Is yoga Hindu? – Devdutt Pattanaik

Lord Shiva wearing yoga band.

Dr Devdutt PattanaikWe must be careful of arguments presented by Right wing and Left wing thinkers, who are both outliers in all cultures, but tend to dominate discourse and take away nuance. … These two wings feed off each other as they spend all their time arguing against each other’s ideas, rather than appreciating that history is neither simple nor linear. — Dr Devdutt Pattanaik

Yes, yoga is Hindu. More appropriately, it is Indic, for the idea was also developed, over centuries, by Buddhists, Jains, and a whole bunch of people who lived in the subcontinent of India.

The people of this land were called Hindu by ancient Persians, and Indians by ancient Greeks, as they lived in the land across the river Sindhu known as Hind in Persia and India in Greece. The British called this subcontinent the Indian subcontinent, and the Americans call it South Asia. In the Puranas, this land is called Jambudvipa, the land of the jambul (Indian blackberry) or jambu (rose apple) tree. Today, this land includes the nation-states of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

India has become a political term, while Indic is a cultural term. Hindu, once a geographical term, has now become a religious term. Depending on how good a lawyer you are, you can argue that Hinduism is a religion created by the British in the 19th century, or a way of looking at the world that emerged 5,000 years ago.

In America, this question of whether yoga is Hindu has been raised because of politics and economics. For some Hindus argue that the term has been appropriated by the Americans, and made commercial, Shiva Pashupati of Mohanjodarohence corrupt, stripped of its spiritual significance. Others argue that it never belonged to Hindus and so the question of appropriation does not arise. Essentially, it has become a territorial fight about is it “yours” or is it “mine”, the very mental knots that yoga seeks to unravel.

But there is no doubt that the idea originated in this part of the world, nurtured by many people, over hundreds of years. The form that we know it in today is the result of the re-packaging that yoga saw in the early 20th century, done in India, by Hindus.

The Indus Valley seals show a man seated in a posture that yoga identifies as bhadrasana, or the throne position. Was this yoga? We can speculate either way.

The Vedic traditions, that are 4,000 years old refer to the word yoga in the sense of yoking or harnessing an ox to a cart. Even today, yoga or its colloquial form “jog” is used to indicate alignment of various forces, for example, the planetary forces in astrology. One can argue that the word “jugaad” comes from “jogi” or the resourceful man who can create “jog” where none existed before. So the word has Vedic roots.

The Shramana, or hermit, traditions, that are 3000 years old, brought forth many ideas that were eventually seen as yogic, such as psychological discipline—focussing (dhyan) and building awareness or perspective (dharana), or withdrawing (pratyahara), and a host of breathing exercises (pranayama) to regulate the mind and physical contortions (asana), such as standing on one foot, or holding arms aloft, favoured by hermits known as tapasvins, who do tapasya, or the churning of the spiritual fire known as tapa, which grants humans supernatural physical and psychological powers (siddhi) that enables them to control nature. So the practices associated with yoga today do have roots in the Shramana tradition. Buddhism and Jainism are Shramana traditions.

PatanjaliIn the Puranic age, that is 2000 years old, Vedic rituals and eventually Shramana traditions, were overshadowed by the stories of God, manifesting as Shiva, Vishnu and Devi. Shiva became the God who reveals Yoga to his student Patanjali, a serpent, who, in turn, shares it with the world. Vishnu also shares it, as Krishna to Arjuna, and Ram to Hanuman. Here, we start seeing a division. Some focus more on the psychological aspect, ideas such as union of the individual soul (jiva-atma) with the cosmic soul (para-atma) that is God, which is known as samadhi. Others focus on the physical aspects, especially magical powers related to celibacy, which is known as siddhi.

The samadhi focus is seen as Vedic and the siddhi focus as Tantrik, though such divisions are arbitrary. The focus varies in various texts. In Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the Mahabharata, for example, there is a reference to the psychological aspect of yoga, and to pranayama, but not to asanas, while in Patanjali’s yoga sutra, the reference to asanas is minimal, it does lend a clear definition of yoga (removal of mental twists and turns), and feels no obligation to be overly theistic, except functionally.

In the Nath traditions, that started becoming increasingly popular 1,000 years ago, there are clear references to the physical aspect of yoga: various yogic postures and breathing exercises. These are used by ash-smeared mendicants who revere Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath. The more radical members of this school of thought are the naked ascetics that fascinate the West, and satisfy their craving for the exotic.

