The myth of Gandhi’s cow love
Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in a tearing hurry because as he confessed in the Preface to the first edition of Hind Swaraj:
Had I not known there was a danger of methods of violence becoming popular, even in South Africa, had I not been called upon by hundreds of my countrymen, and not a few English friends, to express my opinion on the Nationalist movement in India, I would have refrained for the sake of the struggle, from reducing my views to writing. But, occupying the position that I do, it would have been cowardice on my part to postpone publication under the circumstances just referred to. (Preface to Hind Swaraj, March 20, 1910)
Gandhi launched a veiled attack against Tilak over the issue of cow protection. Tilak was a leading member of the Gow-Rakshak Mandali in Pune. Gandhi attacked Tilak in Hind Swaraj over cow protection without naming him when Tilak was already jailed in Mandalay and could therefore not rebut Gandhi’s queer views on cow slaughter and cow protection.
I myself respect the cow; that is I look upon her with affectionate reverence. The cow is the protector of India because it being an agricultural country is dependent on the cow’s progeny. She is the most useful animal in hundreds of ways.
But just as I respect the cow, so do I respect my fellow-men. A man is just as useful as a cow, no matter whether he be a Mahomedan or a Hindu.
When the Hindus became insistent, the killing of cows increased. In my opinion, cow protection societies may be considered cow-killing societies. It is a disgrace to us that we should need such societies. (Hind Swaraj, Chapter Ten, The Condition of India Contd.)
The First War of Independence 1857 galvanized the Hindu nation against British rule and armed resistance to British rule was organized around cow slaughter and cow protection. The anti-cow-slaughter movement by local Gosamrakshana Samitis and Gow-Rakshak Mandalis (Gosamrakshana movement 1860-1920) was led by Hindu sadhus, community leaders and Hindu nationalists. The movement gathered tremendous momentum and spread across the country.
The intense Hindu anger over increasing cow slaughter was viewed with great concern by the British government and empire loyalists in the INC. Gandhi’s veiled attack against Tilak, and by implication against cow protection movement as a Hindu issue, and against the readiness of Hindus to die for cow protection was aimed at de-Hinduising cow protection as a sacred Hindu dharmic responsibility and with far-sighted intent to make it an agricultural and animal husbandry issue. Gandhi bhaktas always react to any criticism of Gandhi by reproducing copiously what Gandhi said about cow slaughter and religious conversion and about Christian missionaries. However, Gandhi will be judged by the end product of his toil – what is the condition of the Hindu nation today because of the kind of politics which Gandhi forced upon the INC?
Years later when the Constituent Assembly would meet to draft the Indian Constitution, Nehru would oppose making cow protection a fundamental right and would instead consign it to some obscure corner in the constitution under Directive Principles which would word cow protection in Gandhi’s and Nehru’s own language of scientific agriculture and animal husbandry.
Gandhi renews attack against Tilak
After Gandhi’s return to India was manipulated to coincide with Tilak’s return in 1915, Gandhi did not care to watch his language or demeanor with Tilak whenever their paths crossed. Gandhi had little to show for himself academically or on the professional front. Tilak on the other hand was a scholar of Sanskrit, Mathematics, Marathi and astronomy. Tilak was also the most towering Hindu leader of the times. And yet, the language that Gandhi used against Tilak contrasts sharply with the language Gandhi used with officers of the British government and even their staff. Gandhi, on two public occasions and in Tilak’s presence held up Queen Victoria, Lady Dufferin and Lady Chelmsford as examples worthy for Tilak to emulate.
On Mr. Jinnah moving in Gujarati, the resolution on the Congress League Scheme for Reforms, Gandhiji thanked him, saying: Mr. Jinnah has laid me under an obligation by agreeing to my suggestion. He is at present a member of the Imperial Legislative Council. But, at no distant date, he will have to approach Hindus and Muslims, Ghanchis, Golas and others not knowing English, for votes. He should, therefore, learn Gujarati if he does not know it.
