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‘The British origin of Cow Slaughter in India’

‘The British origin of Cow Slaughter in India’
Let’s look for him in Gokul and Vrindavan Or let’s look for him in Barsana, Hasrat, give up for him all that is yours, Then settle in Mathura as his devotee.

This is just one of the numerous translated verses by Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a Congress leader in the national movement, among the founders of the Communist Party and a member of the Constituent Assembly.

After his annual Haj, the Maulana always visited Mathura and Barsana for a “darshan” of Krishna and Radha. For combining Haj with Mathura, the Maulana had an explanation. God had sent his messengers to every land. For many of the Maulana’s persuasion, Lord Krishna was God’s messenger or incarnation in India.

“Many of my friends are so pleased when I visit Mathura.” He once told a friend. He did not visit Mathura to build up a constituency of admirers. But the fact that these visits pleased his friends was a source of great joy to him. In deference to the original cowherd, the Maulana never ate beef.

To my recollection, beef was never eaten in our home either. After the abolition of Zamindari system, in 1951, austerity entered our lives. Mutton and chicken became an expensive proposition for family gatherings sometimes exceeding 50 during weddings, death and Muharram.

Plenty of vegetables were tossed into meat that was described (only in whispers) as “<g data-gr-id="69">bara</g>” or “big”. It was, without exception, “buffalo”. Consumption or mention of “beef” was taboo because it might “hurt” people who frequented our homes.

<g data-gr-id="67">Tundey</g>, Lucknow’s most celebrated Kebabchi for over 110 years, has two outlets for his kebabs: the most expensive ones are mutton; cheaper ones are “<g data-gr-id="68">bara</g>” for which read Buffalo.

Vigilante gangs out to terminate beef eating should visit fancy restaurants including ones in five-star hotels and ask for the menu card. They may find “beef steak” listed, sometimes on “sizzling platters”. A restrained line of action would be to send the steak to forensic laboratories that must soon begin to mushroom to cushion the current hullaballoo. All the “beefsteak” samples will, without exception, turn out to be buffalo.

Anti-beef agitators have clearly not come up the social ladder. Their more prosperous cousins choose not to look at their progeny drooling over beef steak at Smith and Wollensky in New York. In a globalised world where our children are exposed to the blandishments of Angus steak in Britain and Kobe steak in Japan, can dietary restrictions be mandated? More to point might be the query: how did beef become the Muslim’s diet?

It was not the staple diet in the places of origin of the Delhi Sultans and the Mughals. They ate mutton, camel meat, chicken, fish, geese, antelope and other game. Also, contrary to the popular belief, they ate plenty of vegetables. How then did the converts, who constitute 80-90 percent of the Muslim population, develop a taste for meat?

Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited famous Gandhian scholar Dharampal to research the origins of cow slaughter in India. Based on original British documents at India House in Britain, Dharampal and his assistant T.M. Mukundan submitted their study in 2002. The title of the book gives the story away: “The British Origin of Cow Slaughter in India.”

The thesis is straightforward: the rapid increase in the number of the troops following the uprising of 1857 caused an increase in the number of slaughterhouses to provide beef for the soldiers. The “Bakar Qasab”, so far employed largely in the sale of mutton, was transformed into “<g data-gr-id="70">Qasai</g>” for the slaughterhouses.

Here was a situation custom-made for the authors of Divide-and-Rule. British officers could easily point to the Muslim Qasai whenever Hindu-Muslim tensions were required. Queen Victoria gave the game away in a note she wrote on December 8, 1893 to her Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne: “Though the Muhammadans’ cow-killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is in fact directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, etc. than the Muhammadans.”

In a speech in Muzaffarpur, Mahatma Gandhiji developed on this theme: “If we cannot stop cow slaughter by the British, we have no right to raise our hands against Muslims.”

The tradition of beef eating, established in the shadow of the British Raj, acquired its momentum after the British left. That was colonialism taking advantage of Hindu-Muslim tension. Today a very political majoritarian project is beaming the search light on the Muslim as the <g data-gr-id="72">Melecha</g>, in the alley of beef eaters.

In this din, even Maulana Hasrat Mohani, who experienced the Divine in the Mosque as well as the Mandir, would have been on this side of a very bleak divide.

(The author is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. Views expressed are personal)
Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi

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