Why “Shaktimaan” matters and not cows in India

We all know Shaktimaan the horse. From March 14 to April 20 this year, between its unfortunate injury and death, it remained a front page news on our lily-pure newspapers. Such love for protection of animals doesn’t extend to illegal cow slaughters. Never ever a word. Instead, cow-protectors are seen as a plot of Hindutva’s agenda. That veneration for cows, without VHP, RSS or BJP prop, doesn’t exist.

Before I am dismissed as a Hindutva foot-soldier, an anti-Dalit, anti-Muslim, anti-beef Hindu fundamentalist, let’s look at Indian constitution’s position. After all, this is where all hysteria should end.

Prohibition of cow slaughter is a Directive Principle of State Policy in Article 48 of the Constitution. It says: “The state shall endeavour…in prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” On October 26, 2005, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws. Only Kerala, West Bengal and India’s northeast don’t have any restrictions on cow slaughter.

Before you burn me at the stake on beef trade, remember most beef produced, consumed and exported is buffalo meat which is not considered sacred to a Hindu. Besides, most cow-slaughterhouses are illegal. It’s a rampant illegal practice where cows are shipped to restriction-free states. Wikipedia says: “In 2013 in Andhra Pradesh, there were 3,100 illegal and 6 licensed slaughterhouses in the state.”

Sure, in practice, States take uneven position on the matter. Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have the strictest laws against cow-slaughter. Assam and West Bengal permit slaughter of cows 10-14 years old. In many states though cow-slaughter is a non-bailable offence. The terms of imprisonment could extend from a mandatory 6 months to 5 years.

So get this straight. Cow slaughter makes you a criminal in most of India. And please spare me this Hindutva tag. For cow slaughter was opposed by notable Muslims from the Mughals’ times.

Muslims and cow-slaughter

Emperor Babar ruled in 1526 that killing of cows was forbidden. Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627), Ahmed Shah (1748-1754) all had restricted bans on cow slaughter. Yes, Aurangzeb deviated but Bahadur Shah Zafar completely banned cow slaughter in 1857. The de facto sultan of Mysore, Hyder Ali (1762-1785), punished cow-slaughter offenders by cutting off their hands.

It’s a fallacy that cow-slaughter in India began with the arrival of Islam. Vedas describe many gods such as Indra and Agni having preference for cattle meat. Sure the various invasions of Islamic rulers around 1000 AD made it common. Along with sacrifices of goats and sheet, cows too became a sacrificial animal, particularly on the occasion of Bakri-Id.

As in most things, British rule in India was trouble. They were used to eating beef. Slaughterhouses sprang up all over India. In 1944, British placed restrictions on slaughter due to cattle shortage. After all, they were required for transport, cultivation and milk among other purposes. But it came too late in the day. A historical survey, between 1717-1977, reveal that out of 167 communal riots, 22 were directly attributed to cow slaughter.

Arya Samaj, which opposed many existing practices of Hinduism in the 19th century, including idol worship, polytheism, child marriage, widow celibacy, the caste system, accepted the cow worship. Dayananda Saraswathi in 1881 opposed cow-slaughter as an anti-Hindu act. In 1683, Sambhaji, the eldest son of Shivaji, is said to have executed a cow-slaughter offender.

Ranjit Singh (1801-1839), founder of the Sikh Empire, banned cow slaughter throughout his domains. Cow was as sacred to the Sikhs as to the Hindus. Cow slaughter was a capital offence and offenders were even executed.

Let’s look at the stands of our revered leaders during British Raj. Mahatama Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malviya, Dr. Rajendra Prasad all had vowed to ban cow-slaughter in case India got its “Swaraj.” Let’s listen to Gandhi’s words: “Not even to win Swaraj, will I renounce my principle of cow protection…I worship and I shall defend its worship against the whole world. The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection.”

In 1966, Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan wrote thus to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi: “For myself, I cannot understand why, in a Hindu majority country like India…there cannot be a legal (cow slaughter) ban.”

Why Cows Matter

Animals have always been worshipped in India as deities. Elephant-god Ganesh, monkey-god Hanuman, Vishnu’s fish, tortoise and boar forms, their “vahanas” such as swan, bull, lion and tiger were all major deities. As well as snakes out of fear; and crows as the abode of the dead.

