In the wake of the Dadri beef lynching last week, the status of the cow in Hinduism has come into sharp focus. Modern Hinduism is a varied religion but at least amongst caste Hindus in large parts of India (Kerala is a notable exception), eating the flesh of the cow is taboo since it is considered sacred. Given the sacredness of the cow, therefore, its slaughter becomes an emotional topic. On Twitter, as a reaction to Dadri, one Anuj Kumar with a healthy 22,000 followers, tweeted, “These b****rds know that Hindus worship the cow, still they slaughter it and provoke Hindus. Whoever slaughters a cow, slaughters a Hindu.”
However, what’s interesting here is that, the sacredness of the cow only becomes a violent issue when the issue of beef consumption by Muslims is raised. Cow meat is eaten by a number of communities in India. In fact, meat labeled “beef” is sold openly in the nation’s poshest restaurants to mostly Hindu patrons without fear of attack. Moreover, beef isn’t the only reason for cattle slaughter. Products derived from cattle are used everyday even by people otherwise ready to kill and murder in the name of “cow protection”. Here are some:
1) Leather shoes, belts, bags
Cowhide is the primary material used to make leather. In fact, for thick leather such as shoes and jackets, cowhide is used almost exclusively.
Tanneries making leather from cowhide are run openly across India. In a marvellous display of cognitive dissonance, unlike riots over beef eating by Muslims, no one seems to think utilising the sacred cow to make wearable items is in any way a religious insult grevious enough to provoke violence.
2) Sugar and crockery
The white sugar we use is not white to begin with. The brownish material is bleached using a decolourising filter called bone char – which is made using the bones of cattle. Moreover, when we talk about bone china, we aren’t being figurative here. Your cup is made up of cow bones – literally.
Paradoxically, India is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of bone char. This irony was exposed by the only Muslim legislator in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, Arif Aqeel, who moved a resolution for a ban on the trade of cow bones in July 2014. Initially, Bharatiya Janata Party ministers and legislators asked him to withdraw the resolution, but when he remained insistent, the BJP voted against it, in order to defeat the bill, so that that the lucrative trade in cow bones could continue.
Madhya Pradesh is a state that has a draconian cow slaughter law, where if you are suspected of killing a cow, you are presumed guilty and have to then prove yourself innocent. In this way, it is even stricter than the laws against human murder, where presumption of innocence still applies. Oddly, in this very same state, using the sacred cow’s bones after death to make sugar or bowls is perfectly fine.
Stearic acid is an industrial chemical used in soaps, cosmetics, detergents, lubricants and tyres. Its main ingredient is cow fat. Thankfully, unlike beef steak, using tyres is still legal in Mumbai.
4) Musical instruments
Loved that violin riff or piano soliloquy in that latest song? If you’re a cow activist, be ready for some guilt. Bovine tissue is used to make glue which is the best adhesive for wooden musical instrument such as violins and pianos.
But what if, as a shudh cow activist, you’ve shunned all mleccha Western influence and only listen to pure Indian music? Even more trouble there: desi percussion instruments such as the tabla or the mridangam are made using cow hide.
The number of cow protection riots started because of a session of vigourous tabla riyaaz : 0.
It’s a common quip that cricket in India is a religion. Indeed, so strong is the power of cricket that it seems to overcome Hinduism’s powerful cow slaughter taboo. The cricket ball used in the gentleman’s’ game is made of cowhide.
The people who beat Mohammed Akhlaq to death in Dadri on Sunday were incensed by the rumour that he had killed and eaten a cow. Yet those very same people would have no issues watching a game where a cowhide ball, also made as a result of slaughtering a sacred cow, was batted around a field.
To paint cow protection as a matter of faith is being short sighted. If the cow is sacred enough to not be cooked into a curry, that should also disqualify it from being made into shoes, used for percussion or hit around a field in the form of a ball. In many cases, the people who sell the cow to be slaughtered or run businesses that profit from cow slaughter are Hindus. Luckily, that never provokes violence.
The issue of the sacredness of the cow is used only to attack Muslims (and sometimes Dalits) in order to mobilise Hindus around Hindutva politics. In the end, agitations around cow slaughter are purely a matter of politics in modern India.