Recently, I chanced to read an article authored by Wendy Doniger, distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago, USA, about Hinduism and its cow history. Wendy is known for her controversial position about Hinduism. Consequently, her antagonism towards the Hindutva forces (which includes Modi, RSS, and the BJP) – is understandable.
Interestingly, instead of well-reasoned arguments backed by appropriate evidence, what one finds in the article is little more than mud-slinging. Facts have been twisted, contextual background avoided (probably to misguide the reader) and a blatant politically partisan stand taken which seems to echo the opposition parties in India. Is it appropriate for academics to lose objectivity and compromise integrity? Also, the lack of insight in Indian society and politics, as is apparent from the article in question, comes as a surprise on the background of her claim that she is researching on India for over 50 years. It is also amusing to find that to build her case, the distinguished professor of Chicago university takes up cudgels against a class 3 pass Sadhvi Sarawati from rural India!
I provide below a point-by-point rebuttal of Wendy’s article in the following paragraphs.
Sadhvi Saraswati suggested that ‘those who consumed beef should be publicly hanged’.
The Sadhvi is a 23-year-old sanyasi from rural Madhya Pradesh. Her actual words were those who consider eating beef ‘as a status symbol should be hanged’. The comments made in June 2017, probably followed the backdrop of public slaughter of a calf (end May 2017) by Kerala state youth congress workers – eventually booked under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The incidence was criticised by many including the left parties that rule the state. By dropping the words ‘as a status symbol’, did Wendy try to create an impression that the Sadhvi meant all beef consumers? Furthermore, citing the Kerala incident, could have helped readers understand the provocation behind such unjustifiable remarks.
At the Sadhvi’s conclave Chetan Sharma, an animal rights activist said ‘“Cow is also the reason for global warming. When she is slaughtered, something called EPW is released, which is directly responsible for global warming. It’s what is called emotional pain waves.”
This time Wendy provides a direct quote of Chetan (a concession not offered to Sadhvi) which Wendy considers ‘provocative’.
Interestingly, the United Nation’s FAO (2013) found that ‘Beef and cattle milk production account for the majority of emissions, respectively contributing 41 and 20 percent of the sector’s emissions’. As for ‘emotional pain waves’ reference of Chetan, Panksepp, (2011) cited by Grandin and Dressing (2014) found that ‘the emotional systems serving as drivers for behaviour are located in the subcortex and are similar in all mammals. ‘Neuroscientists describe the course of emotions as a wave’. The European legislation on animal slaughtering prescribes procedures to make the animal unconscious before killing since consciousness refers to the ability to feel emotions in the animal. Chetan probably made the statement following research by Dr Bajaj of Delhi university on emotional pain wave theory. Chetan may not be familiar with the scientific details thereof, but people do repose faith in academic research just as they do in Wendy’s theories. Academics know all theories are tentative.
‘…vigilante Hindu groups in India are lynching people for eating beef. Such killings have increased since Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata party came to power in September 2014. In September 2015, a 50-year-old Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched by a mob…’.
The Akhlaq incident took place in 2015 in Uttar Pradesh state ruled then by Samajwadi Party. Under the Indian law, police work under the state government. Yet Modi baiters hold him accountable. Did the Americans hold the President accountable for the recent lynching of Sikhs?.
IndiaSpend analysis (cited by Wendy) found that during 2010-2017, 28 Indians were killed due to mob lynching in 63 incidences of violence. The analysis found that 97% of the attacks took place after Prime Minister Modi came to power in 2014. Of these 63 incidences, 32 or half took place in the states ruled by Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
The data itself shows that half the cases took place in non-BJP ruled states, however, this fact gets hidden by the words ‘after Prime Minister Modi came to power’. How can Modi be blamed for lynching incidences in non-BJP-ruled states? Post Card reported that during 2012 when the left-backed UPA was in power, 25 cases of lynching took place in just one year while 14 lynching cases happened in 2013 – that is, before Modi took over. In West Bengal, during 1982-1984 communist rule, more than 630 cases of lynching took place.
While Wendy’s focus is on cow-related lynching, to put the issue in context she could have apprised the readers about the 1984 mob lynching of 3,000 Sikhs in 1984 in Delhi under Congress Party rule. It is shameful that 30 years have passed and yet the accused are roaming free. Did Wendy deliberately avoid the reference thereto as the cow-related lynching pales in comparison?
To put Indian lynching in context, Wendy may also like to apprise the readers that USA is among the top countries in the world in firearm related homicides and provide update of EJI report on lynching in America.
Modi’s government has also prohibited the slaughter of buffalo, thus destroying the Muslim-dominated buffalo meat industry and causing widespread economic hardship.
The prohibition imposed by Uttar Pradesh government headed by Yogi after BJP won state elections in 2017 is applicable only for ‘illegal slaughter houses’?. Interestingly, neither Wendy nor the New York Times (NYT) article that she cites checked that the ban was imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015 since the illegal slaughter houses posed health hazard. The Samajwadi Party then in power shelved the issue for two years fearing alienation of its Muslim vote bank. Yogi implemented the NGT decision. The banned slaughter houses can follow environmental norms and seek a fresh licence .
Article 48 of the Indian Constitution bans cow slaughter. Accordingly, years before Modi came to power, laws were put in place by most (24 out of 29) states. Yet an impression is being conveyed as though everything changed after Modi came to power. But Wendy doesn’t apprise readers of this.
As for animal slaughter, the US government put a ban on the slaughter of dogs and cats recently and so also a South Korean court. The cow provides milk, calves, and bio-fertiliser and India’s rural economy heavily depends on animals. Furthermore, cow-urine is a bio-enhancerand two US patents and one Chinese patent exist for medicinal properties of cow-urine.
