Stark headlines, while the Capo-di-Tutti-Capi of Indian Gods, Lord Krishna, engages in some serious cow cuddling. I have some fine ideas for the RSS – like starting an annual cow-cuddling festival or maybe sell those FarmVille guys on Facebook a new virtual cow-cuddle extension. Punchline – cuddle a cow and go straight to heaven.
Nestled in the arid sage brush of eastern Uttar Pradesh in India, is a tiny municipality of 10000, named Bisara, where the average household income is just over $2 a day and literacy around 15%. It has 30 Muslim families who have been living in peaceful coexistence with the rest of the village, which is Hindu. But maybe that peace has all along been a tenuous one.
What happened on the night of September 28th is an indication that underneath that communal harmony, there has always been a groundswell of antipathy between the Hindus and Muslims in not only this small dusty town but perhaps all of India.
One of Bisara’s Muslims was 52-year old Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi, whose family has been in Bisara for more than seven decades. On the late evening of September 28th, he and his family had finished dinner and were getting ready to go to bed, when, around 10:30pm, a mob of Hindus, armed with rods and swords, converged on the brick and mortar building and rammed their way in. Finding some left-over meat in the kitchen, they concluded it was beef, the consumption of which is considered a grievous sin and banned in the province.
Later on the meat that the investigators found turned out to be lamb, but that night the mob was unstoppable. They dragged Akhlaq and his son, Danish, out and beat and stomped on them, bashing them with bricks and stabbing them. Akhlaq later died in hospital, while his son is in a coma, still fighting for his life. Not even the women, Akhlaq’s elderly mother and his wife, were spared, though they have injuries that are not life-threatening. Akhlaq’s mother’s broken jaw might never mend.
The attackers had been the Saifis’ neighbors and friends until that fateful night – a tragic repetition of history – Germany 1937-39, when Germans pelted their Jewish neighbors with stones and spat on them in the streets of Munich.
What exacerbated the groundswell of intolerance which rose like magma to the surface, was the arrival of the right-wing Hindu majority government of Narendra Modi in May 2014 and the subsequent election of right-wing Hindu thugs into municipal and district-level posts, across India. From then, turning public opinion in the illiterate hinterland was easy. Muslims like Mohammad Akhlaq began to be seen as the villains of the piece.
It is said that we deserve the politicians we elect and this is no less true in India than anywhere else.
India, a majority Hindu nation, bans the slaughter of cows and calves in almost all states, except Kerala, West Bengal and the five tiny North-Eastern states that border Bangladesh and Burma. Beef from bulls, bullocks, buffaloes, oxen and heifers however, is not restricted in most states, though some of them define the word ‘cow’ as encompassing all of the above. The penalties for killing a cow vary from state to state and can go as high as a fine of Rs 100,000 ($1500) and 10 years in the slammer.
Say Hi to Billy the buffalo. He hates being a buffalo since that gives him a lower life expectancy than the cow. I am kidding. Buffaloes are really dumb. You can slaughter one right next to another and the other buffalo won’t even bat an eyelid. (He’ll probably say,’Tennis anyone?’)
The beef ban is a lamentable. In India, due to the supply-demand disparity, with supply outstripping demand, beef is a substantially less expensive source of protein (as compared to lamb or chicken). As a low-cost source of nutrition, beef could have been an invaluable food for non-Hindus and the poor.
And it is not as if India is running out of cows. Hell, there is a bunch of ‘em in every backyard, street corner and pedestrian crossing over there. India is in fact the world’s largest single exporter of beef, at 2.5 million tons annually, having cornered roughly 25% of the world beef market. In comparison, pork is banned in Islamic countries but do we see them exporting pigs? We don’t, because they recognize the principle behind banning pork (however absurd in my eyes that may be) and to them, that means banning trade in pork as well.
India doesn’t export 2.5 million tons of beef for scientific research – it exports beef for consumption overseas. If consuming something is considered a sin within India, then trading in that substance for the purpose consumption to other countries is equally sinful, isn’t it? But then, with the plethora of gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, the instructions may have gotten mixed up, leaving Hindus believing God told them, ‘hey, its okay for others to eat beef, you just see you don’t eat it yourself’. In short, that absurdity seems to be lost on India’s Hindus.
In the aftermath of the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, the Hindu right-wing government of Narendra Modi sent out absurd, mixed messages. The spokesman of the Bharatiya Janata Party immediately termed the killing ‘an accident’. You barge into someone’s house, drag him out and beat him to death and that is supposed to be an accident. The Prime Minister broke his silence finally, after 20 days had elapsed since the brutal murder, with a muted, oblique and facile show of ‘regret’.
Without breaking out into a sweat, I tried to search for any Hindu scriptures that might preach the banning of cow slaughter and holding cows as sacred creatures to be worshiped. I didn’t find any. There simply aren’t any Hindu texts or scriptures anywhere that specifically say that killing a cow or a buffalo or any of it’s cousins, is a sin and therefore forbidden.
All cultures have sets of ‘extra-spiritual’ rules that aren’t found in the scriptures but are nevertheless set in stone with fanatical devotion, just because someone in authority at some point in time just made those rules up and demanded that all believers follow them blindly. Hindus cannot eat cows, while Muslims and Jews should not eat pork and scaly fish. Christians are by far the most liberal in this aspect. They’ll eat anything as long as it is barbecued, there’s beer and baseball on TV.
Likewise, every religion has a set of absurd rituals and prohibited acts. Take the sprinkling of ‘holy water’ – water that has been ‘blessed’ by a priest, sprinkled ostensibly to cleanse the subject from any evil influences. Christians sprinkle the stuff during baptism, Jews during bar mitzvah, the Sikhs at Amrit Sanskar, the Buddhists on Paritrana, the Jews bathe themselves with their holy water at Tebillah and of course we have all heard about the famed ZamZam holy water of Mecca. Even the Greeks had the River Styx where Thetis dunked her baby Achilles and made him invulnerable. And Hinduism? Heck, they’ll douse you at the drop of a kurta over there, for every rhyme and reason. Hindus are ablution freaks, bathing constantly, by day and by night.
What is it with all these guys? Why do they feel this desperate need to cleanse themselves? What is the basis for all those holy water sprinkling sprees? None. There is no mention in any of the fundamental religious texts such as the Tora, Bible, Quran, Granth, Gita or any other scriptures that require you to bathe, cleanse, sprinkle or have anything to do with something as absurd as ‘holy water’.
When did religion ever get beyond the absurd and begin making sense?
When I was a little boy, killings and beatings of minority Santhal men and women were frequent and when they happened in the hinterland – in Asansol or say, Panagarh – little towns of even littler significance, they couldn’t find column space even on page three of a local newspaper.
For the world beyond the district, those Dalits and Santhals hadn’t even existed. And to us, the middle class of the 60s, those poor minorities didn’t count one bit.
It would be delusional to believe that things were great then and have gotten worse only now. There were in fact countless Mohammad Akhlaqs being beaten to death then, in virtually every district, all over India – maybe not Muslim Akhlaqs but Akhlaqs all the same.
India treats it’s minorities like crap, has been treating them like crap. Factor in the widening income disparity and a day could well be nigh when the entire swathe of eastern India will burn. All that the Naxals have to do is link up with the Islamic militants and find a bridge between their ideologies.
It may already be too late to stop the disintegration.