Daily perusing of newspapers makes one feel the heat of soaring communal tensions in our nation today. The domination of right wing at the centre has evidently accelerated the process. Right wing politics can have devastating effects on the intellectual wealth of the country. The development of tangibles may come at a dear price by smothering the diverse ideas in the obsession to project ‘Hinduism’ as a single, homogenous religion. The process has already started where the different right wing agencies invoke new colorful myths everyday in order to concoct a History to legitimize their ideology. Our Prime Minister is seemingly the product of this ‘right charged’ atmosphere as he has gone to the extent of culling out evidences of plastic surgery in ancient India!
These radical ideas are leading to growing intolerance in the society. The result is increasing cases of gory communal violence in various areas including Muzaffarnagar and Trilokpuri. I believe that the solution to this issue lies in doing away with the stereotypes that are being propagated like wild fire. Myth making can be countered only by spreading the message of internal diversity within Hinduism and the overlapping boundaries between Hinduism and Islam.
The issue of ‘cow protection’ has perpetually been the dividing force between the Hindu and the Muslim communities. In January, the President gave assent to an act seeking increase in jail term for a cow killer in Madhya Pradesh and recently, South India has also faced communal tensions due to politicizing of the issue of cow slaughter. This was also one of the root causes behind the Trilokpuri riots.
However, if we unveil the Historical sources, we can find evidences of meat eating and even beef eating in ancient Brahminical societies. Here, I would like to quote some of the extracts from various law books and other religious texts of Hinduism-
- Manusmriti (considered as the law book for the Hindus): “If one refuses the consecrated meat, he will be reborn as a beast for twenty one existences.”
- Aitreya Brahmana (part of vedic corpus) : “If the ruler of men comes as a guest or anyone else deserving of honour comes, people kill a bull or cow.”
- Shatapatha Brahmana (part of vedic corpus) : “Meat is the best kind of food.”
The epics also abound in evidences for meat consumption and Sita’s lust for the golden deer in the Ramayana is often interpreted to be an allusion to her fondness for meat. If we consider the practicalities, inclusion of meat in the diet cannot be seen as something blasphemous. In the absence of an agrarian economy, flesh-as a complement to wild fruits, is very much conceivable. Consequently, evidences for meat consumption are also present in the Buddhist and the Jaina literary sources, an example being the Gahapati Jataka. However, the practice of meat eating began to be discouraged by the mid 1st millennium BCE due to several factors like the emergence of agrarian economies, endorsement of the idea of ‘ahimsa’ and competition between Hinduism and alternate religious institutions like Buddhism for popularity among masses.
Community mobilization on the basis of cow slaughter began during the medieval times, with the advent of Islam. As cow slaughter became more rampant among the Muslims on their festivals like Bakrid, it further became a symbol of veneration among the Hindus. Cow was also used as a symbol for community mobilization and internal unification of the Hindu community during the national movement. This was marked by several cow protection movements. This is how the usage of cow can be traced as a communal symbol today.
Coming up of agrarian economies and sedentary lifestyle has given rise to multiple stereotypes which we follow even today. Importance came to be attached to property ownership. This gave rise to the question of inheritance. Subsequently a woman beagan to be considered an important reproductive resource and control over this resource became necessary. The emergence of patriarchy and patrilineage resulted in immense importance being attached to the notions of virginity and chastity for a woman, simply to keep a leash on these ‘reproductive resources’. Even today, the morality of a woman is often attached to her virginity and chastity.
Integration of cults into a single religion-Hinduism- has led to imposition of the dominant cult on the diverse regional cults. Today, when we delightfully burn the effigies of Ravana on Vijayadashamai or celebrate the demise of Mahishasura in the hands of goddess Durga, we seldom care to think about the sentiments of those hundreds of people in the hinterlands who follow alternate practices in the face of variant mythologies. Ravana is still worshipped as a deity in various parts of the subcontinent including some districts of Madhya Pradesh. Mahishasura is the deity of various tribes in the hinterlands of UP and Bihar and the celebration of victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura is an attempt by the ‘upper caste’ Hindus to quash the dignity of ‘low caste’ communities.
If we start accepting and acknowledging the diversity if India, we can celebrate her beauty akin to a rainbow. However, attempts towards homogenization can lead to intolerance and fragmentation of all the beautiful petals of the flower. Unity is not the removal of differences but the acknowledgement and celebration of the same.