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BEEF, BUFFALO AND BRAHMANISM: THE


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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 eatingin particular to eating cows 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 Sanatan dharma. 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.

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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 yajnasthey 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 countryMother India, to be protected from her assaultersthe 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

2
nationalist force utilises the same idea of Hindu males being robbed off their female assetsbe it Hindu women
or mother cowscalling 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 thema taunt on their masculinitywhich 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
dont kill any living being to eat. The flesh-eaters are ethically wrongor are doing a horrible actby 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 humansjust 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 populations 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

3
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 Dalitsanyway
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 Institutes (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, Indias 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 beefwhich is the cheapest nutrition-rich food option available
for low-income groupsthe 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 gaumatarunning
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-sagarof the next general
elections by holding on to the cows tail.

4
References

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

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