It is clear that not cows but small farmers are dispensable for the Maharashtra government. Though in the course of three months more than 600 farmers in the state have committed suicide, the state government has not taken additional, ameliorative steps to help.
Nitin Gadkari, a Union minister, has advised farmers to increase production, use improved seeds and not just depend on the government. Devendra Fadnavis, the chief minister, had alacrity enough to accept in principle a plan for a flashy nightlife in Mumbai and other cities, but has not taken cognisance of the tragic end of hundreds of farmers. Cows being sacred to him and his administration, he unearthed an old legislation and declared a ban on cow slaughter.
Drought and famine are frequent visitors to Maharashtra, but in the course of five decades no government had been so callously indifferent to them. During such calamities past ministries started public works, and all parties helped the government. Economists like D.R. Gadgil and later, V.M. Dandekar, organised relief camps. Opposition leader Datta Deshmukh’s contribution was remarkable.
Though the incumbent government’s treasury has funds for lavish memorials and imposing statues, it lacks funds to help farmers. Hence, it wants farmers to fend for themselves. Utilising funds for various flyovers and for the bullet trains from Mumbai to what is now the second most important city in the country, Ahmedabad, is a priority.
Even if the state government is unable to undertake relief works for destitute farmers for the want of money, it takes pride in giving priority to the ban on cow slaughter and shutting down abattoirs, thereby sacrificing revenue and adding to the already swelling unemployment the cost for the farmer to dispose of cows he cannot afford.
The ruling coalition party members have decreed that the cow being sacred, its meat should not be consumed. Curiously, party leaders and followers regard Veer V.D. Savarkar as their idol, but conveniently ignore his rational, social thoughts. Savarkar had written that the cow is not our mother or a goddess, but just a useful animal.
I remember that some decades ago Acharya Vinoba Bhave had served a notice on the government of India that he would undertake a fast unto death if the cow slaughter ban was not enforced. The Centre and state governments got worried and immediately swung into action. Shankarrao Chavan, the then CM of Maharashtra, held consultations with bureaucrats and various public figures. One day he invited the editors of Marathi and Gujarati newspapers. I was one of them. He requested the assembled editors to give their opinions.
I noticed that a majority of my colleagues were ardent supporters of Vinobaji. I disagreed. I said I regarded cows as useful animals and there was nothing sacred about them. I added that Vinobaji had renounced worldly life; the government had to decide about material life. If a war broke out, the government would have to face it. In a serious war involving thousands of troops, brinjals and potatoes would hardly offer the required nutrition to soldiers, while the demand for chicken or mutton might outstrip supply. One would have to fall back on beef and pork as sources of protein. In the last two world wars hard-pressed governments had to supply horse meat as ration. Fortunately, the crisis created by Vinobaji’s notice ended; no nationwide ban on beef was imposed.
It is worthwhile to remember that the ban on consuming beef has no Vedic sanction. Mahamahopadhya P.V. Kane observed that in Vedic times cows were eaten precisely because they were considered sacred. Tarkateertha Lakshmanshastri Joshi used to quote a Sanskrit verse that mentioned the eating of beef during wedding ceremonies.
B.R. Ambedkar in his book, The Untouchables, has dealt with this subject in detail and backed it up by providing evidence. He says that Brahmins in the Vedic times ate beef on a daily basis. It would be an essential dish at the frequent feasts. Honoured guests would be asked to select a cow whose meat would then be served. The sage Yajnavalkya said that he ate beef but he preferred the tender meat of a calf (veal). Some people preferred cow of a particular skin colour. Even Manu did not denounce beef eating. Babasaheb has quoted him. Indeed, 21 cows used to be sacrificed for the Ashwamedh Yagna.
So if the ruling party thinks that it is being faithful to the Vedas by banning beef, it is sorely mistaken.
(Talwalkar is former editor, Maharashtra Times)