Since the 19th century, during the British rule, to counter the European discourse, and following exposure to European style gymnastics, under the patronage of Wodeyar kings of Mysore, local gurus of traditional physical culture such as Krishnamacharya conceptualised and organised yoga as we know it today, and it Tirumalai Krishnamacharyaspread across India and around the world through teachers such as Iyengar and Sivananda. There have been translations and commentaries on ancient and medieval yoga texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra by scholars and academicians, including Vivekananda.

Today, the idea and practice of yoga has spread widely across the world, alarming on one the hand Christian and Muslim isolationists and supremacists (who see this as covert Hindu missionary activity) and Hindu isolationists and supremacists (who fear the appropriation of their faith and culture). Then there are the atheists and secularists, also seeking supremacy, who see red every time the word tradition or religion is mentioned.

We must be careful of arguments presented by Right wing and Left wing thinkers, who are both outliers in all cultures, but tend to dominate discourse and take away nuance. The Right wing, especially the Hindu supremacists among them, tend to believe that yoga emerged in its perfect pristine form within Hinduism somewhere in the distant past, even before the Indus Valley Civilisation. The Left wing has contempt for all things ancient, religious or tradiitonal. These two wings feed off each other as they spend all their time arguing against each other’s ideas, rather than appreciating that history is neither simple nor linear.

To deny that yoga has no special relationship with India, with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, is like saying America has nothing to do with Native Americans (except being built on their corpses). At the same time, to accuse the West of stealing yoga is unfair, and ideas do transform following cultural exchange. The idea of “purity” that many religious and academic folk cling to is dangerous as it ultimately ends up establishing “untouchability”. – Daily-O, 14 September 2016

Yoga in Moscow

Yoga at the White House

School children doing yoga on the Rajpath, New Delhi

Open letter to fellow Indians over the meat ban – Ankit Jain


Ankit JainDear friends,

I know many of you are very angry these days as we Jains are supposed to have taken your rights to eat meat. We intolerant bunch of goons have reportedly taken away your personal liberty. We are the Taliban, if some liberal activists are to be believed.

All these become easy for you to believe because these activists are in media and they control what you read in the newspapers or hear on TV. It also becomes easy for you to think they are telling the truth because the current ruling party, the BJP, has a national president who is Jain by religion.

Today, the media claimed that Haryana, another BJP ruled state, too had banned meat. Whereas the truth was that it had just appealed some slaughter houses to remain closed for Paryushan Parva, our festival of self purification. An appeal was presented as a ban to you!

And this has led people to believe that Jains are asking for such bans. I say this because I have been subjected to such taunts and abuse on Twitter. People have mocked my faith, my customs, and some even threatened to throw meats loaves in my house in protest.

And I wonder why so much hate! Because I didn’t even ask for this ban!

The media never cared to tell you but I hope you know the truth that this ban has existed for decades. And no, it is not a ban on you eating any meat—you are still free to do that—but a ban on slaughter houses for a few days and a ban on sale of meat in some selected regions of India. In fact, in states like Rajasthan, the duration of this annual ban has actually been reduced this year when compared with the duration during the Congress rule.

Yes, you are going to tell me that it doesn’t justify the ban just because it existed for all these years. I am not even telling you that. But just take a chill pill for a moment, and think—if this ban existed for so many decades, why did you not hear any outrage or protest over this all these years?

Have you not become pawn in the politics of some selected parties? Congress was the party that introduced such bans in many areas and now they are protesting against the same. Shiv Sena too was a party to the decision by virtue of controlling local bodies, and even they are now protesting.

Do you seriously not see the politics here? And this politics is being helped by those in the media who wear the mask of neutrality and intellectualism.

All these decades nobody had a problem as they thought it was not a big deal if the slaughter houses remain closed for a few days in a year, that too in some areas where Jain population reside. It was about giving up limited personal liberty on select days to show respect to fellow Indians. Even courts upheld this view.

Don’t we give up our personal liberties on 3 national holidays? They are dry days and we can’t buy liquor. Technically that is also ban, and that is nationwide. This meat ban is not nationwide.

Don’t we give up our personal liberties when we hear loud azaan five times a day from a local mosque or loud music from a local pandal during various pujas? Remember, personal liberty is also about choosing what you are exposed to.

