By Medha Parkar*
A big section of the country reveres the cow and believes it is not just an animal but needs to be venerated as well. On the other hand, the cow is treated as an edible commodity like other animals by another big section of Indian society. It is observed that every year millions of tonnes of beef is exported, and the list of exporters includes those who revere the animal. This suggests that to them business is more important than the need felt to revere the cow.
Figures suggest that around 24 million tonnes of beef has been exported in 2015 till now. There is no need to be surprised about this: Cow sacrifice has been prevailing in the country for centuries, and even today it prevails in some parts of the country. All this suggests how redundant the whole debate about cow protection is.
Thanks to this debate, several important issues such as those related with land acquisition, fulfilling the World Trade Organization (WTO) agenda of allowing agricultural commodities to become part of world market volatility, and crucial issues nagging the adivasis (tribals) are pushed under the carpet.
Instead, issues close to the heart of the NDA government, whether it is holy cow or the holy Ganges, are found to be taking the centre-stage. This helps strengthen the communal agenda of those in power. In fact, one finds that, often, things boil down to what to eat and what not to eat.
India is a land of farmers, and to them the cow is an economic necessity. At many places, after making its economic use, the animal becomes redundant, yet it must feed it in the name of cow protection, such as the burden on the farming community. With the introduction of new technologies in agriculture, cow has become redundant for many farmers. The result is, business in trading into cow is becoming extremely strong, and there has been a sharp rise in the export of beef. In fact, already India is one of the top beef exporting countries.
Facts such as these make the debate, relating to whether to eat beef or not, totally out of place. Such debates lead to adverse reactions from certain groups, who go so far as to organize beef parties; there have also been instances of some going so far as to organize pork parties.
In fact, the debate on cow should focus on the importance of the cow for the agricultural economy today, and what happens with the animal becomes uneconomical. In many parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, the cow beef is cheaper than the buffalo beef. Not without reason, sections of scheduled castes are used to consume the cow beef. Indeed, when the cow becomes unserviceable, the farmers feel it makes economic sense to sell the animal, resulting in cows finding their way to slaughter houses.
In fact, any effort to oppose or support the issue of cow protection only helps serve the RSS agenda. The RSS used Lord Ram for its communal agenda two decades ago; now it is using cow for a similar agenda. There was a time when in Mumbai, Vinoba Bhave would lead satyagrahas against slaughter houses. Such satyagrahas continued for decades. But they never led to any communal tension, because the whole effort was to sincerely protect the cow.
However, things have changed now. Today, communal groups have become extremely active to create tension in the name of the cow. The Dadri lynching incident, and later the Kerela House raid in Delhi, prove beyond doubt that violent political games are being played in an extremely dangerous manner for both minority and majority communities. The RSS and the BJP government have used Ganga for its communal agenda; in the same manner, it is using the cow to poison a whole community.
In fact, there is reason to believe as to why, despite the ban on cow slaughter, the slaughter houses haven’t shut down. About 80 per cent of these slaughter houses are owned by those who are ready to create tension in the name of cow protection. On the banks of the river Narmada, cattle is bought from adivasis for as cheap as Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 illegally. The cattle are then carried across the river. The Madhya Pradesh government has taken no action even after numerous complaints to stop this type of effort to fleece the adivasis.
The real motive behind “protecting” cow is to make India a country which follows the Hindutva ideology. It is quite another thing that the agenda will not be acceptable to large sections in India, because India is an extremely diverse country, with a rich intermix of different cultures.
Already, eminent social and literary personalities have clearly expressed their view on the way things are happening by protesting against rising intolerance, returning the awards they had won from different national institutes. Standing by them, the people’s movements in India, too, should also ensure that progressive and sensitive members of society are able to express their opinions freely through dialogue and discussion in the favour of peace, harmony and secularism.
*This is a slightly edited version of the statement issued by National Alliance of People’s Movements representatives, prepared by well-known social activist Medha Patkar