A po­lit­i­cal stam­pede over In­dia’s sa­cred cow

Hindu rad­i­cals at­tack on cat­tle com­merce is di­vid­ing a mul­ti­eth­nic so­ci­ety

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Joseph D’Souza Joseph D’Souza is the mod­er­at­ing bishop of the Good Shep­herd Church and As­so­ci­ated Min­istries of In­dia. He serves as the pres­i­dent of the All In­dia Chris­tian Coun­cil and is the founder and in­ter­na­tional pres­i­dent of the Dalit Free­dom Net

In­dia is in chaos again, but this time it’s be­cause of cows. And it’s all hap­pen­ing dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s world tour that’s un­der­way this month. It’s ter­ri­ble tim­ing for a prime min­is­ter aim­ing to show an In­dia that’s mov­ing for­ward and not back­ward. Yet some in his BJP Party are in­clined to wan­der off in a di­rec­tion of Hindu theoc­racy that re­stricts re­li­gious free­dom and em­pow­ers re­li­gious rad­i­cals. One of the con­se­quences is the global defama­tion of Hin­duism by its own ad­her­ents. The lat­est cri­sis be­gan when In­dia’s gov­ern­ment an­nounced a ban on the com­mer­cial trans­porta­tion of cat­tle for slaugh­ter, send­ing the world’s largest democ­racy into a frenzy. Overnight, the liveli­hood of mil­lions of Dal­its (some­times called “un­touch­ables”) and trib­als, who sur­vive on the beef, leather and bone in­dus­try, was de­stroyed, while mil­lions of Chris­tians and Mus­lims, who also con­sume beef and de­pend on cat­tle trade, found them­selves con­founded.

But the com­mo­tion doesn’t end there.

“Beef fests” have been called in de­fi­ance of the new law, while cat­tle traders and agri­cul­ture min­is­ters have ex­pressed no in­ten­tion of stop­ping their busi­ness. An op­po­si­tion leader, who had prac­ticed veg­e­tar­i­an­ism for nearly two decades, abruptly broke his meat fast to protest the ban on beef. In March, one of In­dia’s states in­tro­duced an amend­ment that would give life sen­tences to any­one who kills a cow; an­other is now call­ing for the death penalty.

There’s also tur­moil within po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

A BJP Party leader of the Garo tribe of north­east In­dia re­signed in protest af­ter fel­low party mem­bers op­posed his plans to or­ga­nize a beef fes­ti­val to cel­e­brate Mr. Modi’s three years in of­fice.

“What is the point of be­ing part of a po­lit­i­cal party that does not want to keep our Garo tra­di­tion and cul­ture alive? They can­not dic­tate us on our food habits,” he said.

Even the al­most 100-year-old se­ces­sion­ist slo­gan “DravidNadu” was res­ur­rected as a trend­ing topic on Twit­ter. The Dra­vid­i­ans, a sep­a­rate race from North In­dia’s Aryans and whose food cul­ture in­cludes beef, in the past have called for the form­ing of an au­ton­o­mous na­tion in South In­dia. This trend­ing topic is a huge con­cern for those of us who are com­mit­ted to the unity and in­tegrity of In­dia.

To top things off, the ban could cost In­dia $4 bil­lion an­nu­ally in beef ex­ports and in­cur the loss of mil­lions of jobs.

To be hon­est, th­ese dra­co­nian laws that say the life of a cow is more valu­able than the life of a hu­man be­ing make me won­der whether In­dia is headed to­ward so­cial self-de­struc­tion. And I’m not the only one who rec­og­nizes this: Hin­duism’s most fa­mous fig­ure warned against im­pos­ing a beef ban in In­dia.

In a prayer dis­course in 1947, Ma­hatma Gandhi said, “In In­dia no law can be made to ban cow-slaugh­ter. … I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my re­li­gion also be the re­li­gion of the rest of the In­di­ans? It will mean co­er­cion against those In­di­ans who are not Hin­dus.” Even the founder of the Hin­dutva move­ment — where mod­ern Hindu na­tion­al­ism finds its roots — was op­posed to mak­ing the cow a na­tional an­i­mal. He ac­knowl­edged that man was not made for the cow, but that the cow was made for man.

Mr. Modi openly con­fesses that he fol­lows in the foot­steps of Gandhi. He promised that he would work for an in­clu­sive In­dia, where Mus­lims, Chris­tians, Hin­dus and ev­ery peo­ple from ev­ery cul­ture, re­li­gion and lan­guage could co­ex­ist peace­fully. He rightly and bravely con­demned vig­i­lantes who’ve pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated Dal­its, and ex­pressed his com­mit­ment to stand­ing for In­dia’s Dal­its and trib­als. In the face of this na­tion­ally di­vi­sive cam­paign that is threat­en­ing the jobs and well-be­ing of mil­lions of In­di­ans, Mr. Modi has the op­por­tu­nity to once again step into the shoes of Gandhi and be a bas­tion of peace. He can stand for the di­verse and pros­per­ous In­dia he and Gandhi en­vi­sioned, while re­spect­ing the re­li­gious views of those who feel com­pelled to not eat beef. If he doesn’t, then none of this fares well for In­dia’s econ­omy, se­cu­rity and so­cial well-be­ing.

If In­dia is to truly to take her place as the world’s largest democ­racy — not just in name, but in prac­tice — she must break free from the re­gres­sive forces that place one re­li­gious be­lief over an­other. Bans will not move In­dia for­ward. But re­li­gious co­op­er­a­tion and friend­ship, in­ter­caste mar­riages, and mu­tual re­spect for one an­other can take us to the In­dia we all dream to live in.

In one line in that same speech in 1947, Gandhi de­liv­ered the mes­sage In­dia needs to hear to­day. He said, “In­dia be­longs to all who live here.” I agree with Gandhi: In­dia be­longs to ev­ery child, man, woman, Dalit, tribal, Mus­lim, Chris­tian and Hindu who lives here.

In the face of this na­tion­ally di­vi­sive cam­paign that is threat­en­ing the jobs and well-be­ing of mil­lions of In­di­ans, Mr. Modi has the op­por­tu­nity to once again step into the shoes of Gandhi and be a bas­tion of peace.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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