“Don’t kill a cow or eat its meat. This is India” say many Hindu Indians to all around. A group of persons reply: “Dietry habits are a part of our freedom. Have tolerance, don’t impose your religious beliefs and let not government ban slaughtering of cows”. Newspapers and television channels continue the debate and views on this issue chiefly reflect one’s religious beliefs. What then are other key factors here?
First, some statistics from India’s 2011 census. Hindus make up 79.8% of the population, Muslims 14.2% and Christians 2.3%. Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are each in lesser numbers than Christians.
You know that among Indians, Hindus consider the cow sacred and worship it in some way. They abhor killing of that animal or eating its meat, whoever does it. Non-vegetarians among Hindus would also feel that way, as vegetarians do. Muslims and Christians have no taboo with cow’s meat, and a tiny minority of Hindus also consume it by deliberate choice. Jains believe in not harming any living being or eating flesh of any variety. As for Sikhs and Buddhists, a very large part of them would stay away from consuming cow’s meat, by their own preference and to respect dominant Hindu sentiments.
Take a glimpse of a foreign scenario, with regard to dogs. Americans love pets, as the world knows. Reports say that all 50 states in the US have banned the sale of dog meat to the general public and its use in public restaurants. According to the Humane Society, six of them – Virginia, California, Hawaii, New York, Georgia, and Michigan – go further, specifically prohibiting the consumption of dogs and cats, i.e., even by cooking their meat for use within the home (see inhabitat.com). Wikipedia reveals that dog meat is considered taboo in Britain and France, has been prohibited in Germany and that it is not a feature of modern Japanese culture “because Japanese people believe that certain dogs have special powers in their religion of Shintoism and Buddhism” and that “in Japanese shrines certain animals are worshipped, such as dogs as it is believed they will give people a good luck charm”.
So you find a country not eating dog’s meat for religious reasons and some other countries abstaining from it for the love of the dog, one or two backing up with strict legal measures too. Even in the hugely freedom-loving United States, disallowing the killing of dogs for their meat is not considered as violating individual freedom.
If US dogs can win protection against destruction for meat, weathering arguments of “my freedom lost” or “religious intolerance”, Indian cows may surely butt aside similar arguments and have longer lives.
It looks a good majority of Muslims and Christians in India, who know that butchering a cow or eating its meat offends the sensibilities of vast numbers of Hindus, would be inclined not to do such acts – to give comfort to the Hindu majority who have been inhabiting India since centuries before other religions sprouted here – and so they peacefully accept legal bans on slaughter of cows that are in place in 21 out of 28 states and in a few union territories. In earlier periods, Mughal emperors Babur, Akbar, Jahangir, Ahmad Shah and the last of them Bahadur Shah Zafar are known to have banned slaughter of cows in their regimes in India. So did kings Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan who ruled from Mysore. Maharaja Ranjt Singh, the founder of the Sikh empire in Punjab, had also prohibited cow slaughter which remained a capital offence during the Sikh reign.
In the present day, persons of non-American origin living in the US, who could be used to dog meat, respect the American ban on that food rather than protest the law on grounds of individual freedom.
In India, it is mainly some groups of Hindu intellectuals who claim that killing a cow or eating its meat is a matter of one’s freedom and that it should be freely allowed or that banning such acts is religious intolerance – giving a false impression to many lay persons that most Indian Muslims and Christians may have a stubborn clash of ideas with Hindus on this issue.
Some of those Hindu intellectuals also argue that cow’s meat was consumed by all in India during Vedic period and till Buddhism began spreading in India, to stress that Hindus need not specially protect the cow’s life today. But I think their views are insensitive and against ground realities.
Even assuming cow’s meat was in the diet of Hindus of ancient India – about 2,000 to 4000 years ago - for several centuries past till now Hindus have been saying no to that food for religious reasons, which is enough to settle our issues. And surely, history cannot be rolled back for 2000 years – not even for 200 years, as we know, for most things in life – to urge today’s Hindus to follow the diet habits of their forefathers of such hoary past. Likewise, Indian history cannot also be unwound for a shorter length of around 1000 years for another object – that is, though Hindus of that period were converted to another religion, for that reason all their living descendants of today cannot be expected to return to the Hindu fold.
To Indians who still ask for cow’s meat to be allowed freely in this country, here is a question. If they were living as a religious minority of around 15% in a huge Muslim majority nation, would they reject the religious beliefs of that land and ask for liberty to eat pork which is taboo for Muslims, arguing that local Muslims could abstain from pork but others should be free to consume that meat? They would be wrong if they answer yes.
But the issue has another dimension, and India has more sad stories about its cows. Some humans, some animals and some natural resources are to be worshiped or treated sacrosanct by Hindus – such as one’s mother (“matru devo bhava”, means “revere your mother as God”), the cow and the river Ganges. But today they are frequently or grossly disrespected, neglected or ill-treated and defiled on our land. Among them the cow, in most cases, is not properly fed by its owner, has no shelter, and is let loose on the streets to eat rubbish along with plastic bags containing scraps of food which damage its stomach and shorten its life. It is also given harmful injections to induce an abnormal high yield of milk. Keeping in place a ban on cow slaughter is right. But saying that the animal is sacred to us and yet doing all those things to the poor cow would be a a paap or sin, isn’t it?
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