Saturday, November 14, 2015

Beef Controversy in India (4-parts)

By Nithin Sridhar

(The Article has been published in four parts in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)  
Part 1- Hinduism and Cow

India has witnessed a continued controversy over Beef and Cow-slaughter in the last few months. The latest incident that has added to the controversy is the police inspection of the Kerala House in Delhi after receiving complaints about beef being served there. Many Kerala MP’s and political workers have protested against this inspection terming it as “an attack on the federal structure of Indian constitution.

Few days back, an Independent lawmaker of Jammu and Kashmir Engineer Rashid was attacked with ink for hosting beef party in protest of the beef ban in the state. The ghastly Dadri lynching happened over rumors about killing and consumption of cow. Previously, there was a great uproar over meat ban in Maharashtra during the Jain festival of Paryushana. 

In each of these incidents, there has been a massive outrage that not only spoke about the rights of people to have freedom to decide what to eat (which is absolutely right), but also in a sense celebrated the people’s right to kill animals in general, and cows in particular. The discourse that has been created around the controversy of beef tries to uphold beef consumption as a virtue, and the concerns for cow protection as vice and communal; the celebration of violence as virtue, and adherence to ahimsa (non-injury) as vice. 

Further, there has been attempts to justify beef consumption and hence the massive cow slaughter (much of it illegal) that is being carried out, by claiming how beef-consumption was extensively practiced by Hindu ancestors and hence current opposition to beef consumption amounts to hypocrisy. 

Therefore, it becomes vital to not only counter the narrative of violence that is being promoted in the name of ‘rights’, but also to set the record straight regarding the status of the cow in Hindu religion and history. Hence, let us first take up the issue of the position of cows in Hinduism.

It has been argued by various scholars that the cow was not considered ‘holy’ in the Vedic period and they were frequently sacrificed and consumed during those periods. They point towards various verses present in Veda Samhitas, Brahmanas, Manu Smriti and other Dharma-Shastras to paint the Hindu ancestors as beef and meat consumers who upheld and celebrated beef consumption. At the same time, they tend to either ignore or brush aside those references in the Hindu scriptures that speak about Ahimsa and cow protection. They further try to portray cow-slaughter and beef consumption as a central philosophy and practice of Hinduism. 

Before proceeding to examine some of the major arguments given in support of prevalence of massive beef consumption, let us first briefly deal with the Hindu view of cow.

Hindu view of Cow

To properly understand the Hindu perception of Cow, one should first understand how Hindus perceive the environment. The Isha Upanishad (verse 1) considers the entire universe with all its objects as being inhabited by God. Similarly, Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (10.20) says, that he is seated in the hearts of all creatures. Thus, Hindus do not view environment as consisting lifeless objects and inferior life forms that exist so that humans can conquer and exploit them. 

Instead, the Hindu view of environment is “deeply rooted in the understanding that the trees, the animals, the air, the water, the land and every other object in nature are permeated by divinity, and hence they are all worthy of our love, respect, and preservation.”
Thus, we call earth as ‘Mother earth’; we believe that Lord Vishnu manifested as fish, tortoise, or as a boar; and our Gods are always associated with animals which serve as their vahanas (vehicles). Among all the animals, cows hold a special place in the heart and psyche of Hindus. 

A cow is not only perceived as an animal that is extremely useful from economic perspective, it is also considered as a mother who loves and nourishes the entire family with whom she lives. 

This sentiment has been beautifully brought out in the words of Mahatma Gandhi who says: “Mother Cow is in many ways better than the mother who gave us birth. Our mother gives us milk for a couple of years and then expects us to serve her when we grow up. Mother cow expects from us nothing but grass and grain. Our mother often falls ill and expects service from us. Mother cow rarely falls ill.” 

Though it is true that the Cow was central to agricultural society, and hence she was given high place, but this in itself does not capture the entire understanding of the Hindus.
Hindus recognize the Cow as the most Sattvic of all animals. She is particularly loved and respected for her attitude of love, selflessness, innocence, and loyalty. For this reason, Atharva-Veda (3.30.1) says that people should love one another as cow loves its calf. The popular story of the Punyakoti further brings out all these characteristics of a cow in a beautiful manner. 

Cow in Hindu scriptures

While describing the motherly aspect of the Cows, Rig-Veda (6.28.1-8) calls them as ‘bringers of fortune’ whose milk can be fed to Gods in sacrifice and also to the guests. The mantras further say that the cows should be kept happy and should be protected from any injury or harassment or theft.

