Vol. XL No. 38 September 18, 2016

The Economics and Politics of ‘Gau Raksha’

Nilotpal Basu

SELDOM has one heard prime minister saying something which turns out to be true. For a change, his observation on ‘gau rakshaks’ or cow vigilantes is spot on. While speaking on the second anniversary of his government, “It makes me angry that people are running shops in the name of cow protection… Some people indulge in anti-social activities at night, and in the day masquerade as cow protectors,” thundered the prime minister.

In a shocking incident, on the night of August 24, two young women, one a young mother of 20 and her cousin of 14 were gang raped by a group of drunken rowdies in Dingerheri village of Taoru subdivision of Mewat district of Haryana, barely 100 kilometres from the capital.  Family of Jahuruddin, a poor agricultural worker, who were living in a shanty on the edge of the field where they laboured, came to be attacked by these criminals. The family woke up with the noise of their arrival. In their attempt to resist, the older couple of Ibrahim 38 and Rashidan 35 were hit hard, injured grievously and succumbed to death on the spot. Other four family members were also critically injured. And these two young girls were dragged and gangraped mercilessly.

How gruesome the assault was can be gauged from the words of the victims speaking on camera, "They asked if we eat beef. We said we don't, but they insisted we did. Then they said we're hurting you before so you don't and that if we tell anyone we'll be insulted". That the Haryana police would refuse to acknowledge this was a foregone conclusion. After being reported of the gruesome attack, the police arrived at Dingerheri village. While the dead bodies were yet to be removed from the spot, the traumatised girls were sent all alone to the nearby town for recording their statement. The manner in which the entire crime was handled smacked of insensitivity and a reluctance to book the criminals for both rape and murder.

But, the question is far more serious. The four known rowdies, who acted as instruments of the heinous crime and have been arrested since; are they the only ones who are responsible. The fact that they also doubled up as gau rakshaks, certainly matches Modi’s description; but the campaign of hate and polarisation which this obnoxious ‘Gau Raksha’ has whipped up is the root cause for this nauseating consequence.

Can the Haryana chief minister ML Khattar be absolved of what happened on that fateful night in the Dingerheri village? Haryana assembly has enacted legislation Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Samvardhan Act on March 16, 2015 which among other measures of so-called protection also envisages imprisonment on causing harm or slaughtering cattle. And while pushing the legislation, Khattar argued that Muslims can live in India but they would have to give up eating beef. He went on to say that “It is written nowhere that Muslims have to eat beef, not is it written anywhere in Christianity”.

Since then, these hordes who call themselves gau rakshaks have been on a rampage, armed with the legislative legitimacy and administrative protection. Numerous attacks have taken place on vehicles carrying meat (regardless of whether they are actually beef or not) injuring many, harassing with confinement in police custody. Latest in this series is the obnoxious decision by the state level commission for enforcing the new law directing the police to check biriyanis in the Mewat region for beef. What however, is unstated, that this step energises these self appointed vigilante groups backed by RSS and its affiliates to run amok, under police protection.

And, more importantly, can the PM himself be absolved? Now for over a year, these cow vigilantism is spreading havoc claiming lives of people, injuring them, intimidating them, harassing them. He did not lift his little finger, not to talk of speaking out, as a constitutionally elected PM should! The abrupt restoration of voice is forced by the huge protest action by dalit organisations in Gujarat and elsewhere!




The basic premise for banning cow slaughter is that the majority Hindus in this country worship cow; therefore, religious sentiments of Hindus will be hurt regardless of the fact that right to choice of food of citizens who are not cow worshippers would consequentially stand abrogated. This position has prompted a constitutionally elected CM Khattar in uttering the most provocative: ‘giving up beef is a precondition for India citizenship!’

It is here that one can contrast with the approach of Gandhi. He was an active campaigner for giving up cow slaughter. But, he staunchly opposed the move to constitutionally and legally impose any ban. It was precisely on this ground that others’ right or choice cannot be abrogated! And, the Constituent Assembly after an intense debate refused to accept the demand on similar premise.

However, invoking religious belief for demanding ban on cow slaughter is not grounded on history. This is what Swami Vivekananda said about beef eating by ‘Hindus’ in ancient India. “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.” (Vivekananda speaking at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA, February 2, 1900, cited in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol. 3 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536) Another stalwart C Kunhan Raja, authority on the history and culture of the Vedic period, “The Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmanas, ate fish, meat and even beef. A distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. One of the words that designated cow was aghnya (what shall not be killed). But a guest was a goghna (one for whom a cow is killed). It is only bulls, barren cows and calves that were killed.” (C Kunhan Raja, ‘Vedic Culture’, cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, vol. 1 (Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission, 1993). One can go on; and these are not historians whom RSS keeps on ridiculing, but whom the PM never tires in referring.




