Kancha Ilaiahs editorial page article in The Hindu titled Cow and Culture, (October 25, 2002), is in line with that papers editorial policy of encouraging writers of what modernist academic jargon calls sub-altern history, to devalue nationalism, abuse Hinduism and dismiss contemptuously as majoritarianism all that is sacred to the Hindus. Persons like Gail Omvedt and Neera Chandhoke have even raised existential doubts about being Hindu. They take every opportunity to refer to Hinduism as Brahminism, a fetish which became fashionable in our history books, thanks to the efforts of Romilla Thapar, Irfan Habib, R.S.Sharma and other eminent historians as Arun Shourie derisively calls them.
It may be timely to ask here if Kancha Ilaiah and these eminent editorial page columnists speak for all harijans, considering that they keep harping on whether the RSS speaks for all Hindus. Kancha Ilaiah, and all these bleeding heart intellectuals have assumed self-righteously that they and only they have the right to feel angry about what happened in Jhajjar and what continues to happen in parts of India even today with the harijans in the name of untouchability. They are also insincere and uncaring about this dishonesty, in that they write as if Hindu society has not reacted appropriately to the killing of the five harijans for the offence of skinning a cow. But anger, even if it is spurious, is no substitute for substance in an intellectual argument.
First things first. Look how they have framed the idiom and parameters of the discussion. Is a cows life worthier than that of five Dalits?, is how Kancha Ilaiah and all editorialists and bleeding heart intellectuals have put it; and very clever they are too. It is a yes/no question, intended to put all Hindus in a spot. But intellectual arguments or discussions cannot be conducted in a yes/no mode. So let us do a bit of plain-speaking. The question, as framed by Kancha Ilaiah is misleading and mischievous. Kancha Ilaiah has spoken about beef-eating brahmins and has asked correctly if they too do not deserve to be made untouchables. They do Mr. Ilaiah, they deserve to be ostracised by their families and their community. And Mr. Ilaiah, I dont intend to be apologetic about it. The cow is sacred to Hindus and if skinning it is a crime, even for harijans, then eating it is a crime, ten times more heinous if it is committed by brahmins.
The five persons killed in Jhajjar were killed not because they were harijans but because they were guilty of skinning a cow. And no, the question is not Is a cows life worthier than that of five dalits, but, Should these five persons have done what they did, knowing that Hindus hold the cow to be sacred? That they were harijans is incidental to the issue. These five persons would have met the same fate even if they had been brahmins, Mr.Ilaiah, and that is the truth, and you know it. The leather industry, as you put it, can be established and sustained without skinning cows, Mr.Ilaiah and those eating meat can satisfy their palate by eating other carcasses besides the cow. In Bharatavarsha, the land of the Hindus where the cow is sacred, the leather industry cannot be centered around the cow nor should the perverse pleasure of eating dead animals insist that it be satisfied only by a dead cow.
You see Mr. Ilaiah, your hypocrisy and your insincere anger is there for all to see. You have clubbed the harijans and the minorities together under one umbrella as victims of majoritarian violence. Marxist feminists and self-conscious male chauvinists have included women under this umbrella too. How come you never ask the Muslims why they dont eat pork when they eat all other kinds of meat? When you do not have the gumption or the guts to ask that, how come you you insist on asking Hindus why, when the leather industry can skin other animals, it should not skin the cow. The answer Mr.Ilaiah, is that for the Muslims, the pig is particularly abhorrent while for the Hindus, the cow is particularly sacred. If you dont dare to question the Muslims on their religious belief, please dont question ours.