At another place, Rig-Veda says: “May the cow eats best of the grass, may she be blessed, and by her may we also be blessed with wealth. O inviolable cow, ever feed on grass, and come back and drink water.” (Verse 1.164.40) 

These verses reveal that the cows are to be treated with love and respect and they must be provided with freedom and protection from harm. People should make attempts at giving happiness to the cows, in the same way in which cows provide happiness and wealth to us.
In the Itihasas and the Puranas, Kamadhenu- the divine cow is portrayed as an abode of various Gods and as a wish-fulfilling cow. The name ‘wish-fulfilling’ not only points towards how nourishing cows resulted in economic prosperity, but it also points towards how nourishing them was considered a Dharmic (righteous) act leading to Dharmic wealth as well. Hence, the cows which are earthly manifestations of the Divine Kamadhenu are all considered as the abode of material and spiritual prosperity. Thus, the Atharva-Veda (11.1.34) calls cows as the home of all bounties. 

Further, Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita (10.28) says that, among the cows he is the Kamadhenu. Similarly, Rigveda (6.28-1-8) equates Cows with Lord Bhaga and Lord Indra.
These clearly establishes the sacredness of the cow. Therefore, contrary to the claims of certain scholars, cows are indeed considered as holy and as manifestations of divine, which are worthy of love, reverence, and worship in Hinduism.

It is this sacredness of the cow and its ability to grant prosperity to the people that has made Vedas to refer to cow as ‘aghnya’- one which should not be killed. The Vedic lexicon Nighantu further gives two synonyms for cow- ‘ahi’ and ‘aditi’ that means ‘not to be killed’ and ‘not to be cut into pieces’ respectively. 

Regarding, why Cow is called ‘aghnya’ that which should not be slayed, Shukla Yajur-Veda (13.43) says: “harm not the cow which is pure and illustrious.” The same Veda further says (13.49): “harm not the cow which gives ghee.” Reiterating this, we find Mahabharata (Shanti Parva 262.47) as saying: “The very name of the cow is ‘aghnya’- that which must not be slaughtered. Hence, who can slay them? Those who kill a cow or a bull commit a most heinous crime.”

We find further references in the Vedas themselves, wherein it is explicitly stated that cows and bulls are not to be slayed (Rig-Veda -8.101.15) or that those who harm cows must be punished (Rig-Veda- 10.87.16). Manu Smriti (4.162) reiterates such instructions as well.
Thus, it is clear that in the Hindu world view, Cows are sacred, pure, and manifestations of divine. But, their Sattva (purity) has also made them defenseless. Therefore, to provide protection for such innocent defenseless animals, the Hindu scriptures have not only instructed people to not cause harm to them, but also to protect them. This can be understood as the ultimate expression of Ahimsa (non-injury).

With this background, let us try to understand how this fits with assertions of use of cow meat during Yajnas, Shraddhas and Madhuparkas that can be seen in some Hindu scriptures in the next part. 

Part 2-Yajna, Madhuparka, and the use of beef

The current controversy over beef consumption has again provided an opportunity for the seculars and liberals to mount their attack on the Cow and its relevance in Hinduism. The liberals make two major assertions regarding the issue:
  1.  Cow is not considered sacred or holy in ancient Hindu scripture.
  2. Beef Consumption was widely practiced by ancient Hindus.

In the previous article, it has been shown how the assertion that the Cow was not considered as sacred in ancient times is incorrect. The Hindu scriptures not only speak about Cow as a mother, a bringer of fortune, and a provider of nutrition, but also perceived the Cow as the very manifestation of the Divine. The Cow was considered worthy of people’s love, respect, and worship due to her purity and was called as Aghnya- one who should not be killed. 

Now, let’s take up the second assertion. It is often portrayed that hordes and hordes of cows were slaughtered every day for the purpose of consumption in the Vedic as well as post Vedic period. 

To illustrate this, the examples of slaughter and consumption of cows during Vedic Yajnas (fire worship), in rituals related to pitrs (the spirit of ancestors) like Shraddha, in Madhuparka (the ritual feeding of the guests), and certain other rituals like marriage and cremation are quoted. It is insinuated that the sacrifice of cows in all these religious rituals and ceremonies were done for the sake of consuming beef. 

Thus, it is pointed out that Ahimsa as a tenet was only in theory and not in practice, as a Cow despite of being called “inviolable” was mercilessly slayed. Further, these examples are also used to justify the current practices of beef consumption by showing how they are in sync with ancient practice.

Let us now briefly examine each of these illustrations.

Meat Consumption during Yajnas

It is often alleged that thousands of animals including Horses, cows, and bulls were regularly sacrificed during Yajnas and then their meat was used for consumption. It is further asserted by some modern scholars that the Yajnas were only a pretext for consuming meat. There are serious issues with these assertions. 