On Lokamanya B. G. Tilak rising to address the meeting, the question arose in what language he should speak. Gandhiji remarked: You want to have swaraj; you should then show respect to the man whom you have elected to conduct the meeting. Mr. Tilak understands, but he cannot speak Gujarati. He will only speak in his mother tongue. Though he is advanced in years, it would be but proper if he engages a Gujarati teacher and picks up the language. We belong to the Bombay Presidency and should, therefore, learn both languages in order that we might know what the people feel. Queen Victoria learned Urdu. (Speech at Gujarat Political Conference, Godhra, November 4, 1917, Vol. 16, pp 131-132)
It would be a great advantage if Lokamanya Tilak would speak in Hindi. He should, like Lord Dufferin and Lady Chelmsford, try to learn Hindi. Even Queen Victoria learned Hindi. It is my submission to Malaviyaji that he should see to it that, at the Congress next year, no speeches are made in any language except Hindi. My complaint is that, at the Congress yesterday, he did not speak in Hindi.
[Gandhiji addressed the Conference which was held at the Alfred Theatre, under the presidentship of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. It was attended, among others, by Madan Mohan Malaviya and Sarojini Naidu.] (Speech at National Language Conference, December 30, 1917, Vol. 16 page 188)
Gandhi’s fawning expressions of loyalty to British monarchs and the empire have already been documented. Contrast Gandhi’s syrupy language in his letters to the Viceroy and to J L Maffey, Secretary to the Viceroy around the same time as he was diminishing Tilak publicly before other leaders of the INC.
Thus Champaran and Kaira affairs are my direct, definite and special contribution to the war. Ask me to suspend my activities in that direction and you ask me to suspend my life. If I could popularize the use of soul-force which is but another name for love-force, in the place of brute force, I know that I could present you with an India that could defy the whole world to do its worst. I write this because I love the English Nation, and I wish to evoke in every Indian the loyalty of the Englishman. (Letter to the Viceroy, New Delhi, April 29, 1918, CWMG Vol. 17, pp 7-10)
The Viceroy looked pale yesterday. My whole heart went out to him as I watched him listening to speeches. May God watch over and protect him and you, his faithful and devoted Secretary. I feel you are more than a secretary to him. (Letter to JL Maffey, October 1918, CWMG Vol. 17, pp 12-13)
Dear Mr. Maffey,
You will not consider that I was discourteous in not sending even an acknowledgment of your last letter. The fact is that I have treasured that letter as worthy of you and the friendship that I hope will ever exist between us, no matter what differences of opinion and standpoint there may be between us. (Letter to JL Maffey, April 14, 1919, CWMG Vol. 17, pp 418-19)
A year later on the very day that Tilak passed away, Gandhi in typical Mahatma Brutus style made laudatory references to Tilak’s scholarship and in the same breath said it was not necessary to observe three days hartal and that one day would suffice. But Gandhi was not averse to Provincial Congress governments from celebrating his birthday for an entire week as Gandhi Jayanthi week. After insultingly holding up Queen Victoria and Lady Chelmsford as inspiring models for Tilak to learn Hindi, unmindful that he was diminishing a great scholar, Gandhi praises Tilak’s genius after his death.
I have your letter. I don’t at all like the idea of a three-day hartal. I can understand a hartal for one day. If we would really show our veneration, my preference is for some constructive work. We should, therefore, reflect over his good qualities and try to cultivate them in ourselves.
He was devoted to learning and had a wonderful command over his mother tongue and Sanskrit; we, too, if we do not love or know our mother tongue well enough, should love and know it better. We should improve our proficiency in the mother tongue and in Sanskrit. ((Excerpt from Letter to Dayalji, August 1, 1920, CWMG Vol 21 page 107)
Annie Besant snubs Gandhi
Gandhi would gain total control of the INC only in August 1920 when Tilak passed away. Between 1915 when Gandhi retuned to India and 1920, Gandhi had to contend with Annie Besant and Tilak.