And I am afraid you have your facts wrong on several other counts too. All through your article you keep harping that the untouchables became untouchables because they made their living in the leather industry. The untouchables were never a monolithic community, Mr. Ilaiah. There were the right-hand and left-hand untouchables the paraiyars and the pallars, as they are known in Tamil Nadu and by other names in other parts of South India. And Mr. Ilaiah, you misinform your readers intentionally when you imply that the harijans were untouchables only because they skinned animals. Harijans were land holders, Mr.Ilaiah, they were also agricultural labourers. They were in the army and were also in the police, (our own village and locality police Mr. Ilaiah, and much before we were colonised by the Europeans). The harijan community evolved as a phenomenon of Hindu society Mr.Ilaiah only very recently in Hindu history it is barely 2000 years old. These were originally people who were ostracised by their villages and localities and banished to live outside their boundaries for acts considered to be grievous offences by their villages or communities. This banishment lasted anything from days, weeks, years and sometimes for a lifetime, depending on the nature of the offence.
You see Mr.Ilaiah, we did not burn people at the stakes, nor did we hold the Hindu version of the christian inquisition. We also did not practice slave trade nor did we invent and implement the technique of genocide as a means of war. We merely excommunicated those unwilling to live by dharma. We practiced untouchability.
Some of those thus ostracised returned to their villages and were reclaimed by their societies when they had served their sentences but some others serving longer sentences continued to remain ostracised and untouchable. The fate of those cast out of their villages and who were sometimes disowned by their caste and thus became outcastes and verily untouchable, is identical to that of the untouchability practiced by some Hindus against the harijans even today. Had you been more honest Mr.Ilaiah, you would have accepted the fact that some of our harijans who have preserved their traditions and kept track of their family history would tell you that they belong to this or that upper caste, not defensively or apologetically, but matter-of-factly. This is the way our societies functioned Mr.Ilaiah, and functioned well. What was in fact, a vibrant and healthy method of maintaining order in society, like all practices, became ossified and degenerated into the by birth untouchable that we see today.
Banishing a person or a family from the village, and making them outcastes thus had nothing to do with a Hindus mode of understanding divinity and spirituality. It was a social practice. It was meant to be a punitive measure to protect dharma. Our vedas are our ultimate pramana for what is religious Mr.Ilaiah and none of our vedas make any mention of the practice of untouchability and there is no mention whatever of harijans. We only have the four varnas. And the shudra and the untouchable are not interchangeable Mr. Ilaiah although you and your friends often commit this crime. From declaring that there is something wrong with Hinduism and the Hindus understanding of divinity and spirituality, you make two simian jumps Mr. Ilaiah, completely without reason or logic. From questioning our understanding of divinity and spirituality, you accuse Hinduism of being anti-scientific in its practice of untouchability and then ask in the next breath, what kind of nationalism is this. So, because some Hindus practice untouchability, not only do all Hindus have a faulty understanding of divinity and spirituality, but we are also anti-scientific and have a faulty understanding of nationalism too! Now how many imaginative vices are you going to hang on the peg of untouchability Mr.Ilaiah? Is untouchability now, bad nationalism, bad spirituality or bad science? And incidentally, have you heard of Galileo and what the Church did to him and his scientific theories?
No one asks why the cow alone should remain a constitutionally protected animal under the Directive Principles of State policy, you ask. Lets see if this can banish your ignorance.
In India, cows have been treated as sacred as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and as the cosmos in which all gods and goddesses reside for centuries ecologically, the cow has been central to Indian civilization. Both materially and conceptually the world of Indian agricultural has built its sustainability on the integrity of the cow, considering her inviolable and sacred, seeing her as the mother of the prosperity of food systems.
According to K.M.Munshi, Indias first agriculture minister after independence from the British, cows are not worshipped in vain. They are the primeval agents who enrich the soil natures great land transformers who supply organic matter which, after treatment, becomes nutrient matter of the greatest importance. In India, tradition, religious sentiment, and economic needs have tried to maintain a cattle population large enough to maintain the cycle.
No, this is not me Mr.Ilaiah nor any other saffron intellectual. I have quoted the above from a book titled Stolen Harvest The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply by Vandana Shiva.