One, most of the Yajnas were optional and were rarely performed by people. For example, out of 400 Yajnas mentioned in Vedas, only 21 Yajnas are enjoined to be performed regularly and the rest are to be performed only for fulfilling specific desires like Putrakameshti for having a child or Ashwamedha for establishing an empire.

Second, even among the 21 Yajnas prescribed to be performed regularly, none of the Yajnas that are to be performed daily, fortnightly or even once every four months contain animal sacrifices. Only seven Somayajnas (Yajnas in which Soma juice is given as oblation) and 2 Haviryajnas (Yajnas in which mainly ghee is used) include performing animal sacrifice. These Yajnas though preferably must be performed once a year, it was considered enough if one is able to arrange the enormous resources required and perform it just once in a lifetime. Hence, most people never managed to perform these Yajnas more than a few times in their entire life.

Third, there was no sacrifice of hordes and hordes of animals in these Yajnas. For example, in Pashubanda, which is a Haviyyajna, only one animal is sacrificed. In Vajapeya, which is the highest type of Yajna performed by a Brahmin, only 23 animals are sacrificed. In Ashwamedha Yajna, which is an optional Yajna performed only by the Kings, around 100 animals are sacrificed. There is no Yajna which is bigger than this. 

Fourth, not everyone was entitled to perform all Yajnas. Only Aupassana was prescribed to be performed by everyone irrespective of their Varna and it did not contain animal sacrifice. Also, though the Brahmins, Kshtriyas, and Vaishyas were enjoined to perform 21 sacrifices, in practice it was only the Brahmin families that implemented. 

Therefore, it is clear that most of the Yajnas were optional and were rarely ever performed, and among those that were compulsory, only in a handful of them, very few animals were sacrificed. Hence, the assertion that thousands of animals were sacrificed regularly in the Yajnas has no basis. 

Cow sacrifice during Madhuparka

Madhuparka which means ‘a mixture of honey’ is a religiously prescribed procedure of receiving and honoring the guests. It is alleged that large scale cow-slaughter and subsequent beef consumption was practiced in the honor of the guests.

According to various Grihya Sutras, during the ritual of Madhuparka, the host must offer the guest following things: a seat, water to wash feet, water for Argya (as an offering) and water for Acamana (to sip). This is followed by an offering of Madhuparka (a mixture of honey and other items like curd etc.) to the guest. 

After this, a cow is brought near the guest and he is asked to choose whether to sacrifice it or free it. According to some scholars, this offering of the cow is not for sacrifice, but only for giving away as a gift. This is also backed by few references about the gifting of cow, which is present in scriptures itself (for example, Apasthamba Dharma Sutras Prashna 2 Patala 4 Khanda 8.5). The gifting of cow during Madhuparka is also attested in Ramayana and Mahabharata. In any case, the guest decides upon the fate of the cow. Considering the central role played by the cows both in the economy and religion, only few cows are likely to have been sacrificed.

It is important to note that neither is the Madhuparka offered to every guest, nor is it offered at every instance. The Madhuparka was offered only to six specific people that too, if they arrived only once in a year. The six people are: teacher, king, an officiating priest, father-in-law, friend, and a Snataka (a student who just returned from Gurukula and is ready to be married). 

Therefore, it is clear that, the slaughter of cows, if they were performed during Madhuparka, was conducted only occasionally and with respect to only a few specific persons, that too only when the guests explicitly chose to sacrifice instead of setting free or taking as gift. 

The case of King Rantideva and the Cow Slaughter

Some scholars point out that it is mentioned in the Mahabharata, that King Rantideva used to slaughter 2000 cows daily to prepare feasts for his guests. Apart from the fact that slaughtering of such a huge number of cows every day is quite impractical, if one were to study the context as well as complete details available about King Rantideva, it becomes clear that the assertions are incorrect and a result of improper translation.

The book “A review of Beef in Ancient India” published by Gita Press, which makes a detailed analysis of the issue, states that the assertion that 2000 cows were killed daily is faulty and a result of improper translation of a verse from Mahabharata that contains the words ‘Vadhyate’ and ‘Mamsa’. Though, usually these are translated as ‘were killed’ and ‘meat’ respectively, in the context they mean ‘were tied’ and ‘a liquid sweet preparation (Payasam)’ respectively.

The book concludes that:  the 2000 cows were actually tied to the pegs at the kitchen of King Rantideva, so that milk from them could be used to prepare food for the guests. This is supplemented by the fact that Mahabharata itself lists King Rantideva among those who are not addicted to meat-eating. 

