How liberals are mocking the cow in their attack against Hindutva

Anjali Lal Gupta
Anjali Lal GuptaOct 26, 2015 | 20:38

How liberals are mocking the cow in their attack against Hindutva

The gruesome murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri by a Hindutva lynch mob brought another casualty in its wake: the demonisation of the animal. Mainstream and social media are awash with memes and posters putting down the terrifying assassination to the cow.

A photo lists two columns showing "People unsafe in India" and "People safe in India". Cows figure in the latter along with rich upper caste men. Another image shows a chaddi-wearing Sanghi coming out of a cow's posterior. A sketch of a kurta-clad, tilak-sporting calf has "Mein Calf" splashed on it. "Mein Calf" appeared on the Facebook timeline of a senior professor who is well-regarded for his explorations of contemporary Hindu nationalism. A sample of the exchange I had with him:

"Me: My humble question - Is demonising the animal the antidote to Hindutva?

Professor: When/where have you seen a kurta-wearing, tilak-sporting cow? Look carefully!! For the rest of the answer to your humble question, ask Akhlaq's family.

Me: This poster is a play on Mein Kamph. It *is* demonising the animal. So, if I speak against demonising the animal am I automatically with the Hindutva goons?

Professor: I never had any doubt about your affiliations, but that is your choice. Regarding demonising of the animal, it is not an act of demonising it but simply commenting on what it has come to represent... My point always has been that a lot of people who may not like Modi, don't vote for the BJP, and might see themselves as reasonable, might still have Hindutva sympathies."

Here's my point: The appropriation of the animal both by Hindutva forces that worship it and the liberal progressive groups that ridicule it renders animal cruelty not only out of sight but also inconsequential.

Examples of animal cruelty

Examples of animal cruelty abound. According to a department of animal husbandry report produced for the tenth five-year plan, there are 2,702 authorised slaughterhouses in the country. Estimates indicate that nearly 50 per cent of animals slaughtered in urban centres are killed illegally.

A Supreme Court order passed in January 2014 had noted that there is no periodical supervision of slaughterhouses and that most of them are functioning without any licence, and even the licensed ones are not following the orders issued by the ministry of environment and forests.

Even as cows dominate the current political debate, animals slaughtered unlawfully also cover goats, sheep, poultry, buffaloes, camels and pigs.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughterhouse) Rules 2001 dictate that no animal can be slaughtered in the presence of another animal, that they have to be stunned before slaughter. Also, pregnant animals or those with offsprings less than three-months-old cannot be slaughtered. A veterinarian has to certify animals fit for slaughter. Furthermore, slaughterhouse animals have to be fed and given adequate water.

No prizes for guessing that these rules are indiscriminately flouted. Laws exist but so does corruption. What's more, laws on animal cruelty are not a priority for an overworked and apathetic police force.

"Long Distance Transport and Welfare of Farm Animals", a work of critique edited by the well-known animal scientist Michael Appleby states, "Cattle, sheep and goats (in the Indian subcontinent) are made to walk long distances to economise on the cost of transport... On trucks, animals are loaded to or above capacity, driven for long distances, often without feed and water and then slaughtered inhumanely."

Attack on animal rights activists

In stark contrast to Hindutva vigilante groups who are on the lookout for only cows, many animal lovers engage in rescue activities for a plethora of animals, including dogs, cats, goats, sheep, buffaloes, snakes, monkeys, and pigeons. Some activists are lobbying to prohibit the brutal incarceration and exploitation of elephants in Indian temples. Often this minuscule minority is attacked by the larger society.

"Voluntary workers of NGOs have at great risk to their personal safety intercepted trucks and animals on the move, confiscated them and have charged the responsible individuals with the help of police," says the volume edited by Professor Appleby.

Some of these attacks find space in newspapers. Last year Sumitra Behera was murdered in Orissa for campaigning against cock-fighting. Early this year, Ayesha Christina was beaten up by the residents of an apartment in New Delhi when she went to pick up a female dog for neutering. Last year, women activists of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), most of them Muslims, were assaulted in Bhopal for advocating a vegan Bakrid.

Why animal rights matter

Some say that we need to have a practical, unemotional approach to animals that become meat. This attitude is reminiscent of the amendment of child labour laws that now allow children below 14 to work in family enterprises and the entertainment industry. The government said it was being mindful of the socio-economic reality.

Another crucial point I want to make: Animal rights in India are reductively clubbed with upper caste right-wing politics. This is partly because in popular imagination the movement is equated with vegetarianism. But upper castes and Hindus in general don't mind the mind-boggling violence cows suffer in their daily lives. Where would the meat industry be without the dairy industry?

Forcing the cow to get pregnant, pumping her with hormones, separating her from her newborn children, milking her dry, leaving her to fend for herself in plastic-ridden garbage. Hindus don't stop to reflect what the insane quantities of sweets they produce on festivals and the gallons of milk they pour on gods' heads do to the animal. Therefore, the need to disassociate the animal rights movement that advocates less dairy and less meat from upper caste vegetarian hegemony is urgent.

Indeed many Indians concerned about animal welfare are BJP supporters. But that is no grounds for bracketing the whole of animal rights movement with regressive, divisive politics. Like any other constituency, animal rights activists are not a homogenous group. This is a disorganised movement, beset with a lot of disagreements and some consensus. Also, the assumption that only upper castes espouse animal rights is erroneous. Some of the loudest votaries of non-vegetarianism are upper castes as eating meat is associated with left-leaning or liberal politics in India.

I come from a tradition where most people eat meat. I am a single woman who lives and travels alone and does not eulogise marriage. It's plain to see I am not a Hindutva supporter. I should still have the right to dissent from the rigid, dogmatic politics of both ends of the political spectrum. Criticising the complete absence of animal welfare from progressive discourse does not naturally mean supporting Hindutva.

A Sociology professor on a recent TV panel discussion said, "Our democracy will be much stronger if we start worrying about human beings rather than animals."

I urge liberal progressive Indians to include animals in their ambit of democracy and justice. Yes, even slaughterhouse animals.

Because as Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Last updated: October 26, 2015 | 20:38
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