Nearly all leading restaurants and meat shops offer only halal meat in order to respect Muslim sentiments. Will it not be unreasonable if Hindus start demanding jhatka meat just to insist on personal choice and liberty? Hindus don’t insist on that because they have “adjusted” to accommodate fellow Indians.

Yes, apart from “jugaad”, other thing we Indian do is “adjusting”. We care for each other and adjust to make space for each other.

But now it looks like my country is all set to demand individual liberties.

And it’s not a bad thing. We as a society have to evolve.

Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, many people have evolved and started growing up (by their own admission). Our stand up comedians have evolved—they don’t make the same jokes. Our journalists have evolved—they have now started seeing things (like this meat ban) that they were blind to all these years.

So my dear friend angry with Jains over meat ban, you too have the right to evolve. We all have the right to evolve. I just hope that this evolution and growing up is not selective.

Keeping this in mind, I appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift this meat ban as it is hurting the sentiments of Indians who are evolving very fast. Sentiments of Jains will be taken care of by those who care and those who can adjust a little.

We Jains might appeal to people in our localities to close meat shops for a few days and if they do that voluntarily, we will be happy that they care for us. But please don’t enforce anything.

I can’t take any more hate due to my surname.

Ankit Jain (@indiantweeter)

Michammi Dukkadam

A reductive reading of Santhara – Shiv Visvanathan

Santhara of Muni Jasraj (28 February 2013)

Shiv Visvanathan“The court has held that extinguishing life, sacrificing it or effacing it cannot be considered as acts of dignity. A right to die cannot be a part of a right to life. In constructing such a judgment, the court’s ethno-centricity becomes obvious. It enshrines a piece of Christian theology and Anglo-Saxon law in its response to the logic of Santhara. Eventually, the judgment creates a monologic sense of life and a standardised sense of what death and dying is. In fact, it has missed an opportunity to look at life and death and the ethics of dignity and dying in a creative way.” – Prof Shiv Visvanathan

Charles Dickens: "If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, "the law is a ass — a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience." Courts, as institutions of interpretation, intrigue citizens, and often awe them. The dignity of their ritual, the imprimatur of the official, the detailed litany of textual interpretations before a judgment is arrived at, are often impressive. Judgments often have the moral gravitas and the narrative power of a novel. Yet, a badly done judgment, even if it appeals to the secular mind, lacks conviction. One felt that about the judgments around nuclear energy; equally, one senses these limits in the judicial reading of Santhara.

I refer to the Rajasthan High Court’s verdict against Santhara, or the centuries-old Jain practice of voluntarily starving to death. On August 10, 2015, the court’s Jaipur Bench ruled on a public-interest litigation (PIL) filed in May 2006 against the practice. It held that Santhara would henceforth be treated as “suicide” and accordingly made punishable under the relevant sections—Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) and Section 306 (abetment of suicide)—of the Indian Penal Code. It made its absolute rejection of the Jain philosophy underlying the practice unequivocally clear. An appeal challenging the order has now been filed in the Supreme Court.

A way of life

The word Santhara means a way of life and encompasses a way of dying as well. In Jainism, the body is seen as a temporary residence for the soul which is reborn. One must remember that a word can embrace a multiplicity of worlds and meanings. As a result, translation is one of the most difficult of acts. It demands a delicacy of understanding about words which, in their consequences, can be lethal. Equivalences are welcome when we seek unity but we need a unity that can sustain the multiple senses of difference.

The critical word here is suicide. One is almost tempted to be facetious. I remember that moment of epiphany in the film Sholay when actor Dharmendra, as the character Veeru, standing up on a water tower, tells Basanti (played by Hema Malini) that he will commit suicide. An old man in the crowd asks: “what is suicide?” The answer is profoundly wise. It says when Englishmen kill themselves, the act is called ‘suicide’.

I was struck by this scene as I read the High Court judgment on suicide in the case of Nikhil Soni vs. Union of India. There was an element of irony to it. The scene in Sholay is straight from the 1969 classic, The Secret of Santa Vittoria and yet, in the very moment of mimicry, the movie emphasises the essential drama of difference. The court judgment, while playing with the cultures of difference, eventually succumbs to a reductive act which is textually disappointing.

There are critical nuggets of information in the initial pages. It claims that the Jain attitude to the body is different from the Christian attitude to the body and that Santhara is a ritual farewell to the body; it is an act of non-violence performed as an ethical act. The court hints that for the petitioners, Santhara cannot be suicide. The etymology and the cosmologies are radically different.