Thus, it is quite clear that King Rantideva never slaughtered cows to feed guests, but only used their milk for the purpose. Even if we were to accept that he indeed slaughtered cows, then we must accept that the actual number of cows killed would have been only a handful as 2000 dead cows a day adds up to 7,30,000 dead cows a year, which is highly impractical. 

Cow sacrifice during Shraddha and Vivaha
Cows are also said to have been sacrificed during Shraddha ceremony wherein the spirits of ancestors are satiated and during Marriage. There is a difference in opinion among scholars regarding whether there was any real sacrifice of animals or only a metaphoric mention about them in the scriptures. Also, there is a mention of gifting of cows during marriages just like Madhuparka (Apathamba Grihya Sutra 1.3).

Even if we were to assume that the cows were indeed sacrificed during such ceremonies, it is quite obvious that no person performed these ceremonies every other day.

Therefore, it is quite clear that neither the rituals and ceremonies like Yajnas (had involved the sacrifice of animals including cow and bull), Madhuparka, Shraddha, or marriages were performed at quick intervals, nor were hordes and hordes of cows and bulls slaughtered in them. 

Was Beef consumption sole purpose behind cow-sacrifice in various rituals?

It has been alleged that Hindu ancestors used various Yajnas and other rituals as a pretext for consuming beef. It is further stated that, the priests, etc. enjoyed a full feast of beef after sacrificing the cows and bulls in the Yajnas, etc. 

This assertion is nothing but turning a blind eye towards the plain fact that each Hindu ritual has a specific purpose and end goal that is clearly made known at the beginning of the ritual itself. The Yajnas serve the purpose of harmonizing various cosmic forces. It further helps a person to worship various deities, ancestors, and other forces of nature. The performance of Yajnas not only bring wealth and spiritual merit to the performer, but also causes welfare of the society. Further, various Yajnas have specific purposes as well.

For example, Pakayajnas are exclusively related to family, Putrakameshti helps to conceive a child, etc. Similarly, if one examines the mantras associated with Madhuparka ceremony, one realizes that it is built around the concept of Atithi devo bhava- the guests are God. The offering of seats, water, a mixture of honey, and even sacrifices of cow runs parallel to the offerings given in a Yajna. The primary purpose here is serving the guests as God itself. On the other hand, Shraddhas are the ceremonies performed for the well being and satiation of the Pitrs- the spirits of our forefathers.

This clearly establishes that the sole purpose of these rituals was religious upliftment and spiritual welfare and they had nothing to do with beef consumption.

This is further augmented by the fact that, the cow meat consumed as Prasada (consecrated food left after offering in a ritual) during such rituals is of very small quantity and they are eaten without a care for the taste. This is especially true in the case of Yajnas.

Regarding this, Kanchi Shankaracharya, late Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati, writes: “It is totally false to state that Brahmins performed sacrifices only to satisfy their appetite for meat and that the talk of pleasing the deities was only a pretext. There are rules regarding the meat to be carved out from a sacrificial animal, the part of the body from which it is to be taken and the quantity each rtvik can partake of as prasada (idavatarana). This is not more than the size of a pigeon-pea and it is to be swallowed without anything added to taste.”

Another point that must be noted, is we find explicit instructions in the scriptures regarding what occasions the animals including cows can be sacrificed. Manu Smriti (5.41) says that animals can be killed only for the purpose of Madhuparka, in Yajnas, and in rituals related to ancestors, and in no other occasion and for no other reason. Apathamba Grihya Sutra (1.3.9) says that Cows can be sacrificed only for the sake of guests (i.e. Madhuparka), for ancestors, and in marriages. 

These clearly establish that cows were not to be sacrificed for any other purpose, especially not for the sake of satiating one’s taste. In fact, Manu Smriti (Chapter 5, Verses 33, 34, 35, 38, 48, and 51) goes to the extent of saying that those who sacrifice animals for purely satiating their lust for the flesh or for any purpose other than the rituals prescribed in the scriptures, will incur great sin and undergo great suffering. 

Ahimsa and use of cows in Yajna

If it be asked, how to reconcile between cows being branded as ‘inviolable’, which is an ultimate expression of Ahimsa and cows being sacrificed during Yajnas, etc.?
The answer lies in the fact that Ahimsa does not mean pacifism purely in the physical sense. Violence happens at various levels- physical, verbal, mental, and spiritual. The sacrifice of animals in Yajnas, etc. is not considered an injury because the animals derive great benefit out of it. The ritual helps them to attain heaven or get higher birth in the future (Manu Smriti 5.40, 41). Therefore, considering the spiritual benefit that far outweighs the physical injury that an animal face, the sacrifice of animals during Yajnas is not considered violence.