Annie Besant was not impressed with Gandhi and on one occasion, in Benares at the function to inaugurate the Benares Hindu University, Gandhi mocked at the assembly of Hindu rajas and maharajas sitting on the dais. Annie Besant rebuked Gandhi sharply for his disrespect and with the Hindu princes including the Maharaja of Darbhanga, walked out of the function before Gandhi could complete his speech.
Gandhi’s conduct in Benares and the news that all Hindu princes left the function midway in protest had spread quickly to many parts of the country. Gandhi was questioned repeatedly about the events in BHU and he was compelled to offer a written reply.
Mrs. Besant’s reference in ‘New India’ and certain other references to the Benares Incident perhaps render it necessary for me to return to the subject however disinclined I may be to do so. So far as my remarks are concerned, I am yet unable to know what it was in my speech that seems to her to be open to such exception as to warrant her interruption.
And in order to show how short we fell of our duty, I drew attention to the dirty condition of the labyrinth of lanes surrounding the great temple of Kashi Viswanath and the recently erected palatial buildings without any conception as to the straightness or the width of the streets. I then took the audience to the gorgeous scene that was enacted on the day of the foundation and suggested that if a stranger not knowing anything about Indian life had visited the scene, he would have gone away under the false impression that India was one of the richest countries in the world— such was the display of jewellery worn by our noblemen. And turning to the Maharajas and the Rajahs, I humorously suggested that it was necessary for them to hold those treasures in trust for the nation before we could realize our ideals, and I cited the action of the Japanese noblemen who considered it a glorious privilege, even though there was no necessity for them, to dispossess themselves of treasures and lands which were handed to them from generation to generation. (Reply to Mrs. Besant, before February 17, 1916, CWMG Vol. 15 pp 179-182)
Such was Gandhi’s haste to establish himself as thinker and leader that he saw in every meeting he attended, and in every event, an opportunity to take a dig at all those he had to diminish if he had to redirect the INC in the new direction that had been decided by the empire loyalists in the INC and the British government.
Not only did Gandhi give bizarre definitions and descriptions of our civilisational history as contained in our itihasa, he diminished all Hindu customs, rituals and practices. It cannot be said of Gandhi that he was clumsy or that he did not have the requisite training for public conduct. Gandhi knew what he was saying, where he was saying it and to which audience he was saying it.
In Benares, it did not matter to Gandhi that the Hindu princes were honoured guests of Pandit Malaviya and it did not matter to him that he was belittling Hindu rulers and belittling one of the most sacred temples for Hindus in the presence of the Viceroy. Almost as if he enjoyed wounding Hindu sensibilities, Gandhi within ten days of his unacceptable speech at Benares, once again speaks irreverently about the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at a meeting of Christian missionaries and Christian social charity workers in Madras.
I have been asked to speak to you this evening about social Service.
Our Chair Lady was good enough to take me to the Pariah Village just behind the compound of the Bishop’s house and described to me the condition that little village was in before this League commenced its operations there. After seeing the village, I make bold to state that it is a model of cleanliness and order and it is much cleaner than some of the busiest and the most central parts of Madras.
The streets of Kashi, the most sacred place for the Hindus, are dirty. The same dirt was to be seen even in the sanctuary where the din and noise was very great. In such a place there should be perfect orderliness, peace, silence, gentleness and humility. All these things, I regret to say, were conspicuous by their absence. The priests do not accept anything less than a rupee from the devotees. That could not have been the position of Kashi Viswanath in ages gone by. When people are transported to Kashi in a railway Express by millions and when the surroundings are altered, one condition of orderly progress is that people should respond to the new conditions. What is true of Kashi Viswanath is true in the majority of cases in our holy temples. (Speech at Madras Social Service League, Madras February 16, 1919, CWMG Vol. 15 pp 175-79)
Gandhi’s call to boycott Hindu temples
Having turned the Indian National Congress away from being a political vehicle for total political freedom from colonial rule, Gandhi transformed the INC into a social service instrument.