I would not have deigned to have given you such a reasonable answer to your impertinent question Mr.Ilaiah. Suffice it to say, the cow is constitutionally protected because it is sacred to Hinduism and Hindus. And an empty protection it is too considering that it is slaughtered for meat and skinned for the leather industry as you put it, in many parts of India. Had the constitution really protected the Hindus and the cow, there would be a ban on cow slaughter and a total ban on the selling and eating of beef in this country. Every cow would be cremated after death. In no other country would the religious sentiments of the majority be trampled upon with such contempt and disdain and you have the gall to throw the USA on my face!
Now coming to your rather silly, panegyric description of American society, your simplistic understanding of black history and the fatuous remark about the American constitution. The problem with intellectuals like you Mr.Ilaiah, who write editorial page columns in The Hindu, is that you all foolishly assume that all those who do not belong to your ideological camp but who read your columns are not only ill-informed but that we also do not have the capacity to counter your pretentious intellectual arguments. Look at the utterly pedestrian beginning of this eulogy. Today the whole world knows that the black peoples culture got assimilated not only in American civil society. It became part of the State system as well. A schoolboy could have done better formulating the opening sentence for a 15 minute debate. I do not know how many black friends you have Mr.Ilaiah but I can assure you, speak to any ordinary black person in the USA and he or she will tell you that every white person is a racist and the white peoples racist attitudes are barely skin deep and surface genetically when they think they can get away with it. Ever read the book Killing Rage Ending Racism by Bell Hooks Mr.Ilaiah? The very title is suggestive of the way nine out of ten African-Americans feel about the all-pervasive racism in American society. Read it first and then come back with your silly stories about African-American taxi drivers and their eulogy for white intellectuals who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the blacks as you put it so tritely. Remember Rodney King Mr.Ilaiah and the reactive riots that spread across the USA like wildfire?
Implicitly accepting the fairy tale nobility of American white intellectuals who sacrificed their lives, you demand to know Where is such a rebellion against the barbarity of treating the life of a cow as more worthy than that of five dalits in India? It seems you are not above concocting imaginary stories in praise of the white intellectuals who fought racism and have more faith in them than in your own countrymen and your constitution. Let me toss a few names at you Mr.Ilaiah Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Rajaji, Harijan Bhashayam Iyengar, Madurai Vaidyanatha Iyer, Tiruchi T.S.S.Rajan, L.N.Gopalaswamy, these are but a sprinkling of brahmins who devoted their lives to fighting the sin of untouchability. For a dalit intellectual, you have scant knowledge of dalit history. If, as you say, white intellectuals who fought racism staunchly, are a part of black history, then how can you deliberately ignore and keep silent about the brahmins who fought untouchability? The American constitution values the black life absolutely equally to the white life, you say, pointlessly, if I may say so. Really? If the American constitution indeed values the black life as being equal to the white, can you tell me why a black cannot ascend to the chair in the White House and is this unwritten convention in keeping with the American constitution to which you are singing this ode? In contrast, does the Indian constitution discriminate between the harijans and the upper caste in its guarantee of fundamental rights for all Indian citizens?
Now coming to two of your hit and run statements In their (the dalits) spiritual realm, the cow is not sacred. How can Hindutva forces impose their spirituality on others.
How do the global spiritual cultures see the relationship between animals and human beings? Is it not important to learn from all positive cultures?
Now, now, Mr.Ilaiah, are you saying that dalits, for whom the cow is not sacred, (implying thereby that they are not Hindus), must be allowed to skin cows which are sacred to Hindus? Then by the same coin, can they, for whom the Koran and the Bible are not sacred, be permitted to publicly burn them? Do I shock you Mr.Ilaiah, but why? Is what I am saying any different from what you are saying? Of course it is! You are saying, to hell with Hindu sentiments, let us kill cows, skin cows and eat cows. But if someone were to declare burn the Bible and the Koran or let us make the eating of pork by Muslims a constitutional obligation, you will all be baying for his blood.