Even if one were to reject these spiritual benefits as metaphors and superstitions, even then it is easy to see that conducting Yajnas are not contradictory to practicing Ahimsa. Ahimsa is an ideal, but except for renunciates, no person even nears ninety percent adherence to it.
Every human action is accompanied by one or other form of violence, be it cooking food, or walking on the road, or speaking ill behind someone’s back. The scriptures have given an ideal and has created a framework wherein people slowly work towards attaining the ideal. Thus the instructions given in the scriptures take one from Himsa (injury) to Ahimsa (non-injury), from ignorance to knowledge. 

This is further corroborated by the fact that though scriptures upheld Vegetarianism as an ideal, they do allow the eating of meat of certain specific animals under certain circumstances; and though Sannyasa (renunciation) is the ideal, it makes provision for Grihasta (marriage). Similarly, Yajnas are also allowed for the welfare of society. Manu Smriti (5.53) says that one who renounces consumption of eating attains spiritual benefit equal to that attained after conducting 100 Ashwamedha Yajnas. This shows that, Ahimsa is the ideal and everyone must slowly implement this ideal in all aspects of life. But, meanwhile, one should involve in other Dharmic activities including Yajnas etc. prescribed by the scriptures even though they may involve Himsa.  

Therefore, Cows were indeed widely revered and were held as ‘inviolable’ by the ancient Hindus, though their sacrifice was permitted during some rituals for material and spiritual welfare of society. But, these rituals were sparse and infrequent and hordes and hordes of cows were definitely not slaughtered, neither for rituals, nor for beef. Thus the assertion that beef consumption was widely practiced has no standing. 

Part 3- Origins of beef consumption in India 

In the previous two parts (here and here), it was established how, contrary to current assertions, cow slaughter was neither widely prevalent among ancient Hindus nor were they practiced for the purpose of consumption. Further, it was shown how cows were held sacred and were declared ‘inviolable’. 

So naturally, the next question that arises is: how and when did the consumption of beef originated in India? This is a complicated question which does not have any single definite answer. Yet, we can see how the consumption of beef has risen and fallen among certain sections of the Indian society over the last two millenniums. 

Beef Consumption and Untouchability

In the current discourse of beef consumption, beef is almost always linked with Dalits and Muslims. It is widely held that Dalits have historically consumed beef and even today most of them continue to practice it. Hence, it is argued that any action aimed at protecting the cows constitutes anti-Dalit. 

Though it is true that a section of Indian society that includes members of Muslim, Dalit, tribal, and upper caste Hindu communities do consume beef today, the assertion that the majority of Dalits consumes beef and deem it a necessity is mostly hearsay and/or propaganda. 

A recent mapping of the food habits of Dalit communities published by Swarajya Magazine clearly shows that though 80% of the Dalit communities are meat eaters, they discourage beef. It further notes that, in states like Uttar Pradesh, over 75% of Dalit communities discourage beef consumption, though they eat meat. This raises serious questions regarding the portrayal of beef as being an integral part of Dalit life in present society.
But, there is a merit in the argument that beef consumption has been historically associated with Dalit communities. For example, the Mahar community in Maharashtra had an exclusive right over the dead animals including cows. 

Tracing the origin of untouchability to the practice of beef consumption, Dr. Ambedkar, in his book “The Untouchables Volume 1” says: “The Brahmins made the cow a sacred animal. This made beef-eating a sacrilege. The Broken Men being guilty of committing sacrilege necessarily became beyond the pale of society.” He then builds up his case about how and when untouchability arose from beef eating. 

He says that, Untouchability is completely absent in not only Vedas, but also in Dharma Sutras and Manu and other Smritis. He further points out that, first proper account of untouchability was given by Chinese traveler Yuan Chwang who had come to India in 629 AD. 

From this, Dr. Ambedkar concludes that Untouchability must have originated between 200 AD (approximate date he fixes for Manu Smriti) and 600 AD. He further traces the roots of the Untouchability to the complete prohibition of cow slaughter and the declaring of Gohatya (killing of the Cow) as being equal to Brahmana-Hatya (killing of a Brahmin) during the Gupta rule in the 5th century.

He thus summarizes that, though Vedic Hindus had consumed beef, after the advent of Buddhism, the Brahmins and other upper classes adopted vegetarianism and the Cow was made into a sacred animal. This transition was complete by the time of the Guptas, after which, those communities who continued their practices of eating beef were branded untouchables.

