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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 18, April 25, 2015

Beef, Buffalo and Brahmanism: The Politics of Food

Saturday 25 April 2015

by Navneet Sharma, Pradeep Nair and Harikrishnan B.

Cow is a national animal. Cow is our mother. Cow is a useful domestic animal. Cow has four legs, two eyes, one mouth and one tail. Cow gives us milk.... cow has a calf that grows into Sanjay Gandhi.

Excerpts from the essay written on The Cow by a class 5 student in 1976. Source: Verbal testimony of a teacher educator

The ‘image’ and imageries are very important in electoral democratic politics. The above essay reflects how Mrs Gandhi (Indira Gandhi) and her younger son, crown prince Sanjay Gandhi, were perceived through the cow-calf symbol of the Congress Party in the 1970s, following the imposition of Emergency. The imageries are important to democracy, more so to win elections. Even Nehru with his progressive stance to science and scientific temper still mollycoddled the Hindu vote-bank and farmers, though softly, through the symbol of the field ploughing oxen. The idea of ‘secular’ India is evolving still from the aftermath of the partition of India, whereby the debunked two-religion theory, as advocated, somehow made appeasement to one or another religion. India is seen as the rightful place for revived Hinduism or political-Hinduism which originated only as a response to Muslim and British coming to India. This political-Hinduism alone became a voice for revivalism opposing sati, devdasis, casteism and flesh eating—in particular to eating cow’s flesh. This political-Hinduism grew with the help of the Arya Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Ram Krishna Mission and many others of similar ilk. They supported vegetarianism, non-violence and freedom of the being, thus opposing moral challenges and dilemmas posed by Islamic and Christian traditions to ‘Sanatandharma. This also led to the ‘shuddhi’ movement which is now a political weaponry known as ‘ghar wapsi’. Hindu fundamentalism is not a very recent phenomenon but its political overtures are new in the context of the first full majoritarian government at South Block.

This has also revived the ‘Gau-raksha’ Andolan (Cow Protection Movement)—the holy animal leading the unholy politics. Somehow these religious-political practitioners never ever dream or talk about ‘Bhains Raksha Andolan’ (Buffalo Protection Movement). Kancha Illaiah in his writing on Buffalo Nationalism aptly equates buffaloes being dark-skinned as Dalit animals or Dalits. The death god Yama in Hindu mythology rides on a he-buffalo. All engagements with the dead or dead-body are related to Dalit acts. One has to undergo purifying rituals after the last rites and cremation. Why buffaloes do not make it to the imagery of a ‘meek’ motherly animal and cow succeeds into that? Buffaloes being dark, fat and tomboyishly feminine do not stir the Hindu soul but the cow, on the other hand, in all its contrast to the buffalo yet yielding, soothes and suits to the idea of the virulent Hindu man.

When it comes to the animals in Indian politics, leaving aside those who have human form and names, cow stands out as the most politically useful one. Unlike the ‘make-in India’ lion which is still struggling to pull in attention and impact, this meek bovine had been found exceptionally useful by nationalists of different camps, regardless of their political affiliation, right from the independence struggle. Leaders ranging from M.K. Gandhi to Tilak to the Hindu revivalists like Dayanand Saraswati tried milking it by dragging it into the political discourse. They wanted symbols and notions which will fetch the people together or even segregate them effectively, depending on the necessity of their respective nationalist projects. The way the cow was raised as a political symbol in India, went perfectly in line with the dominant patriarchal, Hindu upper-caste norms and notions in the society.

Since Maharashtra has banned cow-slaughter and the Centre is mulling over bringing a similar legislation nationwide, India is turning into an unsuitable place for those who dream about going back to its Vedic legacy. Many of the glorified yajnas mentioned in the scriptures, including gomedha and aswamedha, will no more be possible in India, since these, as per the descriptions in the scriptures, involve slaughter of cows, bulls, rams, horses and other animals. A country where the government decides what its subjects should eat, read and watch, should perhaps also decide which kind of yajnas they can perform.

The mother cow begging for protection was easier to connect to the largely agrarian masses of India, more as a divine rather than an agrarian issue. But a government, showing its love for farmers through legislations like the Land Bill, knows no bounds when it comes to saving cows. The call for the cow-slaughter ban appears to be a religious as well as an agrarian issue in its outlook and presentation — butcher rackets on prowl wooing Hindu farmers to sell their cows. But in effect, cow-slaughter ban is just another anti-farmer move especially for dairy farmers being dependent on cows. It closes down their only option to productively phase out old cows. In addition, such a ban will actually hinder the selective culling which ensures productivity of the existing cow population. This in turn will change farmers and the meat industry to focus more on buffalos, making cow-slaughter ban all the more an anti-cow, anti-farmer legislation.

