The Myth of Holi Cow

The Blasphemy of Beef

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

The Beef is now a hotly debated topic. The debate is nothing new, ever since the days of independence struggle, a section of Nationalists, sought to give to the Indian Nationalism, the twist of a Hindutwa Nationalist obscurantism. Even in the Constituent Assembly, ban on cow slaughter and ban on beef was demanded, but the liberal intelligentsia, under the leadership of luminaries like Nehru and Ambedkar, resisted. Even Gandhi who had some backdated idea about religion, opposed the move, as it was agahist the spirit of India's National diversity and spirit of tolerance.

But the Hindutwa activists, all through cherished the dream of converting this historic land of ‘Universal Tolerance’ as pronounced by Swami Vivekananda, the ‘cyclonic monk’ in his celebrated Chicago Speech, into a parochial ‘Hindu Rasthra’, and the prospects of that old dream now appeared bright. And the activists pounced upon the masses with the agenda of total beef ban, exposing its fangs, teeth and nails. But unfortunately their propaganda does not hold good, in terms of the old scriptures of Hinduism, as well as from the history of Ahimsa (non violence), and related vegetarianism or veganism, in respect of food habits of the people. The so-called ‘sanatan dharma’ and beef eating, have nothing against each other.

Here is a short overview of the issue from orthodox Hindu literature :
1) Manusmriti Chapter 5, verse 30: “It is not sinful to eat meats of edible animals, for God created both eaters and eatables’’

2) Aapastanba Grihasutram (1/3/10): “The Cow should be slaughtered on the arrival of a guest, on the occasion of ‘Shradha’, of ancestors, and on the occasion of a marriage.’’

3) Rigveda (10/85/13) : ‘‘Indra, the God, used to eat the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo’’.

4)  Vasistha Dharmasutra, (11/34): “if a Brahmin refuses to eat meat, or beef, offered to him on the occasion of ‘Shradha’, he is destined to go to hell.”

5)  The great International preacher of Hinduism, Swami Vivekananda, the stated ‘cyclonic monk’ said in a speech : “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 Vivekananda, vol 3/5/96)

_6) The book,‘The history and culture of the Indian people’, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhaban, Bombay, and edited by the renowned historian R C Majumdar, vol 2 page 18 says: “This is said in Mahabharata that, King Ratindra used to kill 2000 other animals in addition to 2000 cows daily, in orer to give their meat in charity.’’

7) Adi Shankaracharya commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 6/4/18 stipulates :“Odaan rice mixed with meat is called Mansodan.’’ On being asked whose meat it should be, he replies “Ukhsa’’. Now Uksha means an OX, whose meat is capable of producing good ‘semen’. Now all these the Sanghis are not capable of understanding . So their sole aim is to eliminate the voices of dissent.

The question is exactly since when this beef eating became a sinful act to the orthodox Hindus? Let us go to the examination of the history of Hindu theology. The Hindu doctrine suffered serious setback in the hands of Buddhist ideology. (563 BCE - 400 BCE) Buddhism openly challenged the Vadic practice of worship through the Yagna, Hom, and offering animals in the pyre , just to enjoy feast over the roasted meat. In fact, animals like horse, cow, ox, buffalo were rampantly offered as sacrifice, and often poor and marginal people were robbed by force of their cattle possession, only to satisfy the gluttony of the Bramhins. The eating of beef by the Bramhins was so rampant that Viswamitra Muni, once fell sick as a result of over eating of beef after some Yagna. And he cursed the beef and issued the sermon that beef eating was a sin (Source: Beef in Ancient India by Rajnarayan Basu).

Gautam Buddha, as well as Mahabir Jain, were advocates of non-violence. For them non-violence had broader implication of suspension of violent attitude to the fellow beings, and fellow creatures, as well as to the staunch enemy. While Jainism advocated strict veganism, Buddha was never against the consumption of meat or beef by the common people. There is one legend that he finally died of a infection contracted from eating Pork offered to him by one of his disciples. But in course of history, Buddhism, that flourished as a religious order only since the rule of Samrat Ashoka (268 BC to 232 BC€), had to backtrack due to its internal decadence and corruption, both theological and organisational. As Hinduism staged a sharp come back, during the regime of King Samudragupta (336 AD - 380 AD), and in the hands of Adi Shankaracharya (788 BC to 820 BC), the Buddhist establishments were driven out of the sub-continent, which was the place of origin. The Bramhins now embraced vegetarianism, was made an institutional dogma of caste superiority, based on the concept of blood purity, over the inferior people in their own fold, ultimately this superiority of blood approach ended up in the abominable practice of untouchability for the outcast people.

The next important thing is the economic compulsion. During the period society was nomadic, based on hunting, fruit gathering but as it grew into animal rearing, killing, slaughter of any animal including cow, posed no problem at all. But as civilisation became stationary, with the advent of agriculture economy, based on land , the utility of animals was manifold more than supplying the demand of meat. The agriculture economy also demanded occupation of expansion of land area under a clan.