Though, Dr. Ambedkar is right in his proposition that Untouchability is rooted in beef consumption, he is wrong in his assumption that beef consumption was prevalent in Vedic times and even the Brahmins used to consume beef for the sake of taste. 

In the previous two articles, it has been clearly established that, the Cow was considered ‘inviolable’ in the Vedas itself and only during Yajnas, Marriage and other such spiritual occasions, were the sacrifice of cows allowed. Even during those occasions, in all probability, the actual quantity of beef consumed as ‘Prasada’ (sacred food) was very small. Further, even Dharma Sutras affirm that sacrifice of cows are permitted only during those spiritual occasions.

Also, contrary to the assertions of Dr. Ambedkar that it was probably in the post Manu period, especially during the Gupta period that cow slaughtering and beef consumption was made sacrilegious. We find that in Vedas itself, injunctions that say killers of cows must be punished (Rig-Veda- 10.87.16) are present. Manu-Smriti (11.59) also includes killing of cows under “Upapataka” (secondary crime). 

It must be noted that, the usage of ‘secondary’ to denote killing of the cow does not mean it was insignificant. It only means that crimes, which were of lesser magnitude when compared to the five main sins that were branded as “Mahapataka” were called as ‘Upapataka’. It’s similar to the current practice of listing crimes, according to their severity and magnitude. One such list, for example, may contain rape at the first spot and groping and eve-teasing at the fifth spot, but this will not mean that groping and eve-teasing are acceptable or that they are ‘lesser crimes’ than rape. 

Similarly, though it is true that during the rule of the Guptas in the 5th century, the offense of Cow killing was raised from being a secondary crime to being equal to the killing of a Brahmin, this in itself does not mean that, the Cow was considered less sacred before. Instead, it points towards a possibility that, certain communities who never consumed beef during early Vedic or Smriti period, may have slowly started consuming beef in a large way. 

This in-turn must have caused the elevation cow-slaughter to the level of ‘Mahapataka’.
Thus, we can safely conclude that the present practice of beef consumption that is observed among certain Dalit communities originated around 5th century during Gupta period and not before it. 

Beef Consumption and Islamic Invasion

Another community that is closely associated with beef consumption is the Muslim community. Though, it is often argued that Beef eating is integral to the Islamic way of life and any attempt at banning beef will be infringement on the freedom of religion of the Muslims, a thorough analysis reveals that, this is not the case. 

Dr. Ambedkar writes: “Islamic law does not insist upon the slaughter of the cow for sacrificial purposes and no Musalman, when he goes to Haj, sacrifices the cow in Mecca or Medina. But in India they will not be content with the sacrifice of any other animal.” Regarding the killing of cows on Bakrid, an Islamic Scholar says: “It is undoubtedly true that to discharge the qurbani-liability on the Baqrid day, killing a cow is not farz, wajib or even mandub.”

Therefore, it is quite incorrect to assert that killing of cows is integral to the Islamic practice. Yet, what is true is that, the origins of beef eating among Muslims can be traced to the Islamic invasions of India. 

The practice of beef consumption or the killing of cows during Bakrid was practically absent in Arabian countries. The Muslims in Arabia usually consumed meat of sheep, goat, or camel. But, when the Islamic invaders started entering India around 1000 AD, they adopted the practice of beef consumption to humiliate and insult the religious feelings of Hindus and used it to establish the hegemony of Muslim rule. 

While summarizing the attitude of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, the famous Sufi mystic of the 15th century, Yohanan Friedmann writes: “The honor of Islam demands the humiliation of the infidels and their false religion. To achieve this objective, jizyah should be mercilessly levied upon them, and they should be treated like dogs. Cows should be slaughtered to demonstrate the supremacy of Islam. The performance of this rite is, in India, the most important symbol of Islamic domination.” Similarly, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, another famous Sufi mystic who is eulogized for his tolerance today, is said to have slaughtered a cow and cooked a beef kebab at a sacred place surrounded by temples, near the Annasagar Lake at Ajmer.

Taking note of such actions of Islamic rulers, Justice Guman Mal Lodha writes in his report about Cattle in India: “The Islamic rulers, from Central and West Asia were not habituated to beef-eating, as there were no cows in Arabic countries in those days. When the invaders came to India, they started sacrificing cows, especially on the occasion of Bakri-Id. This was done more to humiliate the natives of this country and establish their sovereignty and superiority rather than for food purposes.”

Therefore, the historical practice of beef consumption among Muslims is clearly rooted in the invasion of Islamic rulers and their attempts at humiliating native Hindus whom they considered as Khafirs (non-believers) and not in any Islamic doctrines that makes it a religious compulsion. 

