Illustration from the renowned yet contentious
book ‘The Myth of the Holy Cow’ DN Jha writes to the Indian Express
on the mysterious holiness associated with the cow. Although butchering cows
for meat was a common practice in the medieval era, “Cows were emerging as a
cultural symbol for brahmins” and subsequently lead to it being a sensitive
issue, says Jha. However, his description, which concludes by him quoting “the tale
of the cow is riddled with jigsaws and contradictions”, is chiefly centered on
medieval texts and the communal, political and spiritual developments of north
Well done Maharashtra, You are better
off as a cow than a woman in terms of safety , scheduled caste or Muslim”,
tweeted by a famous critic @Rulaidwent spread like wildfire on social websites
when the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, passed a twenty year old
legislation prohibiting the butchery of cows or bulls in Maharashtra, Cows
potrayed as being holy to Hindus has been a doubtful principle. Jha in The Myth of the Holy Cow clarifies the alteration
of cow’s holiness. Rigveda has reference of cow being one of the most commonly
consumed food item among the Brahmins. The practice of cow slaughter was an
integral part of the Aryan cult. Jha writes cow and bull meat was one of the
favourite delicacies of the Hindu deity Indra. Swami Vivekananda, whose name is
now a chant in the corridors of power said: ‘You will be astonished if I tell
you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat
beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.’ Vivekananda
speaking at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA (2 February 1900)
on the theme of ‘Buddhist India’, cited in Swami Vivekananda, The Complete
Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3, (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p.
536. Further research sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission established
that “Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmanas, ate fish, meat and even beef. A
distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic
Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. C. Kunhan Raja, ‘Vedic Culture’,
cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural
Heritage of India, Vol 1 (Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission, 1993), p. 217.
Not many Indians, even if they are
non-vegetarians, can really afford meat of any kind in the manner that it is
consumed in the rest of the world where the flesh of animals, birds or fish is
the main staple, and starch, grain or potato, and vegetables the
accompaniment. In South Asia, the starch is the staple, and the protein
whether flesh or from pulses, the condiment to make it palatable or
moist. This has to do with the purchasing capacity of the people, rather
than any dietary preferences. And unlike the West where prime cuts of
quality beef can be really expensive, the meat of the buffalo,
the old and exhausted cow and bulls and bullocks of no further use to the
farmer or tradesman are butchered, is about the cheapest protein consumed by
religions and ethnic minorities and the Dalits. But even then, the consumption
figures are low.
The decision to curtail or ban the meat
of the cow, then, is a matter not so much of faith, or economics, as of
practical politics, even though the governments claim that bovines enrich
the soil and the environment by helping farmers on synthetic fertilizers. The
argument is easily countered by critics who point out that marginal farmers can
hardly afford to take care of cattle no longer useful as milch or draught
animals who then are turned out to die miserably of starvation.
The Congress was the first to poeticize
the cow, so to say, and Mahatma Gandhi and his peers in the early 20th
century used it to full measure. It would be remembered that the electoral
symbol of the cow for years was a pair of bullocks under yoke, succeeded later
by a cow and calf. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its political wing, the
Bharatiya Janata Party, has hijacked the iconography and the political symbolism.
The general election, and the elections to the state assemblies, some of which
the BJP won, culminate in the humiliating thrashing in the Delhi poll.
BJP comprises of a third of the majority
polls, having coalations and political conflict to win in Bihar and UP. Triumph
over the massive states is a must to win seats in Rajya Sabha where BJP
government has little or no say. With uttarpradesh and bihar on its sides , it
may in the time frame of three years get a plethora of seats in the Rajya sabha
and lok sabha and have the power to execute any plan of action at any time. Hence
the poignant aspect pertaining to the mass slaughter of cows would be glorified
by the politicians.
The one cheerful strain through the
last year has been the fact that the core vote share of the BJP has
remained at just over 30 percent, or a third of the voting public. It is this
core that the BJP has to preserve as it cobbles coalitions and economic
arguments to win in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It desperately needs to win big in
these two mammoth states which send a good number of members to the Rajya Sabha
where the BJP government is in a minority and has been defeated on the Vote of
Thanks to the Address of the President. With UP and Bihar in its fold, it can
in the next two years get a majority in the two houses of Parliament and be
able to enact ay law it wants to. The emotional appeal of the cow will be very
useful, even if the misogynist statements of some RSS luminaries put off a
section of the people now supporting the party.
You recently said,
“For me, food is food, there is nothing religious about it. And my sense is we
can eat anything that our system can take in naturally.” Does that stand extend
to beef too? If so, what do you think about the blanket ban on cow slaughter,
beef, et al in Maharashtra and Haryana?
