My very dear friend complained this morning about my lack of response on a post she had recently done about the lynching of the man in Dadri for allegedly eating beef, cow slaughter and the upheaval in all echelons of society, especially the targeting of a certain section of society based on their religion and eating habits. Commenting on politics and religion and social at a collective level, I have mostly refrained from, because I believe that the transformation at the individual level will bring collective transformation eventually. All my efforts and sharing have always been about the changes we can bring about within ourselves as individuals. Ever since seeing the madness of the 1984 riots in Delhi I have known that a mob has no religion! It does not matter whether someone claims to be a Hindu or a Sikh or a Muslim or a Christain, if he has been part of a mob that has victimized someone, however justified he may have felt then, there is nothing religious about him! Such acts cannot be condoned. Any justification of such acts is as inhuman.
Coming back to cows …I have always felt a deep sense of restlessness whenever Beef eating was mentioned. Even though I am a vegetarian, I have cooked non vegetarian food, including chicken, fish, pork, prawns and mutton my entire adult life. I do not even observe special days of not cooking based on some calendar. However, when visited by staunch vegetarians at my place, I make it a point to not cook Non veg around them. Having grown up in a vegetarian household I remember the uneasiness handling non veg food caused me. Just because I was able to overcome my discomfort is no reason others have to be subjected to it.
I have also been a huge supporter of individual freedom. Always questioning my Ma and Papa in my growing up years about coulds and shoulds and should nots! For eg. “ why is wearing white on weddings apshagun(inauspicious), when all Christain brides wear white for their weddings? Are you saying 50% of the world population will go to hell, just because meat eating is a sin? Why should I stop someone else from doing this just because I don’t myself?”
Despite such a liberal view that has charecterised my personality, I found myself silent in pro beef discussions. When I saw the images in the news of culled dogs in Kerala, I felt numbed by the brutality of it. Just as numbed as I feel seeing images of riot victims and other human tragedies. Having been a dog lover all my life, having loved some as members of my family, to see their hacked bodies for the sake of consuming their meat, was stomach-churning to me. The cow at some level occupies a similar space in my heart as dogs.
As a child I have very fond memories of the cow friends at home. Our landlady was also a doodh waali. Every morning as she tended to the cows, she spoke lovingly to them. Saying bye to the cows as I left for school and petting them on my return before entering the house was my ritual too. Many a childhood hours have been spent snooping around them, exploring their shed, having conversations about meaningless stuff with them. I even suggested the name for a new born calf, and saw her grow with a sense of pride. I recognized the bellows of each cow in the shed, was fascinated by the way they shook their heads when I called out their names, have seen people collect their urine for medicinal purposes, and a plethora of other activities which made them an integral part of my life. While I left that house and the city many years ago, the kinship that I felt for the species has endured in me. Therefore, the mention of cow’s meat to me is as repulsive as that of dog’s meat and any discussion about the pros and cons of beef eating does not elicit a response from me. While I do not wish to intrude on other people’s freedom to consume the meat of their choice, their detailed descriptions of the kind of Steak they enjoy is not kind to my sentiments.
I might even be offending some sensibilities by mentioning cows and dogs in the same breath. But, really, what is it that makes something holy? Isn’t all life sacred and yet abused? People are known to ill treat their own parents, go and see the widows in Brindavan! Just as there are orphaned and destitute kids and homeless people in the world, there are deserted cows and stray dogs. It is each one’s personal equation and level of relating that fosters that person’s attitude towards the other. I have seen many educated women in well to do families with supremely successful spouses being victims of domestic violence. There are also men whose lives I have seen made a living hell by dominating and controlling spouses! Can one then generalize about women’s rights and myriad related issues?
Conflicts erupt for many reasons and most times all parties seem as well as feel justified. I have witnessed parents who want to terminate street dogs because their kids have been traumatized by the canines at loggerheads with people who want to protect the very same dogs. Is the life of a street dog any less precious, but then is the safety of a child around a pack of aggressive dogs not important? Is their one right answer?
