Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unequivocal and strong condemnation of “gau rakshaks” (cow protectors) is expected to go a long way in reining in the cow vigi-lantes who have virtually unleashed a reign of terror. The PM rightly called them anti-socials who are running “shops” in the name of cow protection. He appears to be in high dudgeon and his anguish should jolt the administration out of slumber. Vigilantism of all kinds is rising, reflecting the crumbling of the administrative-judicial system and lack of people’s faith in it. Mob lynching incidents too are increasing. In one of the most macabre incidents, Syed Sarifuddin Khan, a 35-year-old from Assam accused of rape, was dragged and beaten to death in Dimapur, Nagaland, by a mob of thousands. He was accused of rape by a Naga woman who is his wife’s cousin. He was arrested and had been in jail 10 days when a mob of several thousands, including a large number of young women, stormed Dimapur Central Jail on March 5, 2015. Barbarism knew no bounds as he was dragged out, beaten and pelted with stones, stripped naked, tied to a motorcycle and dragged, injured and bleeding for 7 km when he succum-bed to his wounds. The bloodthirsty mob, still dissatisfied, the strung his body up on a fence for onlookers to see and jeer.
Cow vigilantism is, however, somewhat different as it is done in the name of religion. The cow enjoys a hallowed position in Hindu tradition. Kamdhenu is a divine bovine-goddess considered the mother of all cows. Also called Matrika goddess, it is known to fulfil all human wishes. As myth goes, she is one of the 14 ratnas that emerged out of the churning of the cosmic ocean. There was a fierce battle between sage Vashistha and king Vishvamitra for the possession of Nandini, the cow-daughter of Kamdhenu. Actually, Vishvamitra was dumb-founded to see that a poor sage had given lavish food to thousands of his kinsmen in the forest and wanted to know how could it be possible. Vashistha divulged the secret: that Nandini, gifted to him by Indra, provided everything. Vishvamitra lost the battle and, realising the potency of spiritual attainments, renounced kingdom and went on a long penance. Lord Rama’s ancestor, king Dilip, was childless. Dilip and his wife Sudakshina got a son, Raghu, with the blessing of the cow. Kalidasa’s epic Raghuvamsha is focused on Raghu. Besides this, the cow has been an integral part of the Indian economy and agriculture. Its products are valued highly and panchagavya (a solution of cow’s urine, dung, milk, butter and curd) was given to children to make them immune to diseases.
However, more than its medicinal efficacy, the myth about its spiritual power pervades Hindu tradition. This finds a place in the Indian Constitution: Article 48 mandates that the State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps to preserve and improve breeds, and prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. In Muhammad Hanif Quareshi & Others vs State of Bihar, the Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that the protection under this article was confined only to cows and calves, and to those animals that are capable of yielding milk or of doing work as draught cattle, but doesn’t extend to ones that are no longer milch and draught cattle. But overturning this in State of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab, the court had in 2005 upheld a total ban on the slaughter of cows and their progeny. Again, in Akhil Bharat Goseva Sangh vs State of Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court clarified in 2006 that Article 48 did not require the State to impose a total ban on the slaughter of bovine cattle, including the cow and its progeny.
In his book Secularism and the Constitution of India, former Chief Justice of India P.B. Gajendragadkar has said Article 48 has accorded recognition in somewhat “guarded and hesitant form” to Hindu sentiments on cows. Whether it is Hindu sentiment or Indian tradition, which includes the followers of other religions, the cow has had an exalted position. It has doubtless played a role in Indian politics too. But one thing should be made clear: the cow cannot be protected at the cost of human beings. The flogging of dalit youths at Una, Gujarat, on the charge of slaughtering a cow, that was later found to be untrue, reflects on the morbid mind of some who abuse the name of religion. It will be germane to mention an incident from Swami Vivekananda’s life. Once some cow protectors came to seek financial help from him. He refused to give any help, saying he didn’t have money, but if he had, he would first work for the welfare of man. They protested that man suffers misery and pain due to his sins. The Swami retorted that if so, then cows also suffer due to their sins. At this, the cow protectors were left speechless.
All animals deserve human love. This is the philosophy that led to the enactment of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Rukmini Devi Arundale, a nominated member, as a private member’s bill, and it is one of the few major laws enacted as a private Bill. Ms Arun-dale was a strict vegetarian. In 1977, Prime Minister Morarji Desai had proposed her name for the presidency, but she refused, saying that she would not have felt comfortable serving non-vegetarian dishes to foreign dignitaries at Rashtrapati Bhavan. One should be humane like Swami Vivekananda or Rukmini Devi Arundale. The cow is on a different pedestal altogether from other animals, but whatever its spiritual or religious significance, it can’t subordinate man to an inferior position. The killings of the alleged killer of cows is pure barbarism, one that finds no sanction in Hinduism. Cow protectors, instead of ensuring that cows don’t starve, indulge in violent histrionics. It is imperative that the government act swiftly to identify and punish the peddlers of such barbarism....