These clans were often headed by Bramhins, who were in possession of hordes of livestock, and cow in particular, so the cow became ‘Godhan’ and the identity of the clans was the names of the head of the clan. Therefrom the members of each clan bore the name of their chief, so the concept of Gotras like Bharadwaj or Sandilya was commissioned. It is to be borne in mind that in that period the Bramhins were rulers. The Khsatriyas discharged the warfare jobs. Later Khsatriyas took over as rulers, with the growth of feudal economy, and rise of the State as an institution . Hence, evidently, ‘Gotra’ owes its origin to ‘Go’ or cow. With that for the purpose of expansion of the clan by nuptial ties, within the tribe, intra-clan marriage was restricted. But then there remained the fear of intermixing with inferior blood of the members of the other clans within the tribe. To prevent that, probably from this stage inter caste marriage was also forbidden to maintain the purity of the blood.

At this stage of development of family, property, Horse and Elephant were useful as tools of wars, fights and clashes, which were frequent over land grab issues, in those days, or for carriage pulling or load bearing purposes. And Cows, or Ox became useful as means of tilling the land, as also for milk, being the ready supply of nutritious beverage. So, the check on Indiscriminate animal slaughter, and particularly beef eating was urgently felt, and from this stage the cow got the status of Gomata. Everything said and done, there was never any rigidity or law against cow slaughter, or pig killing, as the poor ,or the tribal and forest people never desisted from either slaughter or eating of beef or say pork.

During the Muslim rule, the rulers (not all) were mostly sympathetic to the majority community’s sentiment of regarding cow as Gomata, and emperor Akbar, put limited restrictions on cow slaughter or beef consumption, in Delhi and Agra. In the first great nationalist revolt against the British rule, in 1857, the mutineers, restored the last of the Mughals, Bahadur Shah, as emperor of India, and he, on record, banned cow slaughter in Delhi, to keep the unity of Hindu and Muslim Sepoys, in tact.

With the rise of Indian Nationalist movement, against the imperialist rule, in the nineteeth century, the different forms of movement, also witnessed the surge of the concept to Hindu Nationalism, parallel  with Muslim Nationalism.The Hindu Nationalism movement leadership under the banner of Hindu Mahasabha in the field of politics, and Arya Samaj, by Dayananda Saraswati, in cultural field, time and again placed the demand for cow slaughter ban. In the constituent assembly, the Hindu leadership within and outside National Congress, pressed hard for law against cow slaughter. But leaders like Gandhi and Ambedkar resisted strongly, as the very concept of cow slaughter ban was against the idea of diversified India, where Christians and Muslims were large population groups. Finally, in the Article 48 of the Directive Principles of State Policy, it was incorporated that: 
‘‘The State shall endeavour to organise 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 and calves and other milch and draught cattle”.

But as every student of Civics knows that such principles incorporated in the constitution are not laws, enforceable or justiciable.

Demographically speaking, the share of non-vegetarian population,is higher than the vegetarians. Again this is unequally distributed across the regions. In an overview, Northern, Central, and a part of the Western India, have a larger share of non-vegetarian people, whereas, North Eastern, Eastern, and southern India have a higher percentage of non-vegetarian population. Similarly, Religious group wise, the myth that all Muslims or Christians are beef eaters, or that to all Hindu beef is an anathema, are all wrong. In fact, even among the non-vegetarian group, the beef eaters constitute a negligible minority group. Let us take Kashmir, for example, the cow slaughter is banned there from the days of Maharaja Hari Singh, and the Shaivaite converts of the valley never had any problem with that order, as they never consumed beef.

In conclusion, it is clear that cow slaughter or beef eating were not sacrilegious in the days of ancient scriptures ( sanatan dharma ) and though through  the ages, there have been different attitudes and approaches to the issue of cow and beef, but still Beef consumption is not illegal in India,  in terms of the constitutional law, the ban which there in a larger number of states is on cow slaughter only. The right to eat or dress, are individual prerogative. The curb on food choice is an encroachment on the right to live. Supreme Court in a judgement in January 2017, confirmed the right of citizens to choose food, as such possession or consumption of beef is not a cognisable offence.

The sensitive issue assumed a monstrous shape, after the capture of power by the present ultra right-wing forces, and in an over enthusiasm for establishment of so-called Hindu Rasthra overnight the street activists started launching physical attacks, lynching, even murders in the name of cow protection. It has gained momentum after their historic victory in UP assemly polls and it has reached such a dangerous stage, that Gujarat recently passed a draconian law of life imprisonment on charges of cow slaughter; and curiously enough, for the first time even transportation, and storage or sale of beef has been designated as a criminal and non-bailable offence by the law, which is against the spirit and provisions of the constitution. Not being satisfied with this much, the Sangh parivar has now demanded inclusion of the states, where there are no cow slaughter ban law, to be brought within the ambit of identical strict law. So they are now in favour of a central law, uniformly applicable through the length and breadth of the country . The topic of Uniform Civil Code (UCC), ensuring identical civil laws for all communities, appears to have given way to Uniform Cow Code, in the country.

For a large part of the contents of this write up, the author must express his indebtedness to the famous book “The Myth of Holy Cow’’ by the former Delhi University professor Dr D N Jha, who even received death threats from the right-wing fanatics for his book. At the same time the books by Rahul Sankrityaan, ‘‘From Volga to Ganga’’ in particular is worth mentioning.

Vol. 49, No.44, May 7 - 13, 2017