Cleansing Gau-Shalas of Rakshaks Turned Bhakshaks
It was surprising and sudden, who could have thought that the meek-looking cow, its caretakers or call them protectors and gaushalas would hog limelight and precious hours in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and also in the headlines in the media for over a week. The gaurakshak groups, it is alleged, have become crime syndicates and have upset Dalits and Muslims by taking away their traditional trade in hides and leathers.
The revelations that some of these groups have huge resources to buy trucks for transporting cattle and also funds for purchasing arms and ammunition stunned most, as the owners of gau-shalas were believed to be well-to-do but not dadas. But now it is established that quite a few of them have become so powerful that they have been conducting raids on suspected smugglers and fought pitched battles on highways. Their dominance in the countryside has caused severe tremors in top political echelon and upset social engineering done by various political parties for electoral gains.
The need to contain these gaurakshaks urgently is understood by all parties, for the authorities believe being powerful and influential in their areas, they become sort of Dons in their turfs. The local policemen do not hesitate joining them in a group photograph. Yet, these gaurakshaks generally do not take the police in confidence when planning any action. Their power and uncontrolled influence disturbed the MPs most. Even when the august parliamentarians and the Prime Minister discussed the Gaumatas, their caretakers, protectors and gaushalas, tension in the hall was palpable.
The reason for urgency in containing gaurakshaks is that under the charade of protecting cows, they have developed such lust for power and riches that they are law unto themselves. And there are many in smaller towns and villages relate stories of vicious extortions. But it was not always so bad. One man, whose name as far as I can recall was Balwant, about 35, wearing a bush shirt and trousers, used to come around 15th of the month and meet my grandfather. They would talk for some time and then Balwant would leave after collecting Rs15, a tidy sum in those days. Later, I learnt that Balwant used to run a shelter somewhere between Telibagh and Mohanlalgunj. Balwant used to collect about Rs 2000 and sell milk in Lucknow.
He was said to be popular in his area. But over the years, the successive Balwants saw the immense possibilities, prices were rising and so was the demand for milk. Land prices rocketed very high and gaurakshaks found themselves to be rich and with unbridled power they acquired through their riches.
So far they got away by claiming to be protecting cows from smugglers and agents of illegal tanneries. They are at pains to show their love and respect for the holy cow. Many aver that they risk their lives in protecting them. The present government has the additional problem; most rakshaks are RSS workers.
The profit and power have proliferated the cow protection groups — 114 in Haryana, 200 in Gujarat and now many are sprouting in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan.
These groups allegedly indulge in economic terrorism. This has deprived Dalits and Muslims of their traditional trade in animals and animal products. And this has manifested in riots and individual incidents of a Dalit being beaten up.
Una incident was not only embarrassing but politically extremely damaging for BJP. Amit Shah has been trying hard to get Dalit support. Modi’s discomfiture during the two-day debate on bad and biased treatment of Dalits was perceptible. It was sheer exasperation which made him say, “If you want to shoot a Dalit, shoot me first”.
Our ancestors knew the value of a cow much better than the vigilantes of today, who have turned the protection of cows a pretext for breaking laws, and a money-spinning business.
Explained a scholar that “Cow is called Gaumata, not because of religious reasons by Hindus, but because they had appreciated a cow’s value, living or dead, in a society.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the 2nd Year Anniversary celebrations of MyGov, in New Delhi related the violence unleashed in different parts of the country by some rakshaks — cow protectors.
“I feel really angry at the way some people have opened shops in the name of cow protection. I have seen that some people commit anti-social activities through the night, but act as cow protectors by day”, the Prime Minister told an audience at a ‘town hall’ style interaction with an invited audience in Delhi.
Modi was careful not to refer to any one incident in particular, the trigger for his remarks appears to be the recent shocker in Una, Gujarat, where a group of Dalit men were brutally flogged by upper caste vigilantes for skinning a dead cow. A video recording has relayed the crime to every home across the country, to devastating effect. It has stoked Dalit anger and upset efforts by the Bharatiya Janata Party to attract Dalit votes in the run up to crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
Modi stopped short of saying that the vigilantes ought to be prosecuted and punished, instead urging state government to prepare “dossiers” on these “cow protectors” and keep them under control. “It will be found that 70 to 80 per cent are people who commit the kind of bad deeds which society does not accept. To hide their bad activities, they don the mantle of cow protectors,” he said.