I don’t cherish the cow due to it’s stature in the Vedas. I do not even resonate with a lot of views from the traditional texts. In fact it may not even be right to call them views expressed in the Texts. For lack of understanding of the language, my exposure at most is to the interpretations others have made of the Texts. This is why I keep trying to interpret them from the perspective of my personal experiences, my scientific and intuitive understanding of life and the current economic and sociological context. My stance on not killing the cow has nothing to do with what the religious texts mention. No religious text that I know of mentions anything about killing dogs, but I’m repulsed by it nonetheless.
There is no justification for killing a man because he was thought to have consumed beef. A saadhu or a monk justifying such behavior is only displaying his violence, not religiosity. There is obviously no compassion in him, which to me is a primary ingredient of being a Saint! But please don’t ask me to become a supporter of beef eating or cow slaughter either. Mind you, slaughtering goats I find as hurtful. I have a theory about the sacrifice of the bakras for Bakreed and for Kali, which will not find favor with most, may even rattle some aplenty! But my relationship with the goats is not a personal one, so my level of empathy for them is probably lower. Those who have grown up playing with fledglings in bird coop at poultry farms may remember the anguish they experienced the 1st time they saw a bird being culled.
Remember the scene in Avatar, where the Naavi woman thanks the prey she hunts for the food it provides? That is probably closest to my position on the subject of killing to eat. The Jain Muni has a mask on his mouth, does not even ride a means of transport, so that even the tiniest organism’s survival is not affected by his striving to live. Maharishi Ramanna, in his Ashram, would tell all its inhabitants to pluck only as much fruit as was required from the trees, and that too very gently. Each one endorses the point of view or way of life most in resonance with his/her level of evolution and consciousness.
The violence we see around us, in the behavior of the mobs, in the justification of it by society, is a reflection of the violence within each one of us. The violence of competition, of always wanting more, of the power play in our relationships, of the intolerance towards the errors of those close to us, of our attachments to our identities, to our possessions, to our insatiable ambition…
In order to weed out this violence from society we need to transcend these short comings within ourselves. We need to live every moment with compassion and awareness. This note is dedicated to my friend whose distress this morning was as disturbing to me as the news of the lynching some days back. I’m breaking my silence on the subject to reassure her that my identity is not rooted in a religious text. I do not need to see what that text actually says about beef consumption or how those who call it holy treat the cows in reality in order to condone the act of a mob killing him. The lynching of a man because he ate beef cannot be justified, no matter what. Just as the burning of women on stakes because they were believed to be witches could not be! Every era has had its own form of witch hunting and genocide. I had an aunt who used to tell me how she kept kerosene oil and match box next to her during the last few days before migrating in pre partition India. She used to tell me about this to dissuade me from having Muslim friends, but it didn’t work then, it won’t work now. Some well wishers caution me against having Sadhu friends due to the stories they have heard or experiences of cheating and betrayals they have had. But really, one needs to learn to see beyond these identities.
Remember the stories of family feuds where someone perceived some wrong on the part of another and the feud carried on for generations, perpetrated by blood thirsty family members who had nothing better to do. At some point someone wiser would point out the folly of their ways and attempt to teach them compassion and love and break from that vicious cycle. The world continues to replicate the same script at a macro level. To blame, accuse and point fingers will not get us out, maybe even make us play right into the hands of the mischief mongers and feed the feud. Let us not get caught in our petty identities. To be Modern, I don’t have to be anti tradition, to be in favour of women’s rights, I don’t need to be a feminist. To condemn the killing of a man by a mob, I don’t need to justify eating beef.
I would like to continue to focus on how to ‘be’ and keep trying to address this at the individual level. If my sharing of the spiritual issues can touch even a single life and enthuse the person to enquire into his/her own being and grow in awareness, I find it more meaningful and useful than making statements on a political forum! For every piece of bad disturbing news i hear, I also encounter everyday situations of kindness, compassion and integrity. And these give me hope. I know we will make the world a better place by each one of us becoming the best person we are capable of being. I just hope that for this to manifest we don’t have to wait till the cows come home…