Monday, November 12, 2007

India: Cow verses Buffalo Nationalism

India: Cow verses Buffalo Nationalism
Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are cataclysmic changes taking place in India at various levels. This process of change is also seen at cultural nationalism whose contours are being redefined in the country. There is a tug of war going on between those who see Indian nationalism as by product of anti colonial movement and those who define nationalism in terms of India’s hoary past which they call as Hindutva. In the new political discourse, the modern secular vision is pitted against religious and cultural moorings of the country.

Those marketing Hindutva ideology as Indian nationalism are also trying to interlink it with Cow nationalism. They feel that cow was a scared animal in ancient Indian Hindu tradition and therefore assumes central place in cultural nationalism of the country.

The cow debate opened up by the BJP to rally the Hindu majority votes in its favour is an old wine in new bottle. The Hindu Mahasbha did the same in the 1930’s and 40’s to placate the Hindu constituency in opposition to the Indian National Congress, which was representative of all the section of the society. Its avatar, the Jansangh, which was formed in 1967, carried forward the same arguments, and now its successor the BJP is beating the same drum.

The argument runs as follows; Cow is a scared to the Hindus because it is considered to be auspicious and every Indian wants to posses it for luck and fortune. It’s a common sight in rural India to see a well-decorated cow making rounds of houses and people coming out and praying in reverence before it.

Cow has assumed the status of mother in India because its milk is digestive and infants is fed upon it as a substitute to the mother’s milk. Students prefer cow milk to others because it sharpens their brain and raises their IQ level. Even the cows dung and urine have mendicant value. Most of the rural Indian mud houses are painted of Cow dung and its urine is applied and drunk as a medicine to cure certain ailments.

These arguments have built a halo around the animal and cow has become a holy creature to be worshiped by every Indian. Any attempt to degrade its sacredness is considered to be as anti- national activity.

The incidence of Jhajhar, a sleepy town in Haryana, is fresh in memories where four Dalits were lynched to death by a Hindu mob because they dealt in the profession of hyde and kin of dead cows. These Dalit Hindus who have been carrying out their ancestral profession suddenly became anti-national; because some Hindu zealots thought that they were degrading the cow, their national symbol.

The issue of cow slaughter and selling beef too has become a political issue in India. Certain states have made laws against cow slaughter and selling of beef as a punishable offence. Hindu parties castigate Muslims and Christians for eating beef. There are periodic protests in front of star hotels over serving of beef by some Hindu organisations who say that it is a degradation of the sanctity of the holy cow.

A new twist has emerged in this tale when the downtrodden section of the Hindu society called Dalits have entered in the debate challenging the Cow as a symbol of Indian nationalism. They argue the case that instead of Cow, the Buffalos should be considered as a national symbol of India. Leading the debate is the Dalit intellectual Kancha Ilaiah who redefines conventional Indian thoughts in his new book “Buffalo nationalism”. In opposition to cow nationalism, which represents fair, Aryan, Brhaimincal forces, Ilaiah propounds, Buffalo nationalism, representing the Dalits, the indigenous dark, Dravidian race of India.

Ilaiah while enumerating the virtues of Buffalo, says that India has largest number of buffalos which contributes to three fourth of the country’s dairy economy. In rural India, people find Buffalo’s as a cost effective animal and like to have them it in their houses. The people of rural India have natural kinship with buffalos along with other animals like the goats and cows.

Ilaiah asks, why in spite of all these virtues, cow is preferred over buffalo to be revered as a national animal. He answers, saying that it is because of Brahmincal conspiracy that Buffalo has been decried as dumb and useless animal. He argues that Cow is preferred over Buffalo because it is black and considered ugly by the upper caste Hindus. Ilaiah says that since Brahmins worship cow they have made it sacred and holy. He points out that since Hinduism is marketed by Brahmanis, Cow is preferred over the buffalo as a symbol of Indian nationalism.

Ilahia says, all these years there was a Brahmincal conspiracy to keep Buffalo as an invisible animal because it is a symbol of Dalits. He asserts that Dalit resurgence would not allow such canard to make rounds any more and such conspiracy needs to be exposed. Ilahia says, it is time to pit Buffalo nationalism against cow nationalism and let the people decide which symbol they prefer and why.

Ancient Indian Historian DN Jha also has countered the cow nationalism theory. He says Hindu political parties reference of ancient India to justify cow nationalism is historically incorrect. Jha argues that Brahmins use to eat beef in ancient India and the animal was freely sacrificed then to evoke blessings from the gods and goddesses. His thesis is that the sacredness of the cow is a later date phenomena and not that of ancient Indian history.

The debate, which was initiated by the protagonist of cow nationalism against the rational secular nationalist forces, is far from being settled. The entry of the Dalits has brought a new angle to by propounding buffalo nationalism and challenging the Brahminical myth of cow nationalism as a cultural symbol of India. This has generated a great deal of interest among followers of other religions who would too like to participate in this national discourse. Their submission is India comprises not of one but of several faiths and all should be blended in complete harmony and there should not be any ill will among them.

One inference that is drawn from cow verses buffalo nationalism is the opening of vistas for the myriad layers of Indian identity to participate in this political discourse. The cultural debate, which is opened up, may not get over so soon, but whenever it does so, the counters of Indian nationalism would not remain the same what it looks at the moment. The entry of new forces and assertion of their identity is a sign that democracy is getting broad based in India.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in chennai, india. He can be contacted at

1 comment:

Harsha said...

Dear Sir,

It was a good reading. Cow economics or buffalo, it is the livestock that matters. Beef industry is nothing but opening of slaughterhouses. Either Islam, Bible or Vedic scriptures never told of having slaughterhouses. These sluaghterhouses amount to be a major contributor to the ecological balance and a major environment threat. It is an ethical question more than everything, that Cows or buffaloes be allowed to be slaughtered. India is now third worlds' largest beef exporter! This is stratling because already heavy decline in cattle population has been resulted. Cow is the center of a self sufficient and simple living. Killing cow, considered as a mother because we drink her milk, is sinful and foolish, because destroyng her is destroying ourselves.

Harsha B. Wari