While Prof Jha’s writings on beef-eating (cited by Wendy) would be examined in a separate article, suffice it to say here that (a) the sporadic references that he provides are mainly from the Samhitas and Brahmanas- the Karma Kanda. Hindu philosophy developed post Karma Kanda in the Upanishads (b) the references are to Vedic gods eating beef (e.g. Jha p 31). Inferring from such scanty evidence that beef-eating was common appears far-fetched. The Vedic texts are full of reverence for the cow, for example, Rigvedic Hymn [06-028] HYMN XXVIII is exclusively about cows. Verse 5 of the Hymn notes ‘To me the Cows seem Bhaga, they seem Indra, they seem a portion of the first-poured Soma’. According to Dalmiya. (1972) after 1875 sepoy rebellion against the British (the cartridges had tallow -cow fat), a deliberate attempt was made for legitimisation, through ‘enlisted scholars’ by hunting down references from scriptures about beef eating. Does the Marxist background of Prof Jha become relevant here? Scholars carefully weigh the evidence before drawing conclusions.
If we are to generalise from sporadic references, can we similarly say that Christian society was cannibalistic in Biblical time given references to cannibalism in the Bible and it is ok therefore for Christians today to be cannibals? See for example, Leviticus 26:29 ‘You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters’ and also Jeremiah 19:9; Deuteronomy 28:53-57; Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 2:20; 4:10; or Ezekiel 5:10  .
One of the implicit objects of this movement was the oppression of Muslims.
The Constituent Assembly which also had Muslim members ‘after viewing the problem from all angles, [they] came to the unanimous decision that slaughter of cattle should be stopped’. In 1958, a Muslim judge heading the Supreme Court bench, upheld the law against cow slaughter. Mr Bhargava a Constituent Assembly member noted ‘to grow more food and to improve agriculture and the cattle breed are all inter-dependent and are two sides of the same coin……from both points of view, of agriculture and food, protection of the cow becomes necessary’. He added ‘even during the Muslim rule, Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and even in the reign of Aurangzeb, cow slaughter was not practised in India’. It was also pointed out that there was ban on cow-slaughter in China, Afghanistan and other countries then. Given this background of cow protection in the Indian constitution, the ‘oppression of Muslims’ argument becomes untenable.
Gandhi’s ‘insistence on cow protection was a major factor in his failure to attract large-scale Muslim support’.
Interestingly, to support the claims made here, Wendy cites her own work twice! Academics provide third-party corroboration not self-attestation. Furthermore, Wendy selectively quotes Gandhi. Venkatraman (2017) provides a complete picture of Gandhi’s thoughts on cow protection. Gandhi cited the Koran to persuade Muslims to refrain from cow slaughter.
‘From my perspective, in our day, the nationalist and fundamentalist “Hindutva” (“Hindu-ness”) movement is attempting to use this notion of the sanctity of the cow to disenfranchise Muslims’.
‘To disenfranchise a group of people means to take away their right to vote’. Disenfranchising a segment would be unconstitutional. Using the word ‘disenfranchising’ also demonstrates lack of understanding of the political scenario in India which has 180 million Muslims and they can influence the outcome in more than 200 parliamentary constituencies out of over 500. Consequently, no political party can afford to alienate Muslims. The data whether from Gujarat. UP or Karnataka’s show that BJP won in Muslim-dominated areas too.
The word fundamentalist was used to describe the American Protestantism. Using it for other religions is what Munson (n.d.) calls ‘a kind of Eurocentric “conceptual imperialism’. Hinduism is not an organised religion -not a ‘ism’ at all- but a way of life. Wendy’s use of words such as Hindu hate-brigade come as a surprise. Can she cite any verse in the voluminous Hindu literature which directs Hindus to kill those who worship other gods as Christianity does: ‘stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God’. Hinduism’s concept of whole world as one family (vasudhaiva kutumbakam) ipso facto negates the charge of nationalism and fundamentalism.
‘Lower-caste Hindus are also being attacked’
Does Wendy become more political when she notes that lower-caste Hindus are the target of lynching by Hindutva forces since 1923 and yet finds during 1923 -2017, only one incidence in 2002 to further her argument and another of 2015 -both under BJP regime at the centre? The fringe elements involved in lynching, in a country of over one billion, does not define Hindutva.
Why did Wendy not tell the readers that many attacks (may not be cow-related) on lower-castes took place during the Congress Party rule of over 60 yearsas well? Why does she avoid a mention that Muslims too attacked lower castes,? Prime Minister Modi has himself publicly condemned cow-related lynching twice. But Wendy doesn’t tell this fact to the readers. Neither does she tell us why the lower castes still overwhelmingly vote for BJP. That the lower-castes and the Muslims, traditional vote banks of the Congress Party have shifted to BJP is an eye sore for that party, but why should that be for Wendy- a professor?
Here, one is reminded of Mayo (1927)’s book Mother India – a blatant distortion of facts about Hindus and India. Gandhi commented:
‘‘This book is cleverly and powerfully written. The carefully chosen quotations give it the false appearance of a truthful book. But the impression it leaves on my mind is that it is the report of a drain inspector ………. examining the drains…. But she declared her abominable and patently wrong conclusion with a certain amount of triumph: ‘the drains are India’.
Could we say the same about Wendy’s article?
Milind Sathye is an Australian academic. Views expressed in this article are personal views of
the author as a private citizen
Featured Image: Frontier University of Chicago/ Amazon