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Cow-ing Down To Politics

Cow-ing Down To Politics
File - AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

With BJP-ruled Maharashtra and Haryana banning the slaughter and consumption of cows and putting in place strict laws for those who kill the animal, one wonders if the reason is strictly based on religious reasons. 

Cows maybe referred to as 'Gaumata' by many in India, but it seems that even the RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar who led the movement against cow slaughter in the 1960s did not cite a religious reason for banning cow slaughter but a political one.  

'Amul-man' Verghese Kurien writes in his autobiography, I too had a dream

Golwalkar was a very small man — barely five feet — but when he got angry fire spewed out of his eyes. What impressed me most about him was that he was an intensely patriotic Indian. You could argue that he was going about preaching his brand of nationalism in a totally wrong way but nobody could question his sincerity. One day after one of our meetings when he had argued passionately for banning cow slaughter, he came to me and asked, 'Kurien, shall I tell you why I'm making an issue of this cow slaughter business?'

I said to him, 'Yes, please explain to me because otherwise you are a very intelligent man. Why are you doing this?'

'I started a petition to ban cow slaughter actually to embarrass the government,' he began explaining to me in private. 'I decided to collect a million signatures for this to submit to the Rashtrapati. In connection with this work I travelled across the country to see how the campaign was progressing. My travels once took me to a village in UP. There I saw in one house, a woman, who having fed and sent off her husband to work and her two children to school, took this petition and went from house to house to collect signatures in that blazing summer sun. I wondered to myself why this woman should take such pains. She was not crazy to be doing this. This is when I realized that the woman was actually doing it for her cow, which was her bread and butter, and I realized how much potential the cow has.

'Look at what our country has become. What is good is foreign: what is bad is Indian. Who is a good Indian? It's the fellow who wears a suit and a tie and puts on a hat. Who is a bad Indian? The fellow who wears a dhoti. If this nation does not take pride in what it is and merely imitates other nations, how can it amount to anything? Then I saw that the cow has potential to unify the country – she symbolizes the culture of Bharat. So I tell you what, Kurien, you agree with me to ban cow slaughter on this committee and I promise you, five years from that date, I will have united the country. What I'm trying to tell you is that I'm not a fool, I'm not a fanatic. I'm just cold-blooded about this. I want to use the cow to bring out our Indianness, So please cooperate with me on this.'

In the late 1960s, the Government of India had set up a committee to look into the banning of cow slaughter. It was chaired by a former chief justice of India, Justice A.K. Sarkar. Golwalkar, the Shankaracharya of Puri and Dr Verghese Kurien were members of the committee. Pushpa M. Bhargava, the former vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission had been summoned by this committee.

In an interview to Outlook in 2014, Bhargava, the founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad spoke about his experiences with this committee:

Golwalkar asked me how milk and meat were made in the body. I said that they were made by basically the same processes. He then asked me as to why, in that case, I ate meat and but did not drink milk. I answered that by the same logic I would like to ask him as to why he drank milk and did not eat meat. This made him extremely agitated and angry. It took quite a while for the chairman and the Shankaracharya to quieten him down. 

In the interview, he claimed that ban on cow slaughter based on religious grounds is illogical:

Incidentally, there's no ban on cow slaughter in our ancient religious texts, and eating beef is expressly permitted. So even a ban on cow slaughter on religious grounds is unreasonable. 

And he too admitted that the demand on cow slaughter was for political reasons:

Off the record, Golwalkar had told Kurien, who narrated it to me, that it was actually just politics. It is now a heady mix of politics and religion in the garb of Hindutva. There is absolutely no scientific evidence for it.

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