Volunteer organisations, said Modi – using the word ‘swayamsevak‘ for volunteer – are not meant to “terrorise and brutalise people” and should concentrate instead on social work. More cows died from consuming plastic than from slaughter, he said, adding that those who want to serve the animal should work towards stopping cows from eating plastic.
The point he made is an important one, so important, in fact, that one wonders why he has never made it before. The documentary Plastic Cow, made in 2012 by Kunal Vohra for the Karuna Society for Animals and Nature has captured in graphic detail the horrible fate that cows in India are condemned to once they stop producing milk. “The recent comments of politicians and others in TV debates and newspaper reports on the need to protect the cow in India make me laugh at their hypocrisy. It is the poor animal that has become a pawn in these discussions. The biggest loser on the issue is the animal; nobody seems to really care,” noted Rukmini Shekhar, associated with the documentary.
Now, Modi has delivered several fiery speeches since 2014 on how slaughter for meat is a major threat to cows in India. He attacked the Congress during the Lok Sabha election campaign for introducing a ‘pink revolution’ in India, based on cow slaughter. He raised the beef issue again during the October 2015 election campaign in Bihar, and the BJP took out newspaper advertisements in that state on the eve of polling to urge voters to back the party if they wanted to save cows from slaughter.
However, ever since the vigilantism of the ‘gaurakshaks’ started affecting the Dalits – who are an important voting group that the BJP hopes to tap in the upcoming elections – Modi and his advisors have moved to limit the political fallout from their campaigning over the beef issue. The sacking of Anandiben Patel from chief minister of Gujarat was the first indication of damage control; though her exit was the product of internal wrangling within the BJP, the timing was such that Dalits could be told the CM was being punished for the Una incident.
Modi’s angry comments are a desperate attempt to placate Dalits and send a message to the vigilante groups – whose ‘anti-social’ foot-soldiers are drawn from the same political eco-system that the Sangh parivar inhabits – that they should be more careful about their actions lest they end up hurting the BJP politically.
After his ‘town hall’ event, Modi took to Twitter to say: “The sacred practice of cow worship and the compassion of Gauseva can’t be misused by some miscreants posing as GauRakshaks… There is absolutely no need for anyone to take the law in his or her hands and disturb the spirit of harmony and togetherness.”
The gust of storm over gaumatas’ protectors is now over, the Centre is all set to initiate steps for the execution and success of the ‘save cows’ mission seriously. The government organised a first of its kind national conference where central ministers supported the mission to save the cows, as propagated by BJP and other Hindu groups.
The government is also working on modalities to bring in a new law to combat illegal cow transport and slaughtering. “A report has been sought from the Animal Welfare Board in two months on how cruelty can be avoided in animal transport and also how it can be empowered through law to deal with illegal cow slaughtering,” informed Prakash Javadekar, Union minister for Environment.
Countering the argument that aged cows can be sent to slaughter houses since their utility in terms of milk production is over, Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Radha Mohan Singh called for restrictions on killings saying even in old age cows can be financially viable.
Cow in Vedic Period
There was no ‘Vedic beef-eating’. Those who claim that there was ‘Vedic beef eating’ are unable to interpret the ancient texts in the correct sense. In India, issues around the cow, or “Gau” in Sanskrit, has been sensitive since the times of foreign invasion. Cows are considered “sacred” in Indian culture. This “sacred” animal has been an integral part of daily life in pre- and post-independent India. “The Aryans followed a mixed pastoral and agricultural economy, in which cattle played a predominant part. The farmer prayed for increase of cattle; the warrior expected cattle as booty; the priest was rewarded for his services with cattle.