The English word ‘suicide’ means a deliberate killing of oneself. The Etymology Dictionary cites W. E. H. Lecky, in a History of European Morals where he writes of the stigma attached to suicide. He claims that even in 1749, “a suicide named Portier was dragged through the streets of Paris with his face to the ground, hung from the gallows by his feet and then thrown into the sewers.” Right from its origins up to the French Revolution, suicide was a mark of stigma of criminality and pollution.

Different narrative

Santhara encapsulates a different narrative. It is a ritual act of purification, done in consultation with a guru, and follows the most detailed of procedures. It cannot be an impulsive act or an egoistic one. It bears the imprimatur of theology and the approval of society.

As India became colonised, many Indian rituals came under the critical Anglo-Saxon lens, and translation and interpretation became a critical part of legal exegesis. Is Santhara a giving up of life or of taking death in one’s stride? For a culture that believes in rebirth, is Santhara philosophically or ethically suicide? The frame widens as the drama becomes sociological because then there will have to be a differentiation made between sati, suicide and Santara.

French sociologist Emile Durkheim, in his Suicide, a groundbreaking book in the field of sociology, basically made a differentiation between three forms of suicide—the anomique [anomie], the egoistic and the altruistic genres of suicide (based on the personalities of people). Anomie is a state of normlessness of rootlessness where an individual commits suicide because nothing binds him. It is associated with social disorganisation and imbalance and Durkheim has tried to illustrate this by giving examples from economic life. Egoistic suicide occurs when the individual feels full of himself. These are suicides committed by persons who are self-centred and to whom self-regard is the highest regard. In altruistic suicide, a person sacrifices himself. It is a form of sacrifice in which a person puts an end to his life by some heroic means in order to promote or further the interest of the cause or idea dear to him. In a sociological sense, altruistic suicide comes closest to Santhara. It is a ritual of giving up the body in times of old age, famine or catastrophe or when an individual feels the need to be closer to cosmic cycles.

As one looks at the colonial interpretation, the critique of sati, where a woman sacrifices herself for her husband, brought condemnation. Santhara was read in a different way as an act of non-violence tuned to the deepest norms of Jain culture.

Prof Shekhar HattangadiLanguage and interpretation

Experts cited indicate that it adds a dignity to dying, where death is in continuum with rebirth. Shekhar Hattangadi, a Mumbai-based professor of constitutional law, has sought to outline some of these conflicts in his award-winning documentary, Santhara: A Challenge to Indian Secularism? But one cannot reduce it to an encounter with colonialism. To place it in the alleged opposition of religion and secularism fails to read it as a failure of language. There is a flatness, a narrowness to the English language which even the presence of James Joyce, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Shakespeare could not contain. For example, the word ‘corruption’ lacks the multiple senses and the flair of society which invents words like upari, dakshina, seva for a bribe. Santhara is a multivalent term which cannot be reduced to the dreariness of suicide as closure or a termination. The English term cannot comprehend Santhara in terms of being a ritual exit and a rite of passage to a different world. Santhara, performed correctly, is ritual non-violence. In fact, I would feel that the court’s judgment misinterprets both the word and world.

There are doubts about Santhara. Many people have pointed to the coercive, even aspirational aspects of the practice. Witnesses claim that families whose reputations are at stake often refuse to let a person change his mind. There is an aspirational aspect as families of the individual who wishes to observe Santhara get respect and status, so they often tend to advertise the act. Here, Santara is often presented as sati. Its voluntariness is forgotten.

The court had to make a differentiation between Santhara and euthanasia, sati and suicide. It has made brief and superficial attempts to do so. And in this abortive act of comparative sociology, the ritual dignity of Santara has been lost. In the confusion between the literal and the symbol, between a construction of fact and celebration, the meaning is lost.

Santhara PetitionA narrow view

The court—after its abbreviated move through philosophy, ethics, language and law—has reduced the whole to one narrow issue, namely the test of essentiality. It asks where Santhara is an essential tenet of Jainism and declares that it is not. Such a litmus test might work in textbook chemistry but it fails to work in the contextuality and polysemy of culture. The court could have been strict about aberrations or deviations from Santhara but to reduce the ritual act to suicide amounts to an exhibition of illiteracy. The court seems more worried about the debates on euthanasia and sati than about looking at Santhara as a cultural practice with its own repertoire of meanings.

