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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 42, New Delhi, October 10, 2015

Assault on Secularism

Saturday 10 October 2015

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh has said, in the wake of the lynching of Mohammmed Akhlaq at Bisada village of Dadri in UP for allegedly storing and eating beef, that he supports banning beef. “Out of 29 States, cow slaughter is banned in 24 States and this was done during the Congress rule,” he has asserted. He added in the same breath that even during the Mughal rule, cow slaughter was banned. Singh’s comments will undoubtedly gladden the hearts of the Hindutvavadis and sadden those who are fighting a battle to protect the secular-democratic fabric of the nation against heavy and mounting odds.

Since the Congress party has not officially either contradicted or distanced itself from the sentiments expressed by Singh on cow slaughter, it would be reasonable to conclude that what he said he did with the knowledge and consent of the Congress party. This calls into question the stand of the Congress on the issue of banning cow slaughter and beef-eating. If one is for banning animal slaughter as such, it is understandable though one may not agree with this view. But if buffaloes, goats, lamb, pigs, camels and umpteen other animals are allowed to be slaughtered for meat, what is special about the cow? The Congress must clarify its stand both on cow slaughter and beef-eating. The Hindutvavadis never admit that in ancient India, killing a cow and offering beef to a guest was the normal practice. That is why another name of guest or atithi in Sanskrit is goghna (a killer of the cow). Decades ago, Raja Rajendralal Mitra wrote a scholarly work entitled Beef in Ancient India. Later, eminent historians like D.N. Jha also confirmed the practice of beef-eating in ancient India. But Jha’s two books on the subject, The Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Tradition (published in 2002) and The Myth of the Holy Cow (2009), had to be withdrawn from the market for fear of reprisal by Hindu fanatics. These fanatics have grown in number and strength in the intervening years.

Turning to the present incident, a rumour was spread that Akhlaq had stored beef in his house and had eaten beef. On the basis of this rumour he was dragged from his bed, brought outside where he was stoned to death. First, there is no law which prevents a Muslim—or for that matter any Indian citizen of any religion—from eating beef though beef-eating is considered a sin by most Hindus just as eating pork is by the Muslims. Beef is sought to be banned because it hurts the sentiments of the Hindus. But no such demand has been made for banning pork which equally offends the sentiments of the Muslims.

After the lynching of Akhlaq, some BJP spokes-persons have said that killing on mere suspicion cannot be supported. It has a dangerous implication: when suspicion is confirmed then lynching is justified without applying to the offender or guilty the due process of law. Once this is accepted, India will be pushed back into the medieval age of barbarism and, worse still, of cannibalism.

It is being said that Mahatma Gandhi was against cow slaughter and for protection of the cow (goraksha). True enough. But the Mahatma was also against modern industrial civilisation, mass production by machines and centralisation of economic and political power in the hands of a few. His India of My Dreams speaks of autonomous village republics which would be self-sufficient in food and clothing and be the embodiment of total decentralisation of power. Are those dragging in the Mahatma in the present controversy on beef-eating prepared to accept his views on a host of other subjects as well, or are they trying to use the Mahatma selectively to defend their communal agenda?

India is passing through critical times. The whole legacy of India’s struggle for freedom, the values created by that struggle and enshrined in the Constitution are sought to be renounced and replaced by those who have the dubious distinction of having never taken part in that struggle while indirectly helping the British to perpetuate their rule in India. This is the Hindutva brand of nationalism. Secular forces all over the country, irrespective of their political or ideological beliefs, must unite and present a solid phalanx of opposition to foil the conspiracy of turning this country into a theocratic state by those who are the Hindu variant of the ISIS, Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

October 7 B.D.G.