Sadhguru: You want to mix
religion even into food? You can’t turn everything into a majority versus
minority argument. This is a game being played by certain people, which is
Beef ban is not
against any religion. The first thing I would say is ban the ban. Banning is
not the answer, education is the answer. First of all, as food, beef is not
good to eat. Every nation, every doctor in the planet is telling you that. In
the West, people are giving up
beef and turning to vegetarianism. We have been vegetarians for thousands of
years. Now we are turning to beef. Do we want to go through all the health
problems they underwent? Do we want to spend billions on our health bill? Do we
want to go in that direction? The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) is
changing its rules. But we want to go that way! It is definitely not a wise thing
If someone is eating beef, I may want to educate him about the
harmful effects of eating it, but it’s not for the government or me to tell him
In our country, we
believe if there is an animal that has any emotions in it, you must not consume
it. A cow can love you and shed tears for you, just like humans. It is not
about the cow, it is about any animal that shows human emotions. Can you cut up
your dog and eat it? We have a pastoral culture where before industrialization
happened, 90% of the people were involved in agriculture. The cow is not just
an animal. It is part of the family. You drink the cow’s milk. Children are
taught that the cow is like a second mother. It is part of the
culture. So when you cut the cow and eat it, it is aesthetically impossible in
the Indian mind.
Still, if someone
is eating beef, I may want to educate him about the harmful effects of eating
it, but it’s not for the government or me to tell him not to. But now, India is
exporting beef, which is becoming a major business. If you ignore about 80% of
the country’s sentiment and kill millions of cows and export beef, it is not
Q: Is it that
simple, because states where BJP was never in power, the party forms a
government there and announces a beef ban…
Sadhguru: The legislation to
ban beef in Maharashtra was already there and was just waiting for the
President’s approval. The President has grown up in the Congress and if he
thinks it is right, why are you going after the Central government? What is the
Q: In Haryana?
Sadhguru: The law is not
there yet. They have announced it but it has to go through the assembly. The
law was there much before the BJP came to power.
I am not saying
this to protect them, but the government and the PM represent the nation now.
Not one word has he said that he represents a certain religion. But if you try
to damage fundamental institutions that make a nation by questioning certain
things and casting aspersions on them, you will weaken the country and make it
a banana republic.
There is no beef in many villages, not by law but by norm. Even
minorities respect and appreciate that sentiment.
Democracy is built
by institutions. If you want to weaken every institution because someone
created a bogie, the nation will be weakened. The PM too is an institution. If
he says all of you need to be Hindu, we can have him out. But a rule that has
always been there gets President’s approval, then how can you go after them. It
was passed by the assembly to please the majority and kept in waiting there to
please the minority. This is not the way to run a nation. Stop this kind of
managing the nation. Be clear of what you want to do.
There is no beef in
many villages, not by law but by norm. Even minorities respect and appreciate
that sentiment. If someone wants to eat it, he gets it and quietly eats it.
Others know that too but they don’t bother because it is their home. But if you
are going to cut the cow in the street and hang it in front of someone’s house,
it is not going to be acceptable for them because their aesthetics and emotions
don’t go with it. They also respect that. But now, the way it is being made out
is that you have to eat beef, otherwise you are not universal or secular. You
want me to eat beef to be secular? You cannot question the country’s secular
credentials or mine. When no country on the planet had thought about democracy,
kings here were practicing democracy.
When no country on the planet had thought about democracy, kings
here were practicing democracy.
kings would consult the public on decisions. Democracy and secularism are not
new to us. We are a land without religion. Each person can follow whatever
faith he wants as long as he doesn’t rub it into me. But now you are rubbing it
into me. I am poor and you give me food, and say “give up your God, come to my
God.” This is happening in a crude way. This is about the nation, not about
this group of people or that group. My concern is 50 million people in this
nation have no access to nutrition. In the name of my god and your god, you are
destroying everything. Freedom has to become a living possibility. When you are
poor, what matters is what goes into a belly. Hunger is not a joke. Which
heaven I will go to is not even of consequence.
How is the PM Doing
Q: Do you think a
new kind of political party that represents Hindus but champions the religion’s
liberal principles is necessary? Do you think the Modi-led BJP can transform
itself into such a party?
Sadhguru: You have to
appreciate the problems of a democracy. Without numbers you can’t get there.
When you get numbers you have no choice of quality. This is the bane of a
democratic process. I feel the media’s focus should be on what the leadership
speaks and not on what someone who is of no consequence to the nation’s
discourse says. Right now somebody who is nothing, if he wants to get media
attention, all he has to do is say “Kill all the Muslims.” All of national
television will go out there and say who is this guy? He is not capable of
killing an ant but if he says “I want to kill all the Muslims,” for the next
three days, the whole debate will be on this joker who is not worth anything.
