Saturday, March 8, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Gaumata and the beef-eaters
Khushwant Singh

NO one can deny that killing cows to eat rouses very strong passions among Hindus and Sikhs. This is not shared by Muslims, Christians, tribals and lower caste Hindus of certain regions. Consequently, we have to approach the proposed total ban on cow-slaughter with caution.

A good case can be made to ban killing of all animals, birds and fish. No one has the right to take life in order to feed himself. When Emperor Akbar turned vegetarian, he said, "I do not want to make my body a tomb for beasts." However, in large parts of the world, notably near the Arctic zones, no fresh vegetables are available and people rely on fish and meat to sustain themselves.

Almost every beast in the world kills others to survive. Once you admit that eating animals, birds or fish is justified, there is no logic in supporting selective non-vegetarianism. Hindus and Sikhs say don’t eat beef; Jews and Muslims say don’t eat pork; some even forbid eating crustaceans like oysters, prawns and lobsters. Yet the vast majority of the world’s population eat beef, pork, crustacean and fish without suffering any mental or physical harm. When it comes to eating, the human race extending from the far east of India across Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, China to the two Koreas eat about everything they regard edible: rats, monkeys, frogs, dogs and snakes included. Has anyone the moral right to forbid another what he likes to eat? The answer is no.

Adopt the country that adopts you
March 1, 2003
When minds don’t meet
February 22, 2003
Love in times of war
February 15, 2003
Intriguing facts about elephants
February 8, 2003
Surviving yet another cold war
February 1, 2003
The NRI jamboree
January 25, 2003
Farid Shakarganj of Pak Pattan
January 18, 2003
Who is responsible for the plight of our daughters?
January 11, 2003
The not-so-great Churchill
January 4, 2003
Pritam Singh: Bhapaji of the Punjabi literary world
December 14, 2002

The question whether eating beef is forbidden by Hinduism is of academic importance. Professor D. N. Jha in his work The Mythology of the Holy Cow (Verso) cites passages from the Rig Veda (1600 to 1500 B.C.) quoting instances of cow and bull sacrifices. However, at later times (my guess would be beginning with invasions of Muslims), a sense of revulsion built up against cow-eaters. In territories ruled over by Hindus and Sikh rulers, cow-slaughter was banned. In Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Punjab, it was punishable with death as it was in Kashmir, which was under the Dogras. Even after the annexation of the Punjab, Hindus and Sikhs strongly resented slaughter of cows. The Namdhari movement got a fillip when some of its members murdered Muslim butchers and were blown up by canons. Their guru Ram Singh was exiled to Burma.

The cow has become a sacred symbol and is worshipped as Gaumata, cow mother. However, in actual fact it is treated very shabbily. Cows which do not yield milk are let loose to fend for themselves. They survive on garbage or die of hunger and neglect. They roam about our city streets, blocking traffic and are often hit by fast-moving vehicles to be maimed or killed. If we cannot look after our Gaumata what right do we have to punish those who eat them? A Punjabi doggerel sums up the dilemma:

Bhukhee marrey par maaree na jaae

Giddhaan khaan par banda na khaae

Dhan Hindu, dhan unhaan dee gaai

(Let it die of hunger but do not kill it. Vultures may eat it but not human beings. Blessed be the Hindus, blessed their holy cow).

The Sangh Parivaar and the government know that any legislation passed by Parliament will remain on paper and is unlikely to be enforced. This is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the state governments. However, they also know that by making brave noises as cow-protectors, they will garner more votes. That’s all there is to it.

Tamilian obsessions

"Other cities grew through successive superimpositions, but Chennai remained untransformed. It chugged along alternating between the fierce dependence on religion, astrology, and arranged marriage, and the love of silk sarees, music, and dance," so writes Sarayu Srivatsa, who co-authored with Dom Moraes Out of God’s Oven: Travels in a Fractured Land (Penguin-Viking). Later in the chapter, she writes about her visit to Tanjore famed for its silk sarees and nadi astrologers who, like practitioners of Bhrigu Samhita, consult palm-leaf manuscripts that are said to contain the past, present and future of every human being. They are a form of hit or miss form of astrology.

She writes: "We drove past a group of Japanese people waiting in the verandah of a house. Ganesh pointed to them, ‘Lots of Japanese come here to have their fortunes told. Germans also. Last year only I brought a Japanese woman here. The nadi reader read from a bunch of dried leaves, the nadis, in Tamil, and an interpreter translated. The nadi reader asked her many questions. It was so funny, I remember.’

‘You are sixty-three,’ he asked her. She was young.

‘Thirty,’ she said.

The astrologer discarded the leaf. He picked up another. ‘Your name is Shivraman?’ ‘No, Yashiko.’ He discarded the leaf, picked up another. ‘No, Hiroo matsuoka.’ ‘Your mother died in 1968.’ ‘No, she is alive.’ He discarded the whole bunch of leaves. He shook his head, ‘No good, you come tomorrow.’

‘You have to answer three yeses to the questions. Otherwise, he cannot proceed,’ Ganesh explained."

Good life — the only religion

Among the many bad habits I have, I have one or two good ones, I can recommend one to my readers. I have my own book of quotations. No item is taken from quotation books which are a dime a dozen. Mine are compiled from books I have read or from letters I receive. Most of them are from Urdu poets. I also have some Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi and English quotations — in that order. When I have nothing better to do, I go over them. I was doing that when I discovered that the largest number dealt with religion and hypocrisy, the two go very well together. Then came love, erotica and the pleasure of drinking. Why so much religion on the mind of an avowed agnostic? Because there is much hypocrisy that runs parallel with everyone of them. As Thomas Fuller said: "A good life is the only religion." What is a good life? Ingersoll put it is simple words: "Happiness is the only good life, the place to be happy is here, the time to be happy is now, the way to be happy is to help others." Notice that God, prayer, places of worship find no mention for the simple reason that instead of uniting people, they divide them. Hence Elia Wheeler Wilcox’s summing up:

So many gods, so many creeds,

So many paths that wind and wind,

While just the art of being kind

Is all that the sad world needs.

The latest discovery I made in my personal collections of quotations were a few lines from G K Chesterton which I had overlooked many times. They need to be read carefully and pondered over:

To love means loving the unlovable,

To forgive means forgiving the unpardonable,

Faith means believing the unbelievable,

Hope means hoping when everything is hopeless.