Saturday, March 8, 2003

Holy cow in India

No one can deny that killing cows to eat rouses very strong passions among Hindus and Sikhs. This is not shared by Muslims, Christians, tribals and lower caste Hindus of certain regions. Consequently, we have to approach the proposed total ban on cow-slaughter with caution.

A good case can be made out to ban killing of all animals, birds and fish. No one has the right to take life in order to feed himself. When Emperor Akbar turned vegetarian, he said, “I do not want to make my body a tomb for beasts.

” However, in large parts of the world, notably near the Arctic zones, no fresh vegetables are available, and people rely on fish and meat to sustain themselves. Almost every beast in the world kills others to survive. Once you admit that eating animals, birds or fish is justified, there is no logic in supporting selective non-vegetarianism. Hindus and Sikhs don’t eat beef; Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork; some even forbid eating crustaceans like oysters, prawns, lobsters and crayfish. Yet, the vast majority of the world’s population eat beef, pork, crustaceans and fish without suffering any mental or physical harm. When it comes to eating, the human race, extending from the far east of India across Myanmaar, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, China to the two Koreas eat about everything they regard edible: rats, monkeys, frogs, dogs and snakes included. Has anyone the moral right to forbid another what he likes to eat? The answer is no.

The question whether eating beef is forbidden in Hinduism is of academic importance. Professor D.N. Jha, in his seminal work, The Mythology of the Holy Cow, cites passages from the Rig Veda, quoting instances of cow and bull sacrifices. However, later (my guess would be beginning with invasions of Muslims), a sense of revulsion grew against beef-eaters. In territories ruled by Hindus and Sikhs rulers, cow-slaughter was banned. In Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s Punjab, it was punishable with death, as it was in Kashmir under the Dogras. Even after annexation of the Punjab, Hindus and Sikhs strongly resented cattle-slaughter. The Namdhari movement got a fillip when some of its members murdered Muslim butchers and were blown up by canons. Theirguru, Ram Singh, was exiled to Burma.

The cow has become a sacred symbol and is worshipped as gaumata, or the cow mother. However, in actual fact, the cow is treated very shabbily. Cows which do not yield milk are let loose to fend for themselves. They survive on garbage or die of hunger and neglect. They roam about our city streets, blocking traffic and are often hit by fast-moving vehicles to be maimed or killed. If we cannot look after our gaumata, what right do we have to punish those who eat them?

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