Did you know our Hindu ancestors ate beef?

Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Kamal Mitra ChenoyMay 06, 2017 | 14:19

Did you know our Hindu ancestors ate beef?

The history of beef-eating is ancient in India. Most people are not aware of the discussions and debates on this issue in Hindu texts. For example, beef-eating is approved in the Rig Veda as well as in older texts examined by the ancient Indian historian Professor DN Jha.

The Hindutva backlash against him was so strong some 50 years ago that he had to have a security guard. Yet, the debates are interesting as they reflect the politics of the times.


Relying on the earlier Hindu/Brahminical texts, the Shankaracharya admitted that the skeletons of jaws of large domestic animals had to be explained, to be able to decide on whether these were the skeletons of cows or any other large animal.

The Shankaracharya deftly argued that the skeletal remains, especially the jaws, were those of camels. Other Hindus, including many Brahmins, insisted that the jaws were clearly of a specific shape which made it clear that the animals eaten were cattle.

This debate on cow slaughter/beef-eating continued for centuries into the Constitution debates from 1946-49 in the Constituent Assembly. Some of the religious members prepared a draft on cow slaughter, as famous historian of the Constituent Assembly B Shiva Rao has observed in his three-volume history on the making of the Indian Constitution.

Rao was privileged because his brother BN Rau was the constitutional adviser to the Assembly. The draft based on religious principles was not acceptable to Nehru or Ambedkar.

The revised draft of what became Article 48 of the Constitution has no religious connotations. The title of Article 48 refers to "animal husbandry". It clearly states the reason of the ban on the slaughter of cows/calves "and all milch and draught cattle" is in order "to preserve and improve the breeds".


The reference to milch and draught cattle includes all bovines: cows, buffaloes, mithuns, yaks, etc. But what are the "gau rakshaks" and the Sangh Parivar doing to "preserve and improve the breeds"?

Are there anywhere near enough cow-breeding centres in our country? Photo: India Today

Are there anywhere near enough cow-breeding centres in our country? In any case, since Article 48 is a Directive Principle it, unlike a Fundamental Right, is not binding. Those who misread this Article have little to say about Article 44 on "a uniform civil code for all women". Apparently for Hindu zealots, cows are more important than women.

Article 39(c) lays down "that the concentration of wealth in the economy should not be to the common detriment". But this is just what has happened, especially from the 1960s onwards. No politician except from the diminished Left speaks about this as a Directive Principle.

Concentration of wealth leading to increased poverty is not an issue at all. Prof. Amartya Sen in 2013 calculated poverty to be 68.7 per cent in India.

The NITI Aayog, a pale imitation of the erstwhile Planning Commission, has yet to arrive at an acceptable methodology even on the real extent of rural electrification, instead of accepting a few hours a day as genuine examples of electrification. The Government of India's estimates of poverty are not taken seriously by most international scholars.


The more serious issue is majoritarianism. Can less than 80 per cent of the Indian population which is Hindu, fragmented into hundreds of castes, sub-castes, tribes, gender, classes, regions, languages, claim "unity in diversity?"

Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc, are not banned from eating beef. But is the diet of our people going to be decided by quasi-religious and majoritarian reasons?

Tragically, though not unusually, the Congress after the 1950s played the beef card. Congress leaders like Digvijaya Singh take pride in boasting of having imposed the maximum cow slaughter bans in a large number of states.

This shows the opportunism of the Congress - a major reason for its steady decline. But will other parties also line up to make laws for the diverse Indian communities' food habits?

Last updated: May 07, 2017 | 21:19
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