Updated: January 12, 2016 12:35:06 am
The raging controversy over rising intolerance in India was preceded by several events like the violence over the birthday celebrations of Tipu Sultan and the murder of three rationalist writers. But perhaps the event that most resonated with the common public was the issue of beef eating, especially the killing of a Muslim man accused of storing beef in his house. But history suggests that Hindu society was never exclusively vegetarian. Vegetarianism was introduced in India with the spread ahimsa or non-violence as one of the principal teachings of Jainism and Buddhism.
Indeed, in the Vedas there are a number of references to sages sanctioning the sacrifice of cows and oxen. For example, in the Apastamba Dharma Sutra it is said that “the cow and the bull are sacred and therefore should be eaten”. Again, similar references can be found in the Grahya Sutras, which detail how various guests should be served beef, in keeping with Aryan etiquette. This is not to say that there were no contrary views in the Vedas on this subject. However, diktats or bans were not a part of our civilisation.
I am a Hindu by birth and a vegetarian by choice. I have no issues with those who eat meat, including beef. Hindus who believe in karma believe that each one of us is accountable for our own actions. Who are we to judge others? The destruction of life, whether of a goat, a chicken or a cow, is equally painful. In fact, assuming that each meat-eater consumes a constant quantity, the sacrifice of one cow would, on an average, spare the lives of five goats and a hundred chickens. Not surprisingly, even Mahatma Gandhi, a staunch Hindu, was against a ban on cow slaughter because cows and oxen are left to starve and suffer a cruel existence once they become unproductive.
The events of growing intolerance are unlikely to subside until we deal with the underlying causes. These, in turn, have their roots in the notion of “Hindutva”, which originated in V.D. Savarkar’s 1923 book of the same title. But that is hardly of ancient origin.
Without getting into a debate about the authenticity of a historical belief like Hindutva, let us look at its modern version. The BJP, which has close links with the RSS, mercifully stands by the Indian Constitution, which does not discriminate on the basis of caste or creed. That raises the question: Is the BJP-led government unable to control incidents of intolerance?
While several such questions remain unanswered, a number of writers, artists and scientists have returned the awards they received from the government in protest. But instead of understanding their angst, many in the government have scoffed at them. Sadly, there are many who rigidly believe that the Vedas are the fountainhead of all knowledge. This has led to people believing in absurd notions like the existence of plastic surgery during the Rig Vedic era.
In the process, the truly great mathematical and astronomical discoveries of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, which later received global recognition, and the literary masterpieces by the likes of Kalidas have been pushed into the background.
So has the importance of the ancient Nalanda university, from where the knowledge of Sanskrit texts reached China. The first millennium CE was indeed a period of Hindu renaissance. Towards the end of that millennium, our society witnessed sculptural excellence as can be seen in the temples at Khajuraho and Konark.
That is the kind of liberty and freedom of expression Hindus crave. We are mature enough to know where to draw the line. Please spare us Hindutva and let us not diminish a great civilisation.
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