Cow –the Face of Fascism

T Vijayendra

The Political Economy of Beef Ban
Editor: Binu Mathew
Peoples Literature Publishing, 2017, Pages 208+6, Price : Rs 625/-

It is a print on demand book. It is available only on the online book store ""

The cow has become the face of Fascism in India. It is difficult to associate this mild domestic animal with the violence that has been unleashed in its name. It reminds one how, Tolstoy found it difficult to reconcile war with Christianity and Pandit Hazariprasad Dwivedi found it difficult to associate the 'Karuna ki Murty' of Guru Nanak with the militant Sikhism.

This is a timely publication. It is a collection of some 57 articles that appeared in the online journal in recent years relating to the beef ban issue. While Binu Mathew and Ram Puniyani have contributed several articles, there are more than 40 contributors to the book. These include scholars, political activists, human rights activists, a documentary filmmaker, a poet and so on. Obviously many wear more than one cap. As such the quality and length of articles is variable—from 2 pages to 27 pages. All these same it is an eminently readable book and one can, after reading the Editor's Note, pick up randomly any article to read.

The book has reproduced older pieces such as Ambedkar's seminal essay, 'Did Hindus Never Eat Beef?' which dates before 1948 and Gandhi's, 'No law can be Made to Ban Cow Slaughter' dated July 25, 1947. This should remind the readers that the issue has historical origins in the making of Indian Nation—which is now confronting the question of whether it should be a Hindu nation or a Secular nation. In a sense, these two pieces cover the main points of the debate and one can see that liberals and secular people revisit these points again and again—both in this book as well as outside.

The long piece (27 pages) by Manali Chakrabarti, 'Which Interests will Benefit from the Ban' is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject and reflects the title of the book most accurately. The author covers the entire issue starting with the legality of the 23 page government notification of May 23, 2017, titled 'Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock markets), Rules 2017' which effectively bans buying and selling of cattle for slaughter. Then it goes on to examine the economic implication of the ban. This section covers the beef industry (export and domestic consumption) and the leather industry, apart from dairy and agriculture/rural economy. It shows how over the years animal husbandries become a third of the rural economy, with 90 percent of rural people depending on it directly or indirectly. Thus the ban will affect the poor, dalits and Muslim specifically, but it will also destroy rural society as it exists now.

So, the question once again is, who benefits? "History teaches us that even actions which appear motivated by non-economic considerations may serve underlying (and unstated) economic objectives", says the author, who goes on to show how the beef ban is linked to neo-liberal economic policies. It wants to take away land and cattle from poor people and usher in on industrialised economy where the livestock, leather and milk industries are completely dominated by big business.

However, the focus of the book is on emergence of Fascism in India which relates specifically to the current ruling party's agenda. As one turns the pages, one gets the horrific details of what is going on both on the streets and behind the scene. The book is a call to action—either you succumb meekly or fight back. This is the message both in the introductory Editorial Note as well as in the blurb on the back of the book.

Several articles deal with the repeated mob lynchings of Muslims by self-declared gau rakhsaks (cow vigilantes) across the country. Indeed, the cover of the book has the photograph of a blood-soaked picture of Junaid, one of the latest victims, lying on the lap of his brother Hashim, juxtaposed with Michaelangelo's famous 'Pieta', in which the body of Jesus lying on the lap of his mother is depicted. Junaid was falsely accused of carrying beef by fellow passengers on a train and lynched to death. He was killed for being what he is; that is, a Muslim and not because he committed any crime.

The slaughter ban has been rejected by a large chunk of the public opinion and by politicians (including some BJP politicians) in the North East, East and South of the country. Binu Mathew suggests that one response could be to assert the federal character of the Constitution, in which the state of Kerala could take a lead as one united in opposing the Ban and also highly politically conscious.

There is one piece by an American, 'The Reason that I, a US Citizen, Stand Against the Indian Beef Ban' by Sally Dugman. Evoking the poem 'First they came for the Communists...' written by German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemollier (1892-1984), she goes on to explain how no one can stand a mute spectator to a Fascist onslaught thinking that it is only the other who are affected. The article is also a good short introduction to fascism.

There are some pieces which just use the cow narrative as a cue but nevertheless are interesting to read. For example Satya Sagar's article on 'Cow, Caste, Che Guevara' throws interesting light on how the Left in Latin America, learning from Native American population, has introduced an ecological perspective in their work.

To conclude, what comes across from all the writings is that :
—   The Beef Ban is an attack on Muslims, Dalits, marginal and small peasants, small business people in the leather and milk trade. Thus, an overwhelming majority of Indians are affected.
—   The purpose of the attack is political—to strengthen the political future of BJP with a Hindutva agenda of making India a Hindu Nation.
—   The economic agenda is to usher in a neo-liberal regime where all the 'little people' are crushed in the interest of national and multinational big business.

While 'a pall of gloom has descended upon India' in the words of the editor, it also gives an opportunity to initiate a united struggle against Fascism and its double-edged ideological tool of Hindutva politics and neo-liberal economics. This latest move by the Modi government, coming in the wake of an equally dubious move of demonetisation, has the potential to unite an overwhelming majority of Indians against this Fascist onslaught. Add to this the environmental concerns and fear of further worsening global warming due to these neo-liberal policies and it is possible that even the better off sections among the middle class, who are increasingly becoming conscious of these issues, may join the struggle.

This book could serve as a valuable resource for such a struggle.

Vol. 50, No.7, Aug 20 - 26, 2017