If the BJP-led government establishing a Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog in 2019 made you think things have gone quite too far with India’s far-Right’s obsession with cows, then 2021 will convince you that the obsession is real.
The Narendra Modi-led government has decided to hold a national exam on “cow science”, because according to Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA) chairman Vallabhbhai Kathiria, “cow is full of science”. This coming from a man full of science, who launched a chip made of cow dung that could apparently reduce radiation from mobile phones. He also claimed that 800 corona patients have been cured by panchgavya, an elixir made of cow dung, cow urine, ghee, milk and curd.
India’s political history with cows
Cows have for long held the collective imagination of Indian politics. Whether India was grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, economic slowdown, or national security crisis on the border, the political value of the cow never really disappeared from public debate last year. Infact, the cow is a constant cool in the Indian imagination, no matter which party or politician is in power — from Morarji Desai to Digvijay Singh to Modi’s illustrious cabinet.
The 1857 rebellion in British-India was partly fuelled by rumours of cow grease being used on cartridges that had to be bitten off by Indian sepoys to be opened (there were also rumors about pork fat used on cartridges that frightened Muslims). And if the recent seizure of the Capitol Hill in the United States was alarming, India had its very own version of storming the neighbourhood of Raisina Hill back in 1966, when a Hindu mob led by ascetics tried to storm the Indian Parliament in an attempt to pressurise Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to criminalise cow slaughter. Not surprisingly, at the forefront of this movement was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which later metamorphosed into the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Even today, the BJP is still completely obsessed with the cow. This is why since Modi assumed power in 2014 as Prime Minister, the cow has been in the news perhaps as much as he himself. At the heart of it, the obsession with cows is almost innocent because it insists on anyone who has ever seen a cow to believe it is special, divine, and much more than what meets the eye.
But what is new today is the obsession with conflating science and faith in the body of the cow. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have added science to the national slogan by saying Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisan, and Jai Vigyan, but when it comes to BJP’s politics, vigyan is limited to inaugurating rocket launches at ISRO.
But politically, the topic of cows has been bloody. Be it slaughtering of cows or slaughtering of men over cows, the politics done in the name of cows is wicked and violent. And the problem is, a large section of Indians, especially in the South, East and North East consume cow for food. Beef is consumed in these places not just by non-Hindus but Hindus too. Beef is legally and freely available in states like Goa, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura. Many of these states are ruled by the BJP.
But that doesn’t deter our government from opening an entire ministry on cows and holding national exams on cow science to “infuse curiosity” among people on the importance of cows. On reading the syllabus of this exam, it’s amply clear that the cow is not being read as an animal, but as a divine creature, which is why in the 54–page booklet provided as study material by RKA, you will find the cow only mentioned as ‘gaumata’. So much for upholding science.
In fact, the booklet is more theological in nature with shlokas from the vedas being presented to show the importance of the cow and its benefits in Hindu religious scriptures. It also does have a significant piece of science where it compares jersey cows A1 grade milk to our indigenous ‘desi’ cows A2 grade of milk, which is, according to many science journals, considered better in quality.
But then the RKA booklet makes the comparison between the jersey cow and desi gaumata seem hateful by calling the former “lazy”, “unhygienic” and “unemotional”. In hindsight, when you think of Narendra Modi calling Sonia Gandhi, of all things, a ‘jersey cow’, you see the root of such thinking.
But then the paper goes in the realm of delusion, speaking of how cow slaughter causes earthquakes. And the irony is, they try to explain this phenomena by science! Dr Madan Mohan Bajaj, a renowned physicist, is of the opinion, according to this RKA booklet, that pain waves from slaughtered animals, including cows, cause physical waves or acoustic anisotropy due to Einsteinian Pain Waves (EPW) which eventually lead to stress in earth’s rocks. But this is a hypothesis that’s still not been accepted. In fact, BJP leader Maneka Gandhi too wrote an article on the same claiming that “geologists will laugh” at this theory but it holds weight. But then, humans killed in the name of religion or cows must also be adding to the “acoustic anisotropy”.
The extent of human irrationality is boundless and to add an innocent animal to perpetuate that stupidity is criminal. But cows are centre stage in Indian polity because Indian sentiment cannot be disengaged from religion. And no science can medicate the blindness caused in the name of faith. The world is looking at India in the 21st century for an economic miracle, climate change solutions, and geopolitical balance. The cow must not distract us from our loftier goals.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.