This must stop. If somebody in a really responsible position said that, then
let’s deal with him. But some joker saying something somewhere, he is actually
defining the discourse of the nation, which should not be done.
The way he was speaking in election mode and the way he is
speaking and conducting himself as a PM, I think if everybody had that much
discipline, everything would be fine.
As far as I am
concerned, I said this before and I will repeat it, I am no particular fan of
anybody or any particular party. But I am in huge admiration that in the last
six to eight months, though the PM comes from what you describe as a hardcore
background, he has not said one thing wrong. From the election rhetoric to the
statements of a PM, the way he has transformed himself overnight is literally
phenomenal for any man. The way he was speaking in election mode and the way he
is speaking and conducting himself as a PM, I think if everybody had that much
discipline, everything would be fine. That’s the discipline that is needed.
Certainly, many people don’t have that, but why are we making them so big.
It is a democratic
process so you can’t do anything because they only said what they said. You can
only ignore them. Because they are anyway powerless, what can they do? Can
Sakshi Maharaj enforce that you have four children? Leave him alone. The
commercial impact of news has become more important than the national impact
that it creates, which I think is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed.
Q: In the current
times when there is much critique about religious/mystical cults being led by
fraudulent gurus, as shown in movies like PK, how do you respond to a strand of
thought that is critical of human beings claiming themselves as Godmen?
Sadhguru: “Godmen” is a
media-coined word. Nobody calls himself one. I have not seen the movie but I
have heard people talk about it. Corruption in this world is aplenty. There is
corruption in police, politics, and unfortunately even among religious leaders.
The general level of integrity in the country has gone down. Right now, a guy
driving a Mercedes might stop and think before jumping a red light, but a
common man driving a moped doesn’t stop at the red light. We are growing
corruption in our homes.
There are a whole
lot of spiritual leaders doing phenomenal work. In our country, there have been
huge gaps in administration and still people managed to stay together. Please
give some credit to spiritual leaders. There is a small percentage that
exploits. Trust me, it is a small number but because of the trust placed on
them by people, it looks glaring. However, there should be a clean up. Those
who should be in jail should be in jail. Truth must lead to everybody’s well
over beef that ‘may or may not have been beef ‘ has exposed the historical
fault-line that runs across India. Our attention has been focused on the Hindi
heartland, the cow belt, where the nastiest contemporary mobilisations have
taken place. There are consequences elsewhere.
The Hindi heartland
has a history of cow agitations. In 1882, Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the
Arya Samaj, began a movement demanding the end of cow slaughter under the
British Raj. One of the first recorded riots over cow took place in Mau in
Azamgarh in 1893.
India had, by and large, found a balance on this tricky issue, by banning cow
slaughter in most northern parts of the country even as buffalo meat became our
‘beef ‘, the ambiguity keeping the delicate ‘Indian tapestry’ intact.
With the murder of
Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, UP, last Monday, rabid groups now riding on a
majoritarian tide have ripped apart that weave. To enter the kitchens of fellow
Indians and thrash or kill them for what they eat is a serious threat to the
sanity that holds our republic together. A new ecosystem is being put into
place. Bans imposed by states only legitimises the existence of groups we call
Despite all the politics, India’s share
in world beef export increases, n the times of #BeefBan, comes a
shocking revelation – India has not only retained its top position followed by
Brazil and Australia as the biggest exporter of the meat, according to the US
Department of Agriculture, India has exported 2.4 million tonnes of beef in the
financial year 2014-15 which accounts for a whopping 23.3 percent of world’s
In 2014, India made profits of around
$4.8 billion from the beef industry and the total profits surpassed that from
exports of Basmati rice for the first time. Interestingly, domestic consumption
of beef has gone down by 44 per cent since 2000. But wait, we are not just
talking about cows but other bovine animals like buffaloes and bullocks as
well. Officially all bovine animal meat is considered beef
What does Balaji Viswanathan think
of the ban on cattle slaughter and beef enacted by various BJP governments and
the prospects of it going pan India?
It is an unnecessary controversy that could have been avoided.
I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t support such a ban because:
1. It interferes with people’s religious and dietary habits.
2. Banning anything pushes things underground where things are far
more brutal and far less regulated.
3. It is somewhat arbitrary. Why restrict to only cow? What about
animal sacrifices in Hindu temples? I believe both of these killings are
equally to be avoided.
What are the pros and cons of the
banning of beef in Maharastra, India?