The court claims that some rights can encompass their opposite. The freedom of speech does not compel one to speak. Yet, a right to life does not include the right to die under certain circumstances. Ethics and religion lose out to the wooden definitions of Santhara, which, as a ritual, has qualities of a controlled experiment. The court has held that extinguishing life, sacrificing it or effacing it cannot be considered as acts of dignity. A right to die cannot be a part of a right to life. In constructing such a judgment, the court’s ethno-centricity becomes obvious. It enshrines a piece of Christian theology and Anglo-Saxon law in its response to the logic of Santhara. Eventually, the judgment creates a monologic sense of life and a standardised sense of what death and dying is. In fact, it has missed an opportunity to look at life and death and the ethics of dignity and dying in a creative way. In creating such a standardised theology, the fact of justice becomes secondary. This has wider implications because words in one culture cannot lose their meaning in translation. Language and justice die or are diminished when language is deprived of its right to polysemy and to a multiplicity of meaning. When language is rendered captive, justice loses out in the long run.

The aridity of a reductive secularism often comes out in displays of language. In fact, translation becomes a test of justice. This is the epic tragedy of the Santhara judgment. It conveys the fact that nation states that can inflict and adjudicate death, often feel lost in the complexity of the phenomenon. – The Hindu, 24 August 2015

» Prof Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist who teaches at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy in Sonipat, Haryana.


Members of the Jain community staging a demonstration in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s offic,e in protest against the Rajasthan High Court judgment on ‘Santhara’, in Belagavi on Monday.


The flawed reasoning in the Santhara ban – Suhrith Parthasarathy

Rajastan High Court Jaipur

Suhrith Parthasarathy“The Jaina practitioners contend that Santhara is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death, but is rather a practice intrinsic to a person’s ethical choice to live with dignity until death. These arguments were brushed aside by the Rajasthan High Court. It simply found, based on an incorrect reading of Gian Kaur, that there is no dignity whatsoever in the act of fasting, and that therefore, there exists no freedom to practise Santhara as an extension of one’s right to life under Article 21.” – Suhrith Parthasarathy

The Rajasthan High Court, in a judgment on the August 10, 2015, declared the Jain practice of Santhara, which involves a voluntary fast-unto-death, an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This decision in Nikhil Soni v. Union of India, is likely to have far-reaching consequences, not only amongst the Jain community in Rajasthan but also across the country. Unfortunately, it conflates several important issues of constitutional law, and symbolises the confusion over the fundamental guarantee of religious freedom in our constitutional jurisprudence.

The court’s judgment is superficially reasoned, misconstrues findings of the Supreme Court, and, most significantly, ignores vital considerations that go to the root of a person’s right to ethical independence.

It is undeniable that Indian secularism—a form quite distinct from western conceptions of the term—envisages the intervention of the state in matters of religion, where general social welfare or substantial civil liberties are at stake. But, what our Constitution, properly interpreted, does not permit is the bestowal of any specific discretion on the courts to tell us which of our beliefs and practices are essential to the following of a religion. By directing the State government to move towards abolishing the practice of Santhara, and by holding that the practice is tantamount to an attempt to commit suicide, punishable under Section 309 of the IPC, the High Court in Nikhil Soni has created a damaging precedent, which requires immediate re-examination.

Santhara, which is increasingly widely practised by Jains in India, is a voluntary tradition of fasting till death, that Jains believe will help them attain ultimate salvation. As pointed out in The Hindu ( “Santhara in the eyes of the law”, August 15) by Shekhar Hattangadi, Santhara is embedded in deeply philosophical beliefs. The practice is premised on a foundational idea that the act of fasting, as an exercise of bodily autonomy, allows a believer to attain a state of utter transcendence. However, the court has now found that such matters of integrity, of choosing how one wants to lead life, do not enjoy any constitutional protection, and that voluntary fasting is nothing but a performance in self-destruction. By any reasonable construction, fasting ought to be considered indistinguishable from an act specifically aimed at ending one’s own life.