RSS view was put on record by no less than Golwalkar himself. In 1966 when he said: “It began with the coming of the foreign invaders to our country. In order to reduce the population to slavery, they thought that the best method to be adopted was to stamp out every vestige of self-respect in Hindus. They took to various types of barbarism such as conversions, demolishing our temples and mutts. In that line cow slaughter also began.” (M S Golwalkar, Spotlights, (Bangalore: Sahitya Sindhu, 1974), pp. 98-99.)

However, truth is different. Beef eating dates back before Islam and Christianity appeared in India. It was with the advent of Jainism                                                                                                     and Buddhism which coincided with the rise of agricultural society animal sacrifices including cow and bulls (an integral part of Vedic rituals) were decried and cow came to be revered.

But, ghost of Golwalkar and his thesis lives on! Therefore, in the wake of Dadri killing, RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya carried a cover story saying Vedas order the killing of “sinners” who slaughter cows.

But, here again consistency is conveniently sacrificed for political and electoral consideration! BJP-ruled Goa would not ban beef as it is an essential part of the cuisine of minority communities in the state. Chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar has said “Regardless of what the Centre does – in Goa minorities are 39-40percent – if it is part of their food habits, why and how can we ban it? For people – especially minorities – eating beef is part of their food”. Similarly, recently in Arunachal Pradesh, where RSS is trying to expand, Manmohan Vaidya, one of its top brass, said food habits have nothing to do with the RSS but that consuming beef is not traditional all over the country. However, he said in places such as Arunachal people have always consumed beef."We don't tell society what to eat or not to eat" and added that people who eat beef can also become its members. This is nothing short of duplicity for electoral consideration! Current spate of cow vigilantism in vast parts of North India is aimed at communal polarisation with an eye to upcoming assembly, particularly in UP.




This is the biggest myth perpetrated by supporters of cow slaughter ban! Equally, this has proved to be the most unsubstantiated claim! Nearly 55 percent of India’s bovine milk output now comes from buffaloes. Even within the balance 45 percent, 55 percent is from crossbred cows containing the genetic material of “Western” breeds like Holstein Friesian, Jersey and Brown Swiss. Just over a fifth of the national milk production is thus accounted for by indigenous and nondescript cattle – the true holy cows. When Indian farmers have overwhelmingly voted for buffaloes and crossbreeds, it is common sense that draconian laws enacted in the name of protecting the ‘gau mata’ would only further hasten its marginalisation.

It is around 36 percent of India’s total bovine population, the ratios are higher for Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Bihar.

These are largely states in the country’s Vaishnav-Jain-Arya Samaj heartland, where the cow is especially revered as gau mata. In contrast, we have West Bengal, the Northeast, much of the south and states with high tribal populations (Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh) where cattle populations far outnumber buffaloes, despite the absence of blanket bans or fewer social taboos against cow slaughter.

What the recent cattle slaughter ban legislation by the BJP led governments essentially do is render virtually impossible the disposal of unproductive animals. These laws make both cow slaughter and sale of beef non-bailable offences, inviting five to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and laying the onus of proving innocence on the accused. They also prohibit the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves.

The contrast with buffaloes cannot be sharper here. In their case, there are no issues with regard to disposal. You can milk and slaughter, and sell and export their meat freely. In 2013-14, India shipped out $ 4.35 billion worth of buffalo meat. During the 10 months ending January, exports have grown by 16.8 percent and are set to cross $5 billion for the whole of 2014-15.

Again, from the farmer’s standpoint, wouldn’t it make economic sense – in an environment where the disposal of redundant cattle is becoming increasingly problematic – to rear buffaloes instead? There are no religious and legal hurdles stopping the slaughter of buffaloes that have stopped giving milk or happen to be male. Even if the farmer may not slaughter or eat buffalo meat himself, so long as others do, it at least guarantees a resale value for the animal.

Therefore, in states like Haryana, increasingly the cow has been replaced by buffalo and bullocks by tractors. Male buffalos (bhainsa or jhota) have further replaced bulls even for the transportation or ploughing purpose. Mostly, indigenous desi cows which had been traditional domestic cattle have been further replaced by either the improved breed. So the left out desi cows remain further marginalised as domestic animal yet continues to breed by desi bulls. It is actually this population of the cows that are main part of the stray cattle hordes and become a big menace as perpetual threat for crops. Ironically, it is this cow which is neglected and yet ‘worshiped’ too!

Paradoxical, as it may sound, the ban on slaughter is actually disincentivising the farmer to invest in the desi cow –the ‘gau mata’.




Therefore, it is clear that from whichever standpoint we may view the issue of ban on cow slaughter; it does not stand the scrutiny of reason, neither will the invoking of religious belief hold water on the basis of Vedic texts. There is only one pointer. It is for the sinister requirement of electoral benefit for the RSS-BJP! It serves the purpose of polarisation; even though it harms the interest of the peasantry through the proliferation of uncared desi cow spelling havoc for the standing crop, or the employment generating beef export or leather industry.

Future holds the challenge of uniting the people to beat back this obnoxious development! Equally, the challenge is for PM Modi to show that he occupies a constitutional office, not merely the pracharak that he was, carrying Golwalkar’s legacy!