Shobhaa’s Take: Leave the cow alone

My next column will appear in 2016, and I am holding my breath in advance. Who or what will walk away with the title of “Personality of the Year” 12 months from now? Take a look at the year that’s almost over. Without a doubt, 2015 was the “Year of the Cow” in India. The cow won hands down — no rival, no challenge, no contest. Seen from any angle, it was impossible to get away from matters bovine. Elections were won or lost because of the cow. And the old reference to India’s cow belt suddenly became dated, even meaningless. All of India suddenly became a cow belt and those who didn’t agree with that definition were asked to go to Pakistan. This became official. You were either for the cow or against the cow. If you didn’t respect/like cows, you were not a good Indian. In fact, you were so bad you had no business to call yourself an Indian.

The cow was everywhere... except on our plates. And this is the really strange part — the “beef” most Indians had been consuming, as a part of their regular diet, was never cow meat. Overnight, politicians couldn’t tell the difference between cows and other animals. Like, buffaloes. Anything with a similar body type and hooves became forbidden food. Debates raged on for months. Parliamentarians came to blows — but at least they were engaged in some form of action! Protests rocked several cities. Dharnas paralysed institutions. Police raided kitchens looking for cow meat. Cows became India’s No. 1 obsession. I became obsessed with cows, too! I looked at all my friendly, neighbourhood cows through a brand new filter. I stopped calling myself a cow! In all this madness, a man was lynched in Dadri. Why? His neighbours suspected he had slaughtered a cow and was about to consume the banned meat. “Suspected” being the operative word.

The Dadri murder — 2015 — will remain a black mark forever. Babri happened in 1992. Thirteen years separate the two defining moments in our history. It appears, instead of moving forward, we have taken several steps backwards, into a dark and ominous zone. As we bravely move into a brand new year, it would be wise to look back on 2015 with the required level of detachment and compassion. Too many horrible and violent incidents marked a year that was meant to be upbeat and positive on several levels. Instead of real and tangible progress, we got caught up in futile debates. “Intolerance” emerged as the single-most used and abused 11-letter word in our vocabulary, as even the most tolerant people began questioning those who dared to express a different point of view.

“Why the hell can’t you tolerate my intolerance?” eventually turned into a national joke, as the first wave of intellectuals who had returned state awards to mark their concerns about the stepped up attacks on the defenceless, were demonised, brow beaten, ridiculed and silenced. By then, the crucial elections in Bihar were over, and the intellectuals, reduced to being compared to sulking children objecting to the tyranny of a cruel headmaster, quietly backed off. Seeing no further use for whipping up controversies out of the tolerance/intolerance issue, the main architects of this particular narrative swiftly moved on. It was one premature death of a valid protest that was mourned by but a handful of those coming to terms with daylight murders of thinkers, rationalists, journalists and dissenters. Face blackening and public shaming of anybody unwilling to toe the line drawn by self-styled “defenders” of “Indian culture” threatened to become an epidemic, along with shoe throwing and other national sports.

The poor Indian cow, placid and oblivious to all the turmoil she was causing, carried on chewing cud and giving milk as she has done for centuries. Those who worshipped her in peace and silence continued to do so. Those who had suddenly discovered her status and power behaved like over enthusiastic zealots, elevating her to higher and higher levels. Scholars of various hues crawled out of the woodwork to discuss the position of the cow in our society. A position that was never under threat in the first place!

India has always given the cow a very special position in its heart and mind. That position is undiminished and indestructible. What we witnessed was an ugly attempt to manipulate the minds of citizens and inject hatred into our thinking. Cows have been revered, respected and loved in this part of the world for centuries. By politicising a well-loved animal, politicians undertook a very dangerous game. No Indian would wilfully harm a cow. This is something that has always been taken for granted, regardless of which religion one belongs to.

Here’s a wish and a prayer of 2016: Leave the cow alone. Let’s work towards building a stronger India. Let’s focus on educating our two-legged population, creating jobs, cleaning up the ecosystems within our heads along with external environments. Let’s focus on getting rid of emotional and religious pollution. Let’s make our thoughts and actions more “swachchh”. If we really care about our cows, let’s make sure we offer them a dignified and protected life — the one we promise our women and children, but have failed to provide. We can learn many lessons from our beloved cows. Not the least being a crash course in tolerance! Look at how calmly our cows deal with us? Time to dig out my Masaba cow-print jacket. Let’s learn to say “moo” like cows, not “boo” like idiots... Happy New Year, readers!

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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