But, it is interesting to note that, with time, partly owing to the assimilation of Muslims into Indian way of life, and partly owing to the pressure from Hindu subjects, some Muslim rulers like Mughal Emperor Akbar did ban cow-slaughter. But, such a ban was almost always overturned after a duration of time. 

But, with the decline of the Mughal Empire and the rise of the Maratha Empire, the consumption of beef had slowly declined and one can note that, only a few instances of cow slaughter have been recorded between 1700 AD and 1800 AD. In fact, Dharampal writes in his book “The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India”: “'It can be reasonably assumed that there was very little cow killing after about 1700 AD since the domination of Islam waned and converts to Islam did not take to eating of cow flesh.”

Therefore, it is safe to conclude that, whatever beef consumption that was practiced by Muslims during Islamic rule, it got minimized to a great extent by 1700 AD. Thus, the current practice of beef consumption by the community must traced to post 1800 AD.  

Beef Consumption and the British Rule

The arrival of the British brought a new wave of beef eaters into the country. To the British, beef consumption was not only an issue of adhering to their own diet, but also that of fulfilling the food demands of their military as well as the usefulness of the cows in creating tensions among native Hindus and Muslims. 

Regarding this, Dharampal writes: “State-sponsored and State-regulated slaughter of cattle would have started, depending on British military requirement, sometime after 1750 AD.”
It must be noted that the strength of British officers and soldiers posted in India was only around 20,000 in 1800. This raised to around 100,000 by the end of the First War of Indian Independence. The total British population in India, including British civilians during the 19th century was around 3-5lakhs. 

This steep increase in the British population (especially of those in the military) in India resulted in many fold increase in cow-slaughtering and beef consumption. Lodha report notes that, in some places, the increase was as high as fourfold. The report further notes that as against 20,000 cows per year that was killed during Islamic rule, around 30,000 cows were killed every day at the height of the British period.

Regarding the British attempts at using the cow-slaughter to revive and strengthen the old differences between Hindus and Muslims, Dharampal writes: “That the Muslims continued to sacrifice the cow at least on festive occasions like Bakri Id and they were made to feel that the job of a butcher was honorable, was also a basic political requirement of the British rule in India.” 

This becomes even more clear in the letter written by Queen Victoria to Viceroy Lansdowne, wherein she states: “Though the Muhammadan's cow-killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is, in fact, directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, &c., than the Muhammadans.”

It was also a part of British strategy that, along with killing and consuming of cows on a mass scale, they also started condemning Indian cows and Indian ethos that held cows as sacred. Lodha observes: “It was at this juncture that the British started condemning Indian Cows. They propagated the notion that India was a land of superstitious people, who had a blind faith in animals, rivers, trees and plants, and that the Indians were weak, unhygienic and inferior, and even their cattle breeds were inferior.”

This condemnation of cows was in sync with British condemnation of other aspects of Indian life. By this strategy, they successfully dismantled Indian institutions and way of life and replaced them with British ethos and world-views. 

Therefore, the British rule not only gave rise to the current practice of cow-slaughter and beef consumption (especially among Muslims), but also to the current ethos of celebrating beef consumption as a virtue by the liberal Indians. 

Beef parties and the celebration of violence

In the last few months, the discourse on ‘beef’ has been much talked about and highlighted. Politicians, journalists, activists, and intellectuals have repeatedly stressed their ‘Right’ to eat whatever food they desire. Massive outrage and beef parties have been organized to protest against the regressive attitude of Hindutva forces that they perceive as being a threat to India’s liberalism. 
Protest by Kerala’s MPs over police inspection of the Kerala House in New Delhi after getting complaints about cow-meat being served there, was one such incident of outrage. Beef parties were also arranged by political outfits in Kolkata to protest against the inspection.  

Previously a lawmaker in Kashmir had organized a beef party to protest against the beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir. After the ghastly Dadri Lynching incident over rumors about beef, numerous beef parties have been arranged to protest against the lynching. One such party was organized in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, where Hindus and Muslims equally consumed beef in protest. Last week, a group of poets, theatre artists, NGO’s, etc. took to the street and organized beef party to protest against growing intolerance across the country!

There is nothing wrong per se in people choosing to eat food of their choice including beef. But, when a particular choice of food is used to make a socio-political statement, when it is used to uphold alien ethos and degrade native cultural values, then, it becomes vital that such a political agenda is exposed. 

The very concept of a party organized to celebrate ‘consumption of beef’ is not only offensive to the cultural values of Indians, it is an outright celebration of ‘Violence’.
Indian culture is deeply rooted in the concept of ‘Ahimsa’ (Non-injury) as it considers plants, animals, and all life as a manifestation of divinity. It makes no distinction between secular and sacred. Instead, it perceives even the secular elements as having a sacred basis. Thus, no plant, no animal is considered inferior to humans, nor do humans own their lives. 