But this new cow revolution finds more charm as a religious/cultural issue of the urban/semi-urban middle class. To bring these middle classes into the cow-pen, select literature from the scriptures are routinely used to idolise the animal as sacred and as mother. This symbol worked well, since it easily constructed the flesh-eaters who do not believe in the sanctity of the cow, as the ‘other’. During the early independence struggle, the British fitted perfectly to this slot, but so did Muslims, Christians and Dalits, more so in independent India. All leaders, despite their affiliations to different or even rival political camps, called for the protection of the cow and the need to consider it as a mother figure. This was an easier symbol to go in line with the nationalist narrative of saving the feminine country—Mother India, to be protected from her assaulters—the British and the Muslim invaders. Historians have noted that the narratives constructed by the Hindu revivalist forces in pre-independent India had this dominant discourse of the mother in the hands of rapists and the call for the brave sons to rise up to the particular dominant male religious identity to protect her. Even today, the communal project of the Hindu nationalist force utilises the same idea of Hindu males being robbed off their female assets—be it Hindu women or mother cows—calling for aggressive offensive acts to protect them. This theme is evident in the unfolding drama scripted by the mightiest cultural nationalist organisation and the political party steered by it. The present edition of cow protection is thus just a part of the larger picture which brought in Love Jihad and Beti Bachao and all related hullaballoo to the public discourse.

The idea of cow-slaughter or eating beef as sacrilegious works like a bewitchment since it is effective at several levels. At one level it communicates well to a mass which was convinced and annoyed by the idea of their female assets being plundered from them—a taunt on their masculinity—which indeed mobilise people across the country. At another level, it reinforces the food hierarchy which exists in India as an extension and fortification of the caste hierarchy. This food hierarchy, according to Dr B.R. Ambedkar, segregates people into three different identities — those who do not eat flesh [at the top], those who eat non-vegetarian food except beef and those who eat beef [at the bottom]. It works well with the already existent Hindu caste hierarchy, since the upper strata in the caste structure belongs to the top section of the food hierarchy while Dalits and non-Hindus [read Muslims and Christians] belong to the lowest strata in both cases.

Scholars have noted that the backbone of this food hierarchy is the notion of vegetarianism as elitist food habit which in turn draws its power from the ethics of non-violence, because as per the vegetarian argument, they don’t kill any living being to eat. The flesh-eaters are ethically wrong—or are doing a horrible act—by killing another living thing to eat it, instead of using vegetables. Thus, beef-eaters fall into the league of most ethically wrong people as they eat by killing living beings and to make it worse, they kill cows which are mother to Hindus. Such are the horrible beings of mother-killing, flesh-eating humans—just short of the rightful title of cannibals. Despite the false hype about vegetarianism as the most preferred/majoritarian food habit, the National Sample Survey figures show that meat consu-mption in India is growing during the last some years. As per an analysis of the figures released by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) by IndiaSpend, there is 14 per cent increase in the consumption of beef/buffalo meat in urban India during the period 2004-05 to 2011-12. For rural areas, this growth is 35 per cent, showing the rural population’s increasing dependence on bovine meat.

The NSSO data also shares that there is about 768 grams per person per month consumption of beef in India. This simple arithmetic calculation is derived by dividing the total beef consumption from the total population of India. Now, if one goes by the gimmicks and hate-mongering towards minorities (read Muslims and Christians) by the mightiest cultural organisation that only Muslims and Christians consume or this per capita consumption would be around 4646 gm per person per month (beef consumption divided by population of minorities) which is almost half of the annual consumption per person (768 X 12 — 9216 gm/per person per annum). But, this not only sounds non-feasible but impossible also as another report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests that Muslims in India are more anaemic and suffer from stunting which is higher than the national average. This only helps us to dismantle and disparage the myth being created by Hindu fundamentalists that it is minorities (Muslims in particular) who eat beef. The above data interpretation clearly shows that the Hindu population must also be consuming beef. But going by the grand Hindu meta-narrative propagated, either these beef-eaters are not Hindus or on the basis of caste-hierarchy, must be Dalits—anyway who are not enough Hindu to be saviours and part of the cow-belt Hindu vote-bank and politics.

