It should be no surprise that in India, the cow and politics go hand in hand. The Sangh Parivar’s first move to mobilise the “masses” came through the anti-cow slaughter movement of 1966. The vehicle was the then newly created Vishwa Hindu Parishad. But, the movement did not yield any political dividend, despite the unexpected, or really unanticipated, attack on Parliament in 1967 by thousands of sadhus demanding a ban on cow slaughter. In recent times we have been once again witnessing an effort to use the gentle bovine as a political vehicle by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Last month, the party’s manifestos for the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand featured issues relating to the cow.
Last week the UP election manifesto of the BJP promised a free cow for every below poverty line (BPL) family. As Mail Today correspondent Piyush Srivastava pointed out, this would involve, at a minimum, a cost of Rs 56,000 crore to the state exchequer, since there are 5.60 crore BPL families in the state, and the going rate for cows ranges from Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000. That will be approximately 33 per cent of the total state budget (Rs 1,69,416 crore in 2011-12). And the BJP is offering an additional subsidy of Rs 750 per month for a cow and Rs 500 for a buffalo to small and medium farmers which would add another Rs 17,000 crore to the bill.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, 43 per cent of the rural households in the state are landless. No doubt most of them belong to the BPL category who are barely able to feed and shelter themselves; now they will also get a cow to shelter and to feed.
Not to be outdone, the party’s Uttarakhand unit’s manifesto came up with even more far-reaching proposals. If re-elected, the BJP would encourage the production of filtered Gau Mootra (cow’s urine) in the state. Besides the usual development issues, the manifesto flagged the promotion of cow products and cow reverence in the state.
As the State unit in-charge and national general secretary Thawarchand Gehlot explained, cow’s urine would be filtered and cleaned to produce a drink called ‘ark’ which would have various benefits including curing cancer and injuries. Cow’s urine would also form the basis of medicines for treating eye and ear diseases, as well as toothpaste, detergents and aftershave. Of course, the urine would also be used for conventional requirements such as fertilisers.
There is nothing new in all this. The Sangh Parivar has long promoted the use of cow’s urine and dung as medicine. In 2010, two leading newspapers reported that an institution which was affiliated to the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh had got a US patent for an anti-cancer drug extracted from cow’s urine. Apparently the institution, Go Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra, had earlier received patents for other “bio” enhancers and anti-cancer drugs. The item also noted that the “drug” had been tested on three patients, hardly the norm for clinical trials.
A hilarious sidelight to this is that the Parivar kooks claim that the virtues of the cow are limited to Indian breeds. Some claim that the milk of foreign hybrids may even be toxic. In a “learned” article written in the Sangh Parivar journal Organiser in August 2009, Vaidya Kulamarva Jayakrishna laid out the various advantages of cow’s milk—it was nutritive, good for the eyes, brain and heart, it promoted immunity and could alleviate a variety of illnesses. But, he noted, “We have to understand that these properties have been explained in the context of desi or indigenous breed of cow and not the hybrid ones which are the major source of milk to us today.”
Cow slaughter and cow protection have been a vehicle of the Hindutva movement from the outset. Prior to the use of the Babri Masjid for the Ram Temple agitation, the Parivar had hoped to use an agitation calling for the ban of cow slaughter as its political vehicle.
This issue is still doing the rounds. In December, Madhya Pradesh’s new anti-cow slaughter bill received presidential assent. Under the new bill, the existing anti-cow slaughter law was reinforced by enhancing the punishment for killing cows and transporting beef to up to seven years’ imprisonment. The Act also gave officials draconian powers of search and arrest and, worse, put the burden of proof on the accused.
Immediately after the bill became law, there were a spate of attacks on the Muslim community by Bajrang Dal activists. This was not unexpected, since the purpose of the law was, indeed, as much to harass them as to promote “cow reverence” as a means of consolidating the Hindu community behind the BJP.
Mr Chouhan is a canny and able chief minister. Significantly, what his bill did was to amend an Act penalising cow slaughter passed when Uma Bharti was the chief minister. He is probably using the issue to cement his position with the kooks who dominate the higher echelons of the Sangh Parivar. With Modi’s PM candidacy running into a roadblock of opposition, Chouhan is clearly positioning himself as an alternative.
Hindus do not actually worship the cow. The bovine, however, has had a major role in Indian mythology, religious ritual, sentiment and everyday life. The five products of milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung form part of religious ritual. There is no revulsion to the urine or the dung of a cow. On the other hand, Indians will swear by the virtues of ghee and the value of milk and curd in their diet. Poets sing of the beauty of godhuli, the sight of the evening sun’s rays piercing the dust raised by cows coming back home from pasture.
The dung of the cow is mixed with straw to make patties which are the basic fuel in many households, and dung is also mixed with clay and used to coat the plaster of the walls of a mud-shack. When I was a child living in Almora, in the 1950s, the grandmothers of the house would often sprinkle cow’s urine on the sheets soiled by bed-wetting children. They said that it was the best thing available for removing the bad odour which would not go away with an ordinary washing. It was a primitive remedy, but life was like that—no electricity, little or no milk, eggs, sugar, or antibiotics, even for middle class families.
Given the semi-literate and cynical plane upon which politics operates in this country, it would be useless to argue that the role of the cow has actually evolved over time and that one of the most sacred texts of the Hindus, the Rig Veda, even speaks of cow sacrifice and beef eating.
I can understand why my grandmothers did what they did. The burden of tradition was heavy on them. In a primitive economy, the cow did play a big role in the lives of ordinary folk. Religion sanctified it and practice, such as the use of cow dung for fuel, cemented it. Cows remain an important part of Indian life even today, but not on the plane that the Parivar wants them to be.
But my memories are of an era when smallpox and TB were big killers, and penicillin had just about arrived in India; a lot has changed since. But it would be worthwhile exploring just what it is that is impelling the BJP to hark back to that era and beyond in its quest for political moksha.
Mail Today February 4, 2012