This recognition of the universal presence of the Divine force has evolved into the concept of Non-injury, wherein a stronger does not exploit the weaker, instead recognizes the rights of weaker to exist. Though, absolute non-injury is not possible in practice, Ahimsa is still the ideal that people should continuously thrive to attain. Thus, any party or gathering that celebrates the murder of an animal for the sake of taste and politics goes against the ethos of Ahimsa

The question is, why should a protest against communal violence (even if the violence happened over rumor about beef) include consumption of beef? Are there no other ways of protest? What happened to candle light marches, which is otherwise a favorite means adopted by liberals?

The reality is that, the parties are actually not aimed at protesting against communal violence, or against the government’s attempts at curtailing the freedom to eat. These are all only excuses, only props that are being used. The real target is Sanatana Dharma which is the very foundation of Indian ethos and way of life. 

There was outrage among Indian liberals when buffalos were sacrificed in Nepal during a Hindu ceremony. Liberals had become animal rights activists and Hindu religion was slammed for its violence. Yet, these same liberals oppose cow-protection and celebrate beef parties. Where is the concern for animal rights now?

The Cows which are very calm, loving, and innocent by nature, must be the most unlucky animal among all animals across the world. They are at least unlucky in India. No animal rights activists, no liberals want to take up their issue, because unfortunately they have been associated with Hindu religion. 

Every person who takes up the cause of cow-protection is slammed as a Hindutva activist, a political worker, etc. For example Prashanth Poojary. Many people who otherwise support animal rights and protest against killing of, say dogs, have no sympathy for cows.
Arguments after arguments are made about why cows must be killed and eaten and not protected. Typical arguments include, cow population is increasing very fast, maintaining cows will be economic burden, people are starving on streets so why waste money over Goshalas, etc. 

This current liberal attitude towards animals in general and cows in particular is deeply rooted in a colonial education system that is still being practiced in India. The British, as part of their strategy to civilize Indians, successively dismantled Indian education system rooted in Indian ethos and replaced it by British education system built upon European, especially the Christian world view. 

Thus, animals were no longer perceived as a manifestation of the divine. Instead, it was taught that, animals have been born so that they can be slaughtered, eaten, and their body parts used for various human luxuries. The Humans were no longer perceived as being connected to the nature through a divine bond. Instead, it was taught that, humans are the masters who can unscrupulously exploit everything available in nature for fulfilling one’s own perversions. 

The concept of Ahimsa (non-injury), Dama (self-control), and Daya (compassion) were completely replaced by violence, uncontrolled desire, and indifference. The British had a special loathing towards the Hindu veneration of cows, because they not only perceived cows as a stumbling block to their attempts of civilizing Indians to adopt Christian values, but the cows were also one of their chief source of food. 

It is this colonial education that has today manifested in the form of beef parties. The parties reveal a mindset that believes in human superiority and justifies human violence towards animals.

By celebrating ‘beef parties’ which are nothing but acts of violence committed against innocent cows,  the liberals have once again made a political statement that in the liberal discourse, Hindus have no human rights and similarly, cows which are deeply associated with Hinduism have no animal right as well.

It is high time that, Indians renounce this colonial outlook and reclaim their native cultural ethos rooted in Ahimsa and Daya. Today, people have become highly ingratitude and selfish in nature. They use and exploit cows for their milk, but then send them away into slaughterhouses once the cows stop producing milk. This culture of violence, exploitation, and ingratitude must be renounced. 

In the past, when rural society was predominant, almost every family used to own cows and bulls and they used to take good care of them. Cows and bulls were also the backbone of Indian economy. 

Today in this highly urbanized scenario, things have greatly changed. But, changed times does not mean, people cannot return back to their own cultural values. Further, the role of cow in the economy and agriculture has not reduced. Cow milk is still a major source of nutrition. 

Though every family may not be able to own a cow, they can at least feed cows that hungrily roam on the streets. Every family may not be able to individually do much to help cows, but people living in a locality or a housing society may build a cow-shelter (goshala) for the cows present in their area. 

Many other measures at a larger scale may be slowly evolved that would not only protect the cows, but also will make it economically viable. A simple change in the mindset can go a long way in finding solutions to complex problems. In this case, all that is needed to begin with is the abandonment of the mindset rooted in celebration of violence and reclaiming of the Indian ethos rooted in Ahimsa (Non-injury) and Daya (Compassion).

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