Cows are sacred to Hindus as a companion to Lord Krishna. Dairy products have always been essential in Hindu culture. Panchagayya, a mixture of five products of cow milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung, is consumed in Brahmanical rituals. Cows and bull—such as “Nandi”—have been the symbols of Dharma. Owning cattle was—and is—a status symbol in many parts of India. It’s dung is a source of fuel and fertilizer. Hence, its position as a maternal figure—“Gau Mata”– to a Hindu’s mind. Buddhism and Jainism both rooted for cow-protection.

It’s a delicious irony of history that Hindus and Muslims together revolted against the British East India Company in 1857 for being made to use gunpowder greased with cow and pig fat. As cow is sacred to Hindus, the consumption of swine is forbidden in Islam.

So recognize facts as they are. Sure punish where law is taken into hands. But for god’s sake, don’t think cow-protection is a political manipulation. It’s constitutionally guaranteed and you subvert it at your own peril.

Lord Rama was not a fictional character

Devadatta Ramakrishna Bhandarkar died this week—May 13—in 1950. One of India’s greatest archaeologist, Bhandarkar unearthed the entire city of Nagari in Chittorgarh district in 1915-1916. But we remember him as a man who told us that Ramayana and Mahabharata are not all fiction. Myths abound but to term the epics as make-believe would be an utter folly, according to Bhandarkar.

Three lectures of Bhandarkar In Calcutta University in 1918 were later published as a book “Lectures on the Ancient History of India.” Much is known about the Mauryan and Gupta empires but anything further back is wrapped up in a mystery. Bhandarkar’s lectures focussed on the history of India from 650 BC to 325 BC and is a seminal book on India’s past. It provides fascinating details about the life, culture and society of that forgotten era.

Bhandarkar was able to shed light on the mystery of ancient India. His lectures were path-breaking in that he showed that Ancient India was far more advanced in relation to the rest of the world. The great educationalist, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee termed him as the “pathfinder in trackless regions of the boundless field of Indian antiquarian research.”

Bhandarkar, during his illustrious career, pinned down an important fact—that Lord Rama was not fictional. In Ramayana, Lord Rama is said to belong to Ikshvaku clan and Bhandarkar was able to quote three sources on its authenticity. Inscriptions from the third century told him about the reign of King Madhariputra Sri Virapurushadatta of the Ikshvaku family. The Buddhist texts tell us that Buddha too had belonged to Ikshvaku clan. And then there is Ramayana of course.

Bhandarkar was also able to establish the veracity of Brahim sage, Agstya. The sage has been mentioned in the Ramayana as among the first to have crossed the Vindhya mountains. It was this sage who is admitted by all Tamil grammarians as the founder of the Tamil Language. Bhandarkar also points that in Robert Caldwell’s “Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian family of languages”, there is a mention of a hill where Agastya retired after setting up the Tamil language. The hill called Gastier (Agastya’s Hill) can still be found in the Tinnevelly district of Tamil Nadu.

In Mahabharata, and its important appendix, Hamivamsa, there is mention of a Kshatriya clan Bhoja. This clan, Bhandarkar proved, was also mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, a great work on statecraft, which preceded Niccolo Machiavelli’s, The Prince, by a good 1600 years.

The City of Ayodhya as mentioned in the epic, including Ashok Vatika in Sri Lanka and Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh (where Jatayu was greatly injured by Ravana while trying to save Sita) have all been authenticated.

The NASA Shuttle released images of a mysterious ancient bridge between India and Sri Lanka as mentioned in the Ramayana. It has confirmed half submerged path of rocks between Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu, through the Mannar islands and up to Northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. The evidence suggests that the bridge was manmade and the timeline of Ramayana matches the one of the bridge. Medicinal herbs in Sri Lanka, the finding of footsteps of Hanuman, have surfaced.

Bhandarkar had little doubt that Ramayana and Mahabharata acquired a mythical proportion over centuries. “However it would be a mistake to suppose that legends teach us nothing historical,” stated Bhandarkar who lived all of 74 years.