Gandhi had made temple boycott an inviolable diktat to all Congress men and women and to all inmates in his ashrams. If Gandhi publicly humiliated Tilak and Hindu Princes, he did not spare his wife either. Gandhi had made temple entry a Congress agenda and he issued an explicit order – Congress men and women and all Hindus who accepted him as their leader should not enter temples or offer worship if those temples did not permit harijans to enter the temples for worship.
At a public meeting of the Gandhi Seva Sangh in Delang, Gandhi denounced Kasturba in his public speech at which were also present his sambandi Kishorelal Mashruwala, Jamnalal Bajaj, JB Kripalani and other INC members and functionaries.
As with everything else that Gandhi did, he assumed a needless maximalist and extreme position on issues which cannot be altered or changed by force. And yet, Gandhi wanted to change Hindu practices with force and through coercion instead of the more practical and workable alternative – to work among the people within their own societies to bring about a change in attitude.
While it is inconceivable that any Indian politician would dare to impose the condition that religious Christians and Muslims should not enter Churches and Mosques for worship, Gandhi not only imposed this condition on religious Hindus but also punished those who violated his orders. With Gandhi, dissent was always disloyalty. In classic ‘throw the baby with the bathwater’ style, Gandhi proclaimed dramatically that it is his daily prayer that if untouchability does not perish then Hinduism should perish.
Yesterday I decided to remain silent on what I am now going to say.
The various items of constructive activity that you are doing are only outward expressions of truth and ahimsa.
The removal of untouchability is one of the highest expressions of ahimsa. It is my daily prayer, as it should be the prayer of you all, that if untouchability does not perish, it were far better that Hinduism perished.
And I have declared day in and day out that whoever believed in the removal of untouchability should shun temples which were not open to harijans. Now how could I bear the thought of my wife or my daughters having gone to such temples? I would plead with them, would go on bended knees to dissuade them from going to these temples, and might have to deny myself personal ties with them if my entreaties failed.
But Gandhi did not plead nor did he go down on bended knees before Ba—he threatened to sever all personal ties with her in a public meeting. He threatened to sever ties with a woman who had lived her entire life in silent grief as her husband conducted the most sinful and un-Hindu experiment in brahmacharya with other women after officially giving up marital sex in South Africa.
If their faith could be identified with mine I could reason also with the people. “What is the use of such temples”?
I sent them to Puri not to go into the temple, but to stand where the harijans were allowed to go and refuse in protest to go beyond the limit. That would have been the right propaganda and that way they would have done harijan service.
If we do not go even to the temples which have been regarded as sacred for hundreds and thousands of years, where such great men as Chaitanya have gone to worship, where we long to go, simply because our harijan brothers are not allowed, it would be a great act of dharma and if God really is in the temples, as we believe, it will certainly have its effect.
The pandas had come there and said harijans could go along with us. Quite correct. For the panda a silver coin is God. I therefore prevented Rajendra Babu’s sister from going in. some may say I exerted undue pressure. I would say I saved her from adharma. If I intruded, it was in the name of religion. (Speech at Gandhi Seva Sangh, Delang, March 30, 1938, CWMG Vol. 73, pp 68-71)
As Viceroy Irwin astutely observed in 1931, Gandhi would never do and he would not allow the Congress to do anything which would cause difficulty to the British Government or the British Empire.
In the 1930s decade Gandhi instigated the INC to foment unrest in several Hindu Princely States and precipitate social tensions and instability either in the name of temple entry or civil liberties. This was a phrase known to Gandhi and which he used on many occasions when speaking of the Indian Princely states. Mysore, Rajkot, Jaipur, Travancore, Coachin, Talcher and Dhenkanal – all these Princely States bore the brunt of INC-led and instigated social and political reform movements. Needless to say, neither Gandhi nor the INC dared to foment similar tensions in territories ruled by Muslim Nawabs and Nizams. A decade later, Nehru would make common cause for civil liberties with Sheikh Abdullah and create acute problems for the Hindu king of Jammu and Kashmir.
To be continued
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based political analyst. She is also author and animal activist.