Now coming to relationship between animals and human beings. If I understand the strain of your thinking all through this article, it is that Hindus value the cow over dalits. In that context, you are asking us to look at the relationship between animals and humans in other cultures cultures which value humans over animals, in fact. Mr.Ilaiah, all non-Islamic and non-Christian cultures see man as only a part of Creation and not central to it. All these cultures hold all non-human Creation in veneration the native Americans, the Chinese civilization, Zen Buddhism, the Maoris, the natives of Australia, the African tribal cultures, all of them value non-human life forms and all nature and consider them sacred. But yes, Christianity, which you seem to admire so much and the American way of life, has had nothing but contempt for animals and nature. Read the Genesis in the Old Testament, Mr.Ilaiah and you will see that all non-human life was made for man, for food, and all of nature was made for man to exploit and tame. It is this fundamental belief which has inspired western science, philosophy, and even their technologies. In those cultures man always has been valued over the rest of Creation. And that is why they destroyed forests, rivers, mountains and soil. They also conquered space. All of mans endeavours has been a conquest of some kind. He has also been valued over the woman who was held to be neither man nor beast. As I said Mr.Ilaiah please do some more reading before you indulge in this kind of diatribe against Hinduism and Hindus. Read please, intensively, books about the causes for the feminist movement, the deep ecology movement and the eco-feminist movement in the West and what they say about Christian tenets and theology before you pontificate to us about the positive cultures outside India.
And you are not going to like what I have to say at the last Mr.Ilaiah. You have said or implied all the following in your article
Skinning of animals is the only occupation of dalits.
Skinning of cows is intrinsic to the leather industry of the dalits and they have a right to do so because cows are sacred to Hindus and not to dalits.
And Hindus must not react when people abuse, and publicly offend Hindu religious sentiments. And if they are dalits, the offenders must not be punished.
Ok, Mr.Ilaiah, let us assume, for arguments sake, that skinning a cow is prohibited by the constitution. And if, violating the Indian constitution, people publicly, and in complete disregard of the constitution, skin a cow, how should we deal with them? And if the offenders are dalits, should the law deal with them differently? Does the same rule of exempting dalits apply to dalit politicians, judges, corrupt women politicians, business women, women in public life?
Is the constitution alone the yardstick to decide what is right and wrong? What about respect for the religious feelings and sentiments of people who follow a different faith?
And finally, did you follow the O.J.Simpson case Mr.Ilaiah? The truth O.J.Simson, a black American, murdered his white wife and her male friend.
Simpsons lawyer is also black Johnny Cochrane.
The murder was investigated by several police detectives, one of the most important being Mark Fuhrman, a white.
Cochrane establishes racial bias on the part of Fuhrman and manages cleverly to colour the entire case with race and racial prejudice.
End Detective Fuhrmans testimony is discredited, Simpson is acquitted and the case is considered to be some kind of victory for all African-Americans even though every black American knew that Simpson had indeed murdered his wife.
The American constitution was stood on its head, American society was publicly polarised along racial lines and a murderer escaped scot-free because the case acquired racial overtones.
See the parallel Mr.Ilaiah? The cow is sacred to me Sir. Respect my sentiments. You can establish a leather industry without the cow. Respect my religious feelings and do not for heavens sake give a heinous offence a caste colour and exonerate the offenders. For Hindus, irrespective of the community to which we belong, the cow is sacred and skinning a cow in public view is akin to mutilating a dead body. It offends all sensibilities. By all means express your anger, but dont give your blind rage the fig-leaf of intellectualism. And tell me, is lynching per se wrong or the lynching of dalits alone? Because, if my memory serves me right, your friend Sudanshu Ranade writing his infamous weekly column, the Scribbling Pad, in The Hindu, not long ago, had actually wondered aloud why Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were not lynched for their alleged role in bringing down the Babri Masjid.