When the economy slows enough to seem stuck at a speed-breaker and the Finance Minister has to explain new rules about trading in cattle, you know something is very wrong. To be completely truthful I am sick of writing about cows, but every time I try to change the subject, and speak, for instance, about more important things like the terrible bombing last week in Afghanistan, I am forced to return to the craziness that has spread across the land in the name of cows and other non-human beings like peacocks. When a high court judge declares that peacocks breed without copulation and that cows were sent to Earth by Lord Krishna as an advance guard for his own arrival, then it is really not possible to ignore the craziness that is going around these days in the name of Hindutva.
Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma gave several interviews last week on the day that he was retiring from the Rajasthan High Court. Not about the failure of our justice system to speed up the delivery of justice, but about his faith. So he declared that, “There is a reference in Bhagwat Purana about peacocks not having sex… the main characteristic of the peacock is his celibacy. The peahen gets pregnant by swallowing the tears of the peacock.” And, “Cow is revered as a mother in the country, so it should be given the status of national mother. Cow killers should be given capital punishment instead of life imprisonment.”
So if the killers of Pehlu Khan had been brought before Justice Sharma, they may have been rewarded rather than punished. Is it any wonder that the Finance Minister needed to explain the latest rules of cattle-trading at his press conference? He would have done better to announce an amendment, because if the rules remain as they are and killing buffaloes becomes as dangerous as killing cows, then the rural economy could soon collapse. Most farmers breed buffaloes for their milk and when they are too old they send them for slaughter. They do this because they cannot afford to keep them any longer. Under the new rules, they would be forced to release old buffaloes into the streets to fend for themselves as already happens with old cows.
To return though to the craziness that currently spreads in the cause of Hindutva, I was stunned to see a pious Hindu defend Justice Sharma’s celibate peacock theory on national television in these words. “Do you not believe in the Bhagwat Gita?” he asked two CNN-News 18 anchors menacingly. “If you do, then you know that it is part of the Mahabharata, so please tell me how the Pandavas were born?” I mention this bizarre comment only because on my Twitter timeline daily I find similar comments from pious Hindus who accuse people like me of being too Westernised and too ‘elitist’ to understand the new India.
By ‘elitist’ they mean anyone who speaks English, eats meat, drinks wine or dares to write their columns in air-conditioned rooms. Air-conditioning really makes their blood boil and they have a special hatred for those who may have rubbed shoulders with political leaders who live in ‘Lootyens’ Delhi. They describe themselves as ‘nationalist Hindus’ and as ardent supporters of the Modi government. I have been heavily targeted in recent weeks for daring to post on Twitter a picture I took of a cow sitting in a field of garbage within the premises of the Gorakhnath temple. Yogi Aditynath is their new hero and they saw my picture as an attempt to defame him.
In India, myth, history, gods, kings and religion have long been so woven into each other that ordinary, pious Hindus are unable to distinguish where boundaries end and new ones begin. This is partly due to the failure of religious teachers and partly due to an education system that has treated the study of Indian religions and pre-Islamic Indian history with disdain. So one solution to the current craziness would be to introduce into school and college syllabuses, Indian studies.
It is possible that the blurred lines between myth and reality might become clearer. We must at least hope they will, or what seems just craziness now could soon transmute into fanaticism and violence. Already there are many denizens of the ‘new’ India who believe that if they work hard enough to get rid of all Muslims, this will one day come to pass. They make no effort to conceal their hatred of Islam and pin on this religion all of India’s problems. Since rational analysis and fanaticism do not go together, it is impossible for them to understand that it is wrong to blame the sins of dead Muslim rulers on Muslims who live in India today. And, futile to explain that Indian Muslims are as Indian as Hindus.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh