Religious sentiments an incendiary issue in India

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Writers Column

Dr. Samit Choudhury and Sanchita Paul
India is a land of cultural diversity where people speak differently, follow different religion, eat different food and with discrete dressing styles. Culture is a changing variable and with time, new ideas are adopted and old ones are plunged.

Nevertheless, many of the cultures of the past have been so persistent that the impact of abrupt change has ragged their beliefs and value system. India is a composition of multi-ethnic groups with Hindu majority. However, the constitution of India has explicitly declared India as a secular country. But religion sentiments have always been made an incendiary issue among the religious communities to spawn a fiery discourse and indict each other creating disharmony and discrepancy. This discourse justifies the ban on cow slaughter as it impairs the religious sentiments of Hindus. Also it accuses the Muslim Community of exclusively disregarding Hindu sentiments. Beef is a taboo for the high class Hindus and not the Dalits, sections of OBCs, Christians and Muslims. This hypocritical discourse dates back to the framing of Indian constitution when the political parties favouring Hinduism cited two aspects in favour of cow protection. The two aspects relating to cow protection can be stated as follows:
Religious Aspect:
The Hindu mythology used to support the slaughter of cows as Rigveda (6/17/1) states that, Indra used to eat the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo”
But yet Vedas are completely against any inhuman practice of cow slaughter. The Vedic Lexicon, Nigantu, gives amongst other synonyms of Gau (or cow) the words Aghnya, Ahi and Aditi. Yaska the commentator on Nighantu defines these as:
Aghanya- the one that ought not to be killed
Ahi- the one that must not be killed
Aditi- the one that must not be cut into pieces
These three names indicate that the cow should not be tortured. In the Vedas, protection of cow is given utmost priority. In the Hindu religion, the cow is honoured and garlanded and given special feedings at festivals. The cow also symbolises dignity, endurance, maternity and selfless service.
Economic Aspect:
Indian economy is basically an agrarian economy where cattle play a predominant role in contributing to the national wealth from providing milk to pulling the plough as being a cheap substitute of fuel. The cow dung is also used as a fertilizer and dairy products are extensively sold to earn livelihood by the farmers. The sheer usefulness of cow was given a reason as why cow was considered as a symbol of wealth in Hindu religion.
Incredible it may sound but some of the members of Constituent Assembly persisted on making cow protection a fundamental right. It was on the request on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s insistence that cow protection was included in the chapter on the Directive Principle of a State Policy. This found expression in Article 48, which states “the States shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter on cows and other milch and draught cattle.” This principle became the basis for several states to enact laws restricting the slaughter of cattle. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put an end to it. It will not be possible to save those animals that are a burden on the land or, perhaps, even man if he is a burden.” So, it is imperative to reprimand those who vehemently carnage animals irrespective of religious attachments of any community. Unfortunately, beef ban is an instrument for the political affiliates for manipulating of people and creating ethnic tensions so as to plead for votes in the elections.
 The debate on secularism has an unfathomable presence in politics which is visibly prominent through the years of the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and the Gujarat riots of 2002 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the ruling party. BJP has close ideological and organisational links with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is a fascistic organisation associated with communal riots. The nexus between RSS and BJP goes beyond shared ideology and RSS activists effectively dominate the party’s leading bodies. The RSS’s ideology encompass  mainly in making India a Hindu rashta and that India is a nation of Hindus and only Hindus will enjoy citizenship rights. Their firm belief is that it is impossible to create cultural harmonisation and religious stratification cannot unite all the living beings into a united whole.
In India, legal provisions for restricting or banning cow slaughter are prevalent in 26 states. Especially in Maharashtra a ban on beef has been enforced and the people guilty will be penalized. Like Maharashtra, Delhi also has strict provisions against all cow slaughter but aristocratic restaurants in the city openly display “beef” on their menus. With the beef ban in Maharashtra, the multi cuisine hotels serving foreign have to change their major items in the menu. It may affect their sales and revenue while the cost of other meat is likely to increase as demand goes up. The beef lovers have to transform their food habits, taste and preferences. The worst sufferers are Querishi community in Maharashtra, which largely work as butchers, agents and dealers. Being amateurish in other trades they are left in the state of joblessness without a source of livelihood.
In his prime ministerial campaign, Narendra Modi used the poignant power of the cow to attack the United Progressive Alliance government. He wrote on his blog that “It saddens me, that present UPA Government led by Congress is promoting slaughtering of cows and exporting beef to bring ‘Pink Revolution’”. But actually, the “beef” that India exports is mostly buffalo and not cow meat & ironically, beef exports have risen since Modi came to power. India is the world’s second largest exporter of beef, second only to Brazil. According to The Atlantic, last year India exported $4.3 billion worth of beef. It can be succinctly said that beef has got nothing to do with Hinduism and it is the political affiliates who plead Hinduitva to assault the minority & age-old communal stereotype of correlating Muslims with beef consumption.
In today’s India, there is a welter of conflicting ideologies amidst drift and impatience. Moreover, there is a quest for well-defined values and beliefs persuading the aspirations of all. The chest thumping nationalism and unconditional support to such Sangh affliliates is not a true Hinduism. Pseudo-secularism is far better than being a religious fanatic. It is better not to dance in the music of the religious activists and rather learn to adapt to new manifestations of culture as change is the only constant factor that lasts forever.


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