The holy cow and the unholy acts

The issue is about the cow being used as a symbol, rather an instrument, for targeting a particular community. Even as Hindu conservatives hail the holiness of the cow, its misuse has sullied its sanctity.

Valentine’s Day came and went but the cows kept waiting: no one came to hug them. It was, perhaps, much ado about nothing. 

It started with a government department issuing a notice asking cow lovers to celebrate February 14 as, to use its terminology, a “Cow Hug Day”. 

 For record, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the western world on February 14. 

Given that it is a concept imported from the West, the BJP had issues. Consequently, it has routinely protested and prevented people from celebrating it, thus creating law and order problems.  

In the same strain, the government department regretted the “extinction of Vedic tradition” thanks to the “dazzle of western civilization” even as it extolled the virtues of mother cow, or Gaumata as cow worshippers reverently refer to the cow. At the same time, they asked cow lovers to hug the cow on grounds that it will bring “emotional richness”. 

The notice hit headlines and the Government was on the backfoot for appropriating Valentine’s Day as the day for hugging cows. 

Of course there were concerns and interesting questions on the fate of cow huggers, were the cows unwilling. 

 Netizens apart, politicians too jumped in. 

For starters, it was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who sought to know whether the Centre would pay compensation if a cow hit the hugger. In the same strain, she demanded that the Centre should approve a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the injured person if attacked by the cow. Banerjee also wondered if the Centre would come up with a proposal asking people to hug “an ox or a buffalo” even as a BJP Minister hailed the initiative as “commendable”. 

Whether it was embarrassment or controversy, the concerned department withdrew the notification days after issuing it. 

Some rejoiced while others shed tears. 

As for tears, there were victims whose families mourned their dead. 

Barely a100 kilometers short of the country’s national capital, Delhi, two men were abducted and attacked by a mob and later set ablaze. 

The victims, Junaid and Nasir, were accused of smuggling cows. The family alleged that the victims were abducted by Bajrang Dal men. 

This incident followed the killing of another person, Waris, from the same area. He was allegedly lynched by Bajrang Dal members led by Monu Manesar. 

Of course there are conflicting versions with the Police saying that Waris died in a road accident. Incidentally, Monu Manesar is also named as accused in setting Junaid and Nasir ablaze. 

Reportedly, he had given a call for violence at a Mahapanchayat in Haryana stating that the only solution for those pointing a finger at “our religion” is to beat them up. Monu, who leads a team of over 50 cow vigilantes, is allegedly involved in nabbing cow smugglers.  

But this is not about Monu or his deeds or misdeeds. It is about the cow being used as a symbol, rather an instrument, for targeting a particular community. 

Even as Hindu conservatives hail the holiness of the cow, its misuse has sullied its sanctity. 

Who can forget the mob killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in the state of Uttar Pradesh some years ago? Akhlaq was lynched by a mob that claimed that he had killed a calf and stored its meat at home. 

Even as the Police appeared to take action, Hindu supporters damaged vehicles. Akhlaq’s family fled, even as senior BJP leaders backed the suspects. 

Under the BJP rule, the cow has acquired a special status. Statements are routinely issued to hammer the need to protect cows. Worse still, these have bordered on threats of violence in case of violations. 

Before he took over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi spoke of a “pink revolution” wherein he decried the Congress for encouraging cow slaughter: “When you slaughter an animal, the colour of its meat is pink. This is what they call a Pink Revolution…Our animals are getting slaughtered. Our livestock is getting stolen from our villages and taken to Bangladesh. The Delhi Sarkar will…give out subsidies to people who slaughter cows…” 

Way back in 2012 as Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi spoke of his heart bleeding at the Centre’s dream of bringing about a Pink revolution.   

As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi may be looking the other way but his tacit approval to cow vigilante groups cannot be ignored. Therefore, if the wayward and the self-styled rakshaks, protectors, are giving the ‘save the cow’ cry, they are only echoing what Narendra Modi and the senior leadership of the BJP have been articulating. 

However as Prime Minister, Modi did decry gau-rakshaks or the vigilante groups and said what a country’s Prime Minister should.

Having said that, one cannot take away the fact that the cow is a revered animal for the majority of Indians. 

In Hindu mythology it is showcased with several gods including Shiva and Krishna who is actually depicted as the cowherd God. Going by sacred texts, the cow appears as divine wherein its horns symbolize the Gods.  

As for governments, Uttarakhand was among the first states to take legislative steps to declare the cow as the national mother or rashtra-mata. Many others followed suit and soon politics saffronized the cow that was traditionally white and pure.  

However, much has changed with politics entering the cow-debate. 

 The BJP seems to be in sync with vigilante groups, some out of faith and others for political gain. 

If a BJP state leader wanted Akhlaq’s family to be booked for cow slaughter notwithstanding his alleged murder, a Union Minister dismissed the killing as an accident. Others have justified mob lynching which, with the BJP at the helm, is a norm. 

 Therefore, the question one needs to ask is: Should cow worship be politicized? Should its sanctity be sullied? Should politicians play havoc with the entity of an animal and use and misuse it for political gain? And how correct is it to saffronize an individual sentiment? 

Even while there are no prizes for guessing, the BJP needs to sit up and take stock of the goings on. It must put killings above political gain and ensure that the gentle cow does not become an instrument of violence. It needs to reposition itself and come across as a Party which values human lives rather than appear as a mute spectator to a communal divide. 

It may ride on a cow but it certainly cannot use it to besmear innocents. And more importantly, the senior leadership of the BJP needs to visibly leash the lumpen elements within its setup. And to do that it must first shed off some of its skin because the cow politics and its blatant misuse starts at the top be it the pink revolution or patting criminals on their back.