As a beef-eating Hindu, I am utterly outraged at the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri by a Hindu mob claiming the man had beef in his house. Even worse is the attempt of BJP politicians to sanitize the lynching.
Culture minister Mahesh Sharma claims it was just “an accident.” Former MLA Nawab Singh Nagar says those who dare hurt the feelings of the dominant Thakurs should realize the consequences. He claims the murderous mob consisted of “innocent children” below 15 years of age. Many BJP leaders blame the Muslims for eating beef. Vichitra Tomar wants cow-killers to be arrested, not Muslim killers. Srichand Sharma says violence is inevitable if Muslims disrespect Hindu sentiments. Sorry, but these are all lame excuses for murder.
Mob fury at Dadri began when a temple priest said a calf had been killed. Later, the priest admitted he had been pressured to make this false statement by two Hindu youths. So, this was a planned, murderous riot.
The police have sent the meat found in Akhlaq’s house to determine whether it was beef or mutton. Why? How does it matter? The mob will be just as guilty of murder if it is beef. Muslims have every legal right to eat beef, just as I do. Several states have bans on cow slaughter, while allowing the slaughter of bulls and buffaloes. But there is no ban on eating beef.
Hindus who hear a cow has been slaughtered can ask the police to investigate a possible violation of cow slaughter laws. But if instead they organize lynch mobs, they are murderous thugs, and should be treated as such. If Modi refuses to condemn such incidents, he will, rightly, be seen as blessing them.
The claim that all Hindus oppose cow slaughter is false. Yes, there is a strong upper-caste tradition today against beef, but Dalits and tribals have always eaten beef. “Beef is one of the most affordable sources of protein for the Dalit community,” says Mohan Dharavath, president, Dalit Adivasi Bahujan and Minority Students’ Association.
Ancient Hindu scriptures establish beyond doubt that even upper-caste Hindus and great rishis ate beef in days of yore. For a quick primer, read Nirad Chaudhuri’s ‘The Continent of Circe’. He says, “Love of cows in the Vedas goes with every possible economic use of cattle, including, of course, their slaughter for food”. There was a long debate, says Chaudhuri, between opponents and defenders of cow slaughter. The two ideas co-existed, very much like the debate today about vegetarianism. The Mahabharata mentions, “without thinking it necessary to add any excuse, that a very hospitable king used to have 20,100 cattle slaughtered every day for his guests.” On the other hand, another story tells of a king who has slaughtered a cow to entertain a sage, an act that is criticized as sinful by another sage.
Such differences and debates were the very essence of ancient Hinduism. It was not a rigid religion. By the time the Dharma Shastras were penned, beef consumption had “ceased or virtually ceased”. Nevertheless, Bhavabuti’s famous play, Uttara-Rama-Charitra, written in the 8th century AD, has the following dialogue between two hermit boys at Ayodhya, Saudahataki and Dandayana.
D: It is no less a person than the revered Vasishta himself.
S: Is it Vasishta, eh?
D: Who else?
S: I thought it was a tiger or a wolf. For, as soon as he came, he crunched up our poor tawny heifer.
D: It is written that meat should be given along with curds and honey. So every host offers a heifer, a big bull, or a goat to a learned Brahmin who comes as a guest. This is laid down in sacred law.
In India today, such a play would be banned, and its author threatened with death. But ancient Hindu traditions gave Bhavabuti an honoured place in literature, with no censorship or fear of mob lynching. The modern intolerance of Hindu goons is a cruel rejection of great Hindu traditions.
In ancient times, neither untouchables nor tribals were regarded as Hindus. Early 19th century censuses did not count dalits and tribals as Hindus. But modern Hinduism claims as its own these two groups whom it cruelly reviled and oppressed through the ages. I am all for the change. But that change must allow for the fact that Dalits and tribals have always eaten beef.
As a libertarian believer in free choice, I have always championed the freedom to eat anything one likes. But I also claim the right to eat beef as part of the ancient Hindu tradition highlighted by Bhavabuti. As a Brahmin, I am happily following in the footsteps of the sage Vasiishta.