Hinduism.
And so, when you direct them to an article, ‘The Hindu View on Food and Drink’ by S. Ganesh and Hari Ravikumar on IndiaFacts.com, which draws attention to the fact that while Vedic scriptures do value the cow, they have no problem with the consumption of bulls and oxen and barren cows, members of the Hindutva brigade will question the credentials of the authors and their Hinduness, invariably in language that is hyperbolic, rhetorical and violent. There is no room for discussion or nuance here. The only language is force and bullying. Where is this coming from?
It comes from institutionalised paranoia: a belief that innocent Hindi-speaking rural Bharat needs rescuing from an evil English-speaking India that favours Nehru, from the liberals who equate Hinduism only with casteism, and from Euro-American scholars who insist Shiva is a ‘phallic’ god. And, to be fair, there is a modicum of truth in their argument.
In his book Rearming Hinduism, Vamsee Juluri expresses outrage at the way Hinduism is being projected in the U.S. That outrage and anguish is genuine, and can be felt in the NRI community that has increasingly become more and more vocal, even aggressive. When ‘liberals’ deny this outrage and anguish, it seems to consolidate the paranoia of the Hindutva sampradaya. When the liberal press dismisses the book by Sita Ram Goel, Hindu Temples — What Happened to Them, as right-wing propaganda, and gleefully declares that the Hindu memory of Muslim kings destroying thousands of Hindu temple is just not true on the basis of Richard Eaton’s Temple Desecration and Muslim States in Medieval India, you start wondering if the scientific and historical method is simply designed to mock all things that a traditional Hindu simply assumes to be true. When the banning of radical literature does not meet with the same outrage as the banning of Wendy Doniger’s Hindus: An Alternative History, a section of the population starts feeling that they are alone, isolated and rejected, by the people who claim to be fair and just and liberal.
How do you strike back at those who simply invalidate your memories and beliefs by constantly quoting science and facts? You simply create your own narrative and dismiss theirs. And this is what is happening in the beef-eating discourse. It is a symbolic attack on the ‘educated Indian’ who did not stand up for Hinduism in the international arena. And the Muslims, sadly, are the tragic collateral damage.
In the 1980s, we saw how the then Congress government tried to appease the Muslim orthodoxy in the Shah Bano case by diluting even a Supreme Court judgment that gave maintenance rights to divorced Muslim women, but did not bother to appease the Hindutva sampradaya in the Roop Kanwar sati case when the court declared sati a crime and not a religious act. In these cases, women were simply symbols in a fight where religious orthodoxy was demanding its place in a secular nation state. Now, it is the turn of the cow to be that symbol.
When the secular nation state tilts in favour of one religion and seems to be persecuting another, there is bound to be a backlash. And that is what we are facing now: a karma-phala (karmic fruit) of karmic-bija (karmic seed) sown by the Congress on the one hand, when it unashamedly appeased Muslim religious orthodoxy, and the liberals on the other, who endorsed their secular and rational and atheistic credentials by repeatedly projecting Hinduism as only a violent and oppressive force. Let us ponder on our contribution to the rising tide of ahimsa terrorism, while the still starving ‘rescued’ cow wades through garbage in Indian towns and villages, eating plastic.
(Devdutt Pattanaik writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. www.devdutt.com)