Cow Vigilantism for Communal and Upper Caste Mobilisation
August 3, 2016
Image Courtesy Truth of Gujarat
The brutal attack in Una on four Dalit youth has brought Gujarat to a boil. The toxic activities of gau raksha samitis that have sprung up all over the country for the so-called protection of cows and supposedly Hindu values, has led to increased attack on not only Muslims but also Dalits. This was the pattern in the past, and also the pattern today. Even as the protests against the Una attacks rocked the country, Bajrang Dal targeted Dalits in Chikmaglur district in Karnataka, the eighth such attack in the last two years. This has been followed by beating of two Dalit men in Lucknow over the skinning of a dead cow. For those who may remember, five Dalits were killed in Badshapur in Haryana, only 60 kilometres from Delhi in 2002, again for skinning a dead cow.
Why is the cow such a potent symbol of Hindutva?
The answer is quite simple. The RSS-Hindutva agenda is to homogenise a Hindu identity based on the hatred towards Muslims. It is not that the cow is sacred to “us” that is important; but it is sacred to “us” and the Muslims eat it. This makes the Muslims “our” enemy. This what led to the lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri.
Though this vigilantism “works” as a weapon against the Muslims, it has the inherent danger of fracturing Hindu society. Hindutva's cow vigilantism has now brought into open the deep fissures that exist within the Brahmanical order. If the cow is indeed to be venerated, then why are all those who work for the larger cattle economy considered polluted by this work? How come if the cow is indeed their “mother”, do Dalits and not gau rakshaks, the ones burying the dead cows?
The relationship between human beings in the Brahmanical order is determined by the labour they do. For giving the upper castes milk and producing footwear that they can use, we need other castes that will tend to the cattle and who will skin and dispose off the cow once it dies. The skin will then be worked on by others for producing leather goods that the upper castes use. All those who labour in production of any kind – in productive labour such as producing milk or leather goods – are “polluted”. Those who simply consume such products of others' labour – drink milk or wear leather goods – remain “pure”. Producers are polluted; the parasites that live off the surplus of others, retain their purity. This is the complete hypocrisy of the Brahmanical order.
The Hindutva forces have tried to incorporate the other backward castes – the goalas, the ahirs, the gujjars, etc. – and co-opt them into the ranks of gau rakshaks. The flayers and the leather workers who are the most “polluted”, as they deal with dead animals and dead animal skins, and cannot be co-opted. So they do not deserve to be gau rakshaks; unless they give up their occupation. Quite often, they are also beef eaters: the dead or sick cow would be eaten by these communities. Therefore their being treated as “equivalent” to Muslims. Bezwada Wilson, the leader of the Safai Karmacharis, speaking against the beef ban at the Idea of India Conclave in May this year, identified the beef ban as an attack on the poor, because it deprives them of a major source of protein.
The attack on beef eating has spilled over to skinning dead cows, transporting skins and meat, and even cattle trade. The consequence is that a large number of cows and bulls past their prime are being simply abandoned, particularly in states that have seen severe drought. The price of cattle has fallen drastically; transportation of cattle is now much more difficult and has become a high-risk activity. Similarly, the production of leather goods and export of “beef”, which in India is largely buffalo meat, has come down quite significantly.
RSS-BJP's beef agenda may sound as a good instrument to communalise society, particularly in UP. Clearly, these are electoral ploys to marginalise the Muslims in the coming elections. Dalit protests now show the danger of such a path. The BJP has to address the Dalit slogan, “If she is your mother, you bury her”. BJP has yet to find an answer to this.
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