Cattle were in fact a sort of currency, and values were reckoned in heads of cattle,” eminent Indologist AL Basham stated in his much-acclaimed work The Wonder That Was India. People in India’s rural areas are very sensitive about this animal as they look upon the cow as “gaumata” (mother). There are about 300 million cows in India which produce useful commodities like milk and dung cakes and promise capacity addition by giving birth to more calves. A study, conducted by economists Santosh Anagol of the University of Pennsylvania, Alvin Etang of Economic Growth Center, Yale University, and Dean Karlan of department of Economics, Yale University, two years back, states that as an investment instrument, cow is a bad option, though it can boost the savings of people in rural India. That’s the economics of cows An academic and historian put forward some ambiguous points sans valid proof to claim that eating cows was popular in the Vedic period. He is right on saying that there’s no Hindu religion. The term religion itself was alien to ancient Indians and the label “Hindu” was equated with the common culture of the people living here. The society in ancient India was based on four varnas, (the term “varna” means character, quality or nature. As Basham explained in his book, “varna” doesn’t mean, and has never meant, caste), and that social structure was known to the world as the chaturvarna system. It was basically an ancient stratification of society and later misinterpreted as the root cause of caste discrimination in India. In the initial phase, the four varnas – the brahmins (priests, teachers and preachers), the kshatriyas (kings, governors, warriors and soldiers), the vaishyas (cattle-herders, agriculturists, artisans, and merchants) and the shudras (labourers and service providers) – were not decided by birth, but by karma (actions). Lord Krishna, one of the most popular deities in India, made it clear in the Bhagavad Gita, caturvarnyammayāsrstamgunakarmavibhāgaśah… It says the four-fold order was created according to the divisions of quality and work, and birth has nothing to do with it. Anybody can be a brahmin by performing actions according to those virtues. One can assume all the four roles in a single life. Now, let me come to the issue of beef-eating by brahmins. The translation or interpretation of Vedic scripts demands expertise in Vedic vocabulary, philology and grammar. But Western indologists like Max Müller, Griffith, Wilson, and Williams tried to interpret the Vedas with their little knowledge in Vedic Sanskrit. And, there is also a strong argument from Hindutva groups that the British had a hidden agenda of misinterpreting Vedas to alienate Indians from their identity and culture.
Following are some of the mantras in the Vedas which unambiguously says a big “no” to killing animals for food.
– Yajurveda 40.7
“Those who see all beings as souls do not feel infatuation or anguish at their sight, for they experience oneness with them.”
– Atharvaveda 6.140.2
“O teeth! You eat rice, you eat barley, you eat gram and you eat sesame. These are specifically meant for you. Do not kill those who are capable of being fathers and mothers.”
Another mantra in Atharvaveda says, “It is definitely a great sin to kill innocents. Do not kill our cows, horses and people.”
Vedas, the most ancient scriptures readable to present-day man, never promote animal slaughter.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEFCC) and Department of Animal Husbandry organised a national conference on Gauvansh/Gaushala (cow clan/cowshed) recently. Held at Vigyan Bhawan, it saw a jam-packed auditorium. Among senior scientists and bureaucrats, who attended the seminar, were saffron-clad sadhus (holymen) and activists.
“Taking a cue from Gujarat, cow hostels and sanctuaries are being established across the country. Five new veterinary colleges have been set up to take care of old and ailing cows,” Singh said.
Javadekar and Singh were interrupted amid sloganeering from participants who claimed to be cow workers and not affiliated to any political party. The activists claimed to be working for the welfare of cows for several years.
Members of a group called Gau Sanstha said, “We have been rescuing cows all on our own without the help of police or any laws in our favour. On receiving secret information about cattle-carrying trucks, we venture out at night and wait for these trucks for hours. The beef-lobby goons carry guns, sticks and stones. So many of us have been done to death.”
Even as the agriculture minister was listing out his department’s good initiatives, including giving aid to farmers with cows as livestock, especially during drought like calamities, many attending the conference lost their cool. Several people from Rajasthan protested that they had received none of the claimed subsistence allowance. They claimed they have never received any funds or facilities to conserve cows or gaushalas in their state and that central funds also did not reach them.
NUMBER OF COWS 190.9 MILLION
FEMALE COWS 79.05 MILLION
EXOTIC & CROSS BREEDS 21 PER CENT
NO BEEF BAN IN: ARUNAHAL, MANIPUR, MEGHALYA, MIZORAM, SIKKIM, NAGALAND, TRIPURA
ALLOWED WITH CONDITION: ASSAM, TAMIL NADU, WEST BENGAL, KERALA
IN REST OF THE COUNTRY: TOTAL BAN
As Javadekar began speaking on how a “cow could be financially viable even after outliving its utility,” many activists in the audience took offence. They began shouting that officials were doing nothing about curbing illegal smuggling of cows and cattle across the Indian border. One even screamed, “You all only give lectures. When we call you at 2 or 3am on catching trucks with cattle for slaughtering, no one picks up our phone.”
These angry denunciations are just a spark which is bound to ignite an inferno. Too much money is involved and the affected are allegedly criminally-minded. They can do anything — public disturbance, an anti-Dalit movement or a communal riot.
The government has to be extremely cautious not to let the ungodly start an unholy war to stall its efforts to cleanse the gau-shalas of criminals.
by Vijay Dutt