Mahatma Gandhi: How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed?

A screenshot of the relevant page of Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol 88: 25-May-1947 : 31-July-1947

We reproduce below Mahatma Gandhi’s speech at prayer meeting, delivered on July 25, 1947 in New Delhi, where he states that there cannot any ban on cow slaughter in Independent India. What the Father of the Nation said a little more than a month after Independence is relevant for India today more than ever before, when there is an effort to prohibit beef eating across India, when efforts are being made to justify the lynching of Mohamad Akhlaq in Dadri village, Uttar Pradesh, on “suspicious” of stocking beef in the refrigerator…

Brothers and sisters,

Rajendra Babu tells me that he has received some 50,000 postcards, between 25,000 and 30,000 letters and many thousands of telegrams demanding a ban on cow-slaughter. I spoke to you about this before. Why this flood of telegrams and letters? They have had no effect. I have another telegram which says that a friend has started a fast for this cause. In India no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter.

I do not doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus. We have been shouting from the house-tops that there will be no coercion in the matter of religion. We have been reciting verses from the Koran at the prayer. But if anyone were to force me to recite these verses I would not like it.

How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here. The assumption of the Hindus that India now has become the land of the Hindus is erroneous. India belongs to all who live here.

If we stop cow-slaughter by law here and the very reverse happens in Pakistan, what will be the result? Supposing they say Hindus would not be allowed to visit temples because it was against Shariat to worship idols? I see God even in a stone but how do I harm others by this belief? If therefore I am stopped from visiting temples I would still visit them. I shall therefore suggest that these telegrams and letters should cease. It is not proper to waste money on them.

Besides some prosperous Hindus themselves encourage cow-slaughter. True, they do not do it with their own hands. But who sends all the cows to Australia and other countries where they are slaughtered and whence shoes manufactured from cow-hide are sent back to India? I know an orthodox Vaishnava Hindu. He used to feed his children on beef soup. On my asking him why he did that he said that was no sin in consuming beef as medicine.

We really do not stop to think what true religion is and merely go about shouting that cow-slaughter should be banned by law. In villages Hindus make bullocks carry huge burdens which almost crush the animals. Is it not cow-slaughter, albeit slowly carried out? I shall therefore suggest that the matter should not be pressed in the Constituent Assembly.

Where trees are in abundance, rainfall too is abundant. The foliage in a forest attracts precipitation from clouds like milk from the udder of a cow. It is a law of nature that when there are no trees there is no rainfall and the land soon becomes a desert. I spent many years in Johannesburg. The climate there is very salubrious. After they planted trees there, rainfall too has been favourable. ‘Therefore the programme of tree-planting that the authorities in Delhi have started is a very good thing. Those who have no spare patch of ground can still grow vegetables in earthen pots.

I have been asked, ‘Since in view of the atrocities being perpetuated by Muslims it is difficult to decide which of the Muslims are to be trusted, what should be our attitude towards the Muslims in the Indian Union? What should the non-Muslims in Pakistan do?’

I have already answered this question. I again repeat that all the religions of India today are being put to the test. It has to be seen how the various religious groups such as the Sikhs, the Hindus, the Muslims and the Christians conduct themselves and how they carry on the affairs of India. Pakistan may be said to belong to Muslims but the Indian Union belongs to all. If you shake off cowardice and become brave you will not have to consider how you are to behave towards the Muslims.

But today there is cowardice in us. For this I have already accepted the blame. I am still wondering how my 30 years’ teaching has been so ineffective. Why did I assume, to begin with, that nonviolence could be a weapon of cowards? Even now if we can really become brave and love the Muslims, the Muslims will have to stop and think what they could gain by practising treachery against us. They will return love for love. Can we keep the crores of Muslims in the Indian Union as slaves? He who makes slaves of others himself becomes a slave. If we answer sword with sword, the lathi with lathi and kick with kick, we cannot expect that things will be different in Pakistan. We shall then lose our freedom as easily as we have gained it.

I like the statement that has been issued on behalf of the future Governments of India and Pakistan. But I wish to see it implemented. However, we cannot assume that they will not do in Pakistan what the statement says. To assume this will mean preparing for war. The two armies will confront each other and the two nation theory of Mr. Jinnah will have been proved true. I pray to God that He may not let us drift into such a situation.

(From Hindi]

Prarthana Pravachan-I, pp. 277-80

Source: Vol. 88: 25-May-1947 : 31-July-1947, pages 462-64. Click HERE  to view the text

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