Such clarion calls and attempts to save the pride of the Hindu nation actually do not serve the interests of the poor and marginalised of the country, to solve their enigmatic hunger question. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI), Global Hunger Index 2014, India ranks at the 55th position out of 76 countries with the status of hunger in India classified as ‘serious’. Malnutrition, in the form of absence of protein, energy and the micronutrient in the diet, is a major aspect which is holding this growing ‘superpower’ to the lower ranks in the hunger index. The report points out that the uneven distribution of food resources and the absence of policies which ensure quality of food make the rural poor and marginalised sections of the country the major sufferers of malnutrition. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation report in 2013-14, India’s protein intake has risen from 54.1 gram in 2005 to 61.5 gram in 2013. The consumption of meat has risen from 1 kg/per capita in 2005 to 5.6 kg/per capita in 2013 way behind the global average of 33.2 kg. By banning production and consumption of beef—which is the cheapest nutrition-rich food option available for low-income groups—the government is indeed helping them fight hunger. The idea of vegetarianism as elitist since it is ethically correct, worked hand in glove with the importance given to non-violence in the dominant discourse of the independence struggle. Unfortunately the new cow saviours, because of their obsession with violent ways of protecting (be it cows or women or the pride of the Hindu nation), have chosen to pretend ignorance to this connection of non-violence and vegetarianism.

Those who are very vocal about a country-wide cow-slaughter ban should look at the fate of the thousands of stray cows in the streets, cities and roads across India. These cows are yet another example of the notorious Indian double standards. Apart from the roadblocks created by them, stray cows running helter-skelter is a nightmare for motorists in Indian roads. If there is anything more unpredictable than a stray gaumata running amok, it is the guy who is chasing it because it poked its nose into his way-side shop/compound. Indeed a way to treat mothers. The idea and ideology of the present political dispensation by chest-thumping the issue of cow and cow-slaughter is to whiplash the upper-caste Hindu sentiment and vote-bank. Taking cue from the Hindu mythology, the Hindutva-guided party wishes to sail through the Vaitarnior Bhav-sagar of the next general elections by holding on to the cow’s tail. 


Ambedkar, B.R. (1948), ‘The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables?’ As published in the annexure of The Myth of Holy Cow, Navayana, New Delhi.

Chigateri, S. (2008), ‘Glory to the Cow: Cultural Difference and Social Justice in the Food Hierarchy in India’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies,31 (1), 10-35. DOI: 10.1080/00856400701874692

Gould, W. (2004), Hindu Nationalism and the Language of Politics in Late Colonial India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grebmer, K. Von, Saltzman, A., Birol, E., Wiesmann, D., Prasai, N., Yin, S. , Yohannes,Y., Menon, P., Thompson, J., and Sonntag, A. (2014), Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hidden Hunger, Bonn, Washington, D.C., and Dublin: Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2499/9780896299580

Hansen, T. B. (1999), The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services in India: NSS 68th Round (JULY 2011 - JUNE 2012) National Sample Survey Office, Government of India, June 2014

Ilaiah, K. (2004), Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism, Delhi: Bhatkal & Sen.

Jaffrelot, C. (2007), Hindu Nationalism: A Reader, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Jha, D. N. (2009), The Myth of Holy Cow, New Delhi: Navayana.

Mallapur, C. (2015), Indian Beef-eating Up, Chicken Tops Meat Surge, Accessed from http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/indian-beef-eating-up-chicken-tops-meat-surge-71788 on April 17, 2015.

Sontakke, Y.D. (2004), Thoughts of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Delhi: Samyak Prakashan. Navneet Sharma, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education, School of Education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh; Pradeep Nair, Ph.D, is an Associate Professor and Head in the Department of Mass Communication and Electronic Media, Central University of Himachal Pradesh; Harikrishnan B. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Writing, Central University of Himachal Pradesh.

US Will Not Survive a Nuclear War Against Russia

A nuclear strike exchange between the United States and Russia will lead to the complete destruction of the United States, leaving Russia and China in a far better position, editor of the French portal

Europesolidaire Jean-Paul Baquiast said.

A potential nuclear war with Russia 

will have fatal consequences for the US, whose territory would be completely destroyed

 in the event of mutual rocket exchange, Jean-Paul Baquiast said.

His comment came in the wake of recent internet speculation about the US’ possible intent to carry out a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Russia.

The concerns have risen after General Robin Rand was appointed as head of the US Air Force Global Strike Command.

There are assumptions that he might take an example from American General Curtis LeMay who became famous in 1949 for preparing a plan for a massive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.

Unable to subdue Russia by conventional methods, Washington is preparing to destroy it with its armed forces, Jean-Paul Baquiast wrote. In the event of an armed conflict, American politicians may carry out a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

“Chances of the United States to destroy Russia without consequences for itself are small,” Baquiast said.

However, even the highly efficient S-500 missile system, which Russia is currently working on, would be unable to protect the country against a massive launch of ballistic missiles from US submarines, he noted.

In turn, Russia would launch its missiles from its submarines off the coast of the United States. And if the Americans manage to hit only a part of the Russian territory due to its large size, the US will be destroyed completely

, the journalist wrote.

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