Effectively, the judgment in Nikhil Soni is predicated on two primary grounds. First, that the guarantee of a right to life does not include within its ambit a promise of a right to die, and therefore, that the practice of Santhara is not protected by Article 21. Second, that Santhara, as a religious practice, is not an essential part of Jainism, and is hence not protected by Article 25, which guarantees a person’s right to religious freedom and conscience. While on the first ground, the court’s reasoning is difficult to accept, on the second ground, the court’s finding is premised on a wrongly considered doctrine, carved by the Supreme Court in its earliest rulings on the right to freedom of religion.

As the Rajasthan High Court correctly recognises in Nikhil Soni, Section 309, which criminalises the attempt to commit suicide, has been found to be constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court, in 1996, in the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. However, the Supreme Court was concerned here primarily with the unnatural extinguishment of life. To die through an act of suicide, the court held, is not an extension, or a recognised corollary, of one’s right to life under Article 21. But contrary to what the High Court holds in Nikhil Soni, as a recent intervention petition filed by the Delhi-based Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy points out, the Supreme Court in Gian Kaur explicitly recognises that a person’s right to life also partakes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. “…This may include the right of a dying man to also die with dignity when his life is ebbing out,” the court wrote, in Gian Kaur. “But the “right to die” with dignity at the end of life is not to be confused or equated with the “right to die” an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life.”

Taraben Chovatia, 78 years old, had renounced food in 2008, as part of Santhara.A dignified choice

The Jaina practitioners contend that Santhara is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death, but is rather a practice intrinsic to a person’s ethical choice to live with dignity until death. These arguments were brushed aside by the Rajasthan High Court. It simply found, based on an incorrect reading of Gian Kaur, that there is no dignity whatsoever in the act of fasting, and that therefore, there exists no freedom to practise Santhara as an extension of one’s right to life under Article 21. But, perhaps, even more damagingly, the court in Nikhil Soni also rejected arguments that sought to locate such liberty in Article 25. Here, though, the folly in its reasoning wasn’t as much a product of its own making, as it was a consequence of a vague doctrine established by the Supreme Court.

Plainly read, Article 25 guarantees to all persons an equal entitlement to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate religion. The right is subject only to public order, morality, and health, and other recognised fundamental rights. However, as the debates in the Constituent Assembly demonstrate, these community exceptions were included purely to ensure that the guarantee of religious freedom did not come in the way of the state’s ability to correct age-old social inequities. It wasn’t the Assembly’s intention to allow organs of state any substantial latitude in determining which religious practices deserved constitutional protection. But, in practice, perhaps out of an anxiety to ensure that the state is not constrained in passing legislation to remedy social evils, the Supreme Court has interpreted Article 25 in a manner that has greatly restricted the scope of religious liberty.

Interpreting religious practices

The court’s constriction of this freedom has been achieved by invoking a rather curious principle: that Article 25 protects only those exercises that are considered “essential religious practices.” Through the 1960s, this doctrine, which was first envisaged in the Shirur Mutt case, decided in 1954, ingrained itself as an integral part of India’s constitutional theory. The court, on a case-by-case basis, often examined individual religious canons to determine what constituted an essential religious practice. Significantly, the court began to examine whether a particular exercise was indispensable to the proper practice of a religion.

This interpretation has allowed the court authority to determine for the people what their religious beliefs and practices, through a correct reading of their religious texts and customs, ought to comprise. Invariably, the determination of what constitutes an essential religious practice, therefore, amounts to a very particular form of moral judgment—a form of cultural paternalism that is quite antithetical to a liberal democracy.

It is this authority, which the High Court in Nikhil Soni, has invoked to rule that the criminalisation of Santhara would not breach a Jain’s right to religious freedom. “We do not find that in any of the scriptures, preachings, articles or the practices followed by the Jain ascetics, the Santhara … has been treated as an essential religious practice, nor is necessarily required for the pursuit of immortality or moksha,” the judgment states. This analysis, as is evident, does not consider whether a person indulging in Santhara performs the act out of an intrinsic belief that the practice flows from his religion, but rather adopts an almost-avowedly paternalistic outlook. It tells followers of Jainism that under a purportedly proper interpretation of their religious texts, Santhara is simply not an essential practice. As a result, the question of whether a Jain’s right to religious freedom is violated by prohibiting Santhara is examined in a wholly unsatisfactory manner.

If, and when, the Supreme Court sits on appeal over the judgment in Nikhil Soni, it must ask the right questions: of whether any social inequities arise out of the practice, of whether any other right of its practitioners are violated through Santhara, of whether the rights of any other person are infracted when a person goes on fast. In so doing, the court must also reconsider its now age-old doctrine of essential practice, which has caused a substantial weakening of the state of religious freedom in India.The Hindu, 24 August 2015

» Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate practising at the Madras High Court.

Santhara Petition

Santhara in the eyes of the law – Shekhar Hattangadi

Prof Shekhar Hattangadi“The systematic codification of Indian criminal law … began soon after the colonialists survived the blood-soaked Mutiny of 1857 and formally established the British Raj. The IPC, which forms the bulwark of our criminal jurisprudence, bears an 1860 vintage … and was drafted by Lord Thomas Macaulay who was known to be a devout Christian. Inevitably, … the wily administrator put forth a code that not only set a low threshold of culpability for political dissent and for spreading disaffection against the government … but which also reflected his own deeply held convictions about right-and-wrong, and good-and-evil.” – Prof Shekhar Hattangadi

Jain Hand : The word inside the Dharma Chakra reads That conflicting religious philosophies often propel nations into war has long been a truism of history. But when Samuel P. Huntington gave the oft-used “clash of civilizations” phrase a foreboding—ven menacing—contemporary context during a 1992 lecture in the aftermath of the Gulf War, it’s unlikely that the American political scientist was thinking of an emaciated Jain muni peacefully awaiting death on a bed of dry grass after weeks of starvation.

Although it may seem far from obvious, Huntington’s thesis—that differences in religion and culture would spawn conflict in the post-Cold War world—lies at the root of the angst that has gripped the Jain community following the Rajasthan High Court’s verdict against Santhara. Earlier [Monday, 10 Aug], the court’s Jaipur Bench ruled on a public-interest litigation (PIL) filed in May 2006 against the centuries-old Jain practice of starving to death. It held that Santhara would henceforth be treated as “suicide” and accordingly made punishable under the relevant sections—Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) and Section 306 (abetment of suicide)—of the Indian Penal Code. In the use of harsher language in its directive to the State—that the latter shall “stop and abolish” the practice “in any form” and register any complaint against it “as a criminal case”—the court made its absolute rejection of the Jain philosophy underlying the practice unequivocally clear. It also unwittingly bared the cultural divide between disparate end-of-life concepts.

During the five-year-long research for my documentary film on this controversy—Santhara: A Challenge to Indian Secularism?—I met several members of the Jain clergy and other lay adherents of the faith as well as scholars who had studied the philosophy of Jainism through its scriptures and rituals. Without an exception, they were all at pains to point out the fallacy of characterizing Santhara as a form of suicide. True, both acts culminate in the self-extinguishment of a human life, but the motivations of the actors are poles apart. Whereas suicide is an act of extreme desperation fuelled by anguish and hopelessness, a Santhara practitioner relinquishing food and drink voluntarily by this method has arrived at that decision after calm and unruffled introspection, with an intent to cleanse oneself of karmic encumbrances and thus attain the highest state of transcendental well-being. Santhara, for him, is therefore simply an act of spiritual purification premised on an exercise of individual autonomy.

Admittedly, dietary abstinence as religious ritual isn’t unique to Jainism. There’s Ramzan among Muslims, Lent among Christians, fasting during Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av among Jews, and a host of astronomy- and astrology-related fasts among Hindus. But none of the others takes fasting to the point of starvation and ultimately death as does Santhara. Since any kind of eating or drinking would result in a disruption (however minimal) of and add a burden (however small) to the natural ecology around them, orthodox Jains consider zero-consumption—i.e. starvation unto death a la Santhara—to be the high-point among the Jain traditions of austerity and self-denial, and therefore the truest real-world act of ahimsa or non-violence, the fundamental tenet of Jainism.

Disregard, for a moment, the radical extremism of the act itself. And contrast its broader theological rationale—which is more or less common to Eastern religions, and which resonates nicely with the basic theory of karma that underlies the beliefs and practices of most Indian religions—with the ecclesiastical values prevalent in the cultures that brought us the forms of governance we presently live with. A conspiracy of history, circumstance and expedient decision-making has resulted in our law-making and law-administering bodies being structured on the Westminster model of our colonial rulers, not to mention our judicial machinery and its key statutes—notably, criminal laws—remaining largely untouched since the time they were first designed by the British and written with their colonial feather-pens. Even the bulk of our Constitution, mulled over for all of three years on the cusp of Independence by worthy home-grown sons and daughters representing a cross-section of our population, was derived from the Government of India Act, 1935 and arguably its most important articles (i.e. those enshrining our Fundamental Rights) were inspired by the American Constitution.

Thomas Babington MacaulayThe concept of suicide associated with religion is a repugnant one for the mainstream Anglo-Saxon West, whose Judeo-Christian beliefs would denounce such an act as antithetical to the moral and ethical principles espoused by Christianity. The systematic codification of Indian criminal law as we know it today began soon after the colonialists survived the blood-soaked Mutiny of 1857 and formally established the British Raj. The IPC, which forms the bulwark of our criminal jurisprudence, bears an 1860 vintage (it came into force two years later) and was drafted by Lord Thomas Macaulay who was known to be a devout Christian. Inevitably, it would appear, the wily administrator put forth a code that not only set a low threshold of culpability for political dissent and for spreading disaffection against the government—which was tacitly welcomed by successive regimes well into the post-Independence era, and which is why it’s still so easy to slap “sedition” cases against innocuous cartoonists—but which also reflected his own deeply held convictions about right-and-wrong, and good-and-evil.

The Crown couldn’t have found a more faithful and capable servant. As a public policy maker, Macaulay had telescoped his personal beliefs into an official document that upheld the “civilizing mission” of his masters while taking care of the everyday chore of maintaining law and order among the unruly “natives” as well as the tricky task of subverting their pagan values. The IPC accomplished the first, and Macaulay’s introduction of English as a medium of instruction in schools and colleges contributed to the second. It paved the way for Christian missionaries to press forward with their conversions mainly among the needy, and with their “convent education” among the aspiring middle-classes. From this large-scale acculturation emerged a new generation of brown sahibs and babus eminently qualified to maintain the institutions of the Raj.

But it also set the ball rolling for a fundamental and deep-seated—albeit seldom articulated—discordance between the Western ideologies that created those institutions and devised their operating norms and procedures, and the Eastern philosophies that shaped the world-view of the people those institutions were meant to serve. Compare, for instance, the singularly focused zeal of a proselytizing religion like Christianity with the Jain tenet of anekantavada (non-absolutism or openness to differing—and even contrasting—opinions and beliefs) or with the inclusive live-and-let-live approach of Hinduism, and you begin to empathize with Rudyard Kipling’s twain-shall-never-meet conundrum.

And the Santhara case serves to emphasize the seemingly irreconcilable difference in perspective on the specific issue of “suicide.” In contrast to a Christian believer who looks upon the human body as a God-given “temple of the human soul” and therefore beyond the realm of willful and deliberate destruction by any human being, a devout Jain views that same body as a “prison of the human soul,” the fulfillment of whose needs corresponds to the accumulation of bad karma.

This basic contradiction between a statute founded largely on a Christian-inspired bioethic and the essentially Eastern variant of the idea of spiritual advancement through abstinence and renunciation rears its head whenever an ancient religious practice like Santhara collides with contemporary law. The conflict becomes particularly glaring in a faith-based society like ours whose polity has embraced norms of governance and administration that are transplants from an alien soil.

What, according to me, remains a significant take-away from the court proceedings in the Santhara case is not so much the petitioner’s—and consequently, though not expressly, the court’s—characterization of the death-ritual as suicide simpliciter masquerading as a religious practice wrapped in the mantle of hoary tradition. That approach could arguably be critiqued as a narrow, unkind and mechanical application of the law. More telling however is the fact, recorded for posterity in the judgment, that the pro-Santhara counsel, seeking to establish the scriptural validity of the practice, recited slokas “to the amusement of the general public sitting in the Court.” Is the recitation of a sloka in an Indian courtroom during the hearing of a case involving the legality of an ancient rite or ritual such an incongruous act that it should invite mirth and derision? Could there be a more vivid illustration of the incompatibility between traditional religion and modern governance?

Which raises the question:

Are countries such as those in Europe, which enforce a strict separation between religion and governance and which discourage public displays of religious festivity, faring any better?

Having painstakingly achieved that ideal—the Church-State divide—through centuries of struggle, these countries are apt to look askance particularly at the Indian nation-state where an avowedly “secular” (the word figures in the Preamble to our Constitution) government regulates religious institutions, subsidizes Haj trips and deploys state resources to safeguard Amarnath Yatra pilgrims.

But times