Politics over animals is not new to India. Be it Hindus’ holy cow or Muslims’ sacrificial goat, or a hapless pregnant elephant who ate an explosive-laden fruit in Kerala, politicians routinely walk over the dead bodies of animals to assert their agenda in a country that is consumed by religion and traditions around animals. But the outrage over the deaths has nothing to do with animal welfare. In the great words of Nirmala Sitharaman, it is ‘dramebaazi’. The outrage is sheer hypocrisy. In fact, it is fake.
Because if it wasn’t, the Hindutva brigade and the BJP camp, including ministers such as Maneka Gandhi and Prakash Javadekar, would have similarly outraged over the incident in Himachal Pradesh where a man allegedly fed explosive-mixed eatables to a pregnant cow. But there was no outrage because the incident took place in a BJP-ruled state and didn’t involve a Muslim.
Tweets after pregnant Elephant incident in Kerala :
ANI : 13
Maneka Gandhi : 3
Tweets after pregnant Cow incident in Himachal Pradesh :
ANI : 0
Maneka Gandhi : 0
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) June 6, 2020
India’s deeply historic animalistic traditions were recognised by the Mughals. This is why protection of the cow and banning of cow slaughter find mention even during Babur’s reign, a Mughal king arguably most despised by Hindu nationalists because of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. He is known to have advised his son Humayun to ensure a ban on cow slaughter in Mughal territories. Akbar continued with the ban, as found in his ‘firman’ of 1586. Bahadur Shah Zafar decided to give death penalty to those found guilty of slaughtering cows in India in a show of Hindu-Muslim unity in 1857. Sultan of Mysore, Haider Ali was known to chop off the hands of anyone found guilty of cow slaughter.
But does all that matter today? No. What matters is if the animal’s death can be communalised or not to invoke fake outrage. Because if there is a Muslim involved, Hindu hate won’t be far away. Modern-day politics has made the cow a symbol of Hindutva, which is “under attack” by beef-eating Muslims. In the case of Communist-ruled Kerala, an elephant was used to further that agenda. The tools and methods were similar — the invocation of piety and the fact that Hindus worship elephants; and the impact was also similar — more hatred towards Muslim and Communists.
The brutal killing of the elephant caused national outrage, as it rightly should. But it then entered the usual territory of spinning a yarn. The district where the elephant died, Palakkad, became Muslim-dominated Malappuram. The elephant accidentally eating the explosive-laden pineapple turned into deliberate feeding by seemingly ‘violent Muslims’. The animal was nowhere in sight — it all became Hindutva’s latest tool.
Maneka Gandhi, and a reality check
The idea was clear: show Muslims as having found their next target — elephants — to wage ‘jihad’. Elephant represents the Hindu god Ganesh. And in the Hindutva textbook, Muslims are adept at making bombs at home to kill animals and perpetuate violence. BJP’s Sultanpur MP Maneka Gandhi added new elements to the story, defaming the people of Malappuram by saying that today they are using bombs “against an elephant, tomorrow they will use these bombs against humans”. Talk about a fabricated stereotype on speed, and take it to the next level of delusion.
Gandhi, a former Union minister, conjured false data on Kerala’s performance in managing its wildlife, safety of animals and women. She accused the people of Kerala of killing 600 elephants every year, with one elephant killed every third day. First, RIP math. Second, fake news. In the last three years, 21 wild elephants were killed in Kerala — that is, seven every year, not 600 as Maneka claimed. Despite media reports and social media users calling her out, Maneka’s tweet making the false claim was still up.
Data on deaths of captive elephants is still shoddy but a few publications have claimed that 24, 33 and 16 captive elephants died in 2014, 2018 and 2019, respectively. Most elephant deaths, according to the Centre, take place in Assam, a state ruled by Maneka Gandhi’s BJP. In the last three years, 90 wild elephants have been killed in Assam.
Maneka Gandhi also seemed to have suffered partial amnesia. Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit, her bastion since 1989 and from where her son Varun Gandhi won the 2019 Lok Sabha election, has witnessed deaths of as many as 16 tigers and three leopards since 2012.
And who can forget the killing of a tigress by a mob in Pilibhit in July 2019? The tigress was beaten so mercilessly that it died of broken ribs and trauma to her body. Where was the outrage and the statistics on Pilibhit from the BJP leader then? Evidently, it is completely political.
Hindutva doesn’t mind cows killed for luxury
What the Hindutva brigade should be reminded of is that its patchy outrage over animal protection, especially those revered in Hinduism, is insincere because if it really wished to ban cow slaughter, Hindus would have long stopped playing tabla or mridangam, and using bone china, soaps, cosmetics, detergents, lubricants — all of which are made of some part of a cow, be it the animal’s skin, bones or fat. In fact, the Hindutva champions should stop using vehicles whose tyres are made from a chemical (stearic acid) using cow fat. And yes, that white sugar in your ‘chai’, in some instances it is turned from brown to white thanks to cow and cattle bones. Also, the next time you play cricket, think twice before licking the cricket ball that’s made of cowhide.
Similarly, the outrage of Hindu nationalists over the sacrifice of goats during Bakri-Eid, which is barely two months away, is highly misplaced and hypocritical. Hinduism itself has no qualms with animal sacrifice. Spending only a few hours at the Kamakhya temple or the Burhi Gosani Durga temple in Assam will make you realise how animal sacrifices are central to Hindu traditions. Chief of Kamakhya temple management authority, Bar Doloi Mohit Sharma has clearly stated that sacrifice of the animals is part of the “nitya puja” (daily worship).
Last year, just one Sunday during Durga Puja saw 15 buffaloes, about 20 goats and an uncountable number of pigeons and ducks being sacrificed at the Burhi Gosani Durga temple, as confirmed by Pradip Mishra, a management committee member of the temple. After the Tripura High Court banned animal sacrifice last year at Tripura Sundari temple, the BJP government in the state filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court, which issued an interim order resuming the sacrifice ritual within just 15 days.
What matters is who kills the animal
Countless Dalits, Muslims and tribal people have been lynched simply over rumours of slaughtering or smuggling cows. But if the cows are dying of starvation at gaushalas created by the upholders of Hindu ‘dharma’, then that’s not worth outraging over or even doing anything to correct it. In 2017, more than 150 cows died in a span of five months in a Kanpur gaushala that owns property worth over Rs 220 crore and is one of the richest cow shelters in India. This, when the state is ruled by a saffron-clad chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, who is often seen feeding cows for photo-ops.
Just like the elephant, cows’ faces have been blown apart by chewing on country bombs made by farmers who are anyway facing acute losses and debts under the current economic conditions. Where’s the outrage? Instead of safeguarding and ensuring the farmers, the Narendra Modi government and the several BJP-ruled states have left them to fend for their farms themselves. Destruction of their produce spells disaster. The farmers resort to the crudest forms to protect their crops, which is the responsibility of the government just as it considers its responsibility (although does little about it other than using it as a dog-whistle) to protect animals considered sacred by Hindus.
The Modi government last year allowed 170,000 hectares of forest in Chhattisgarh to be mined for coal. Think of the animals who will die due to it. And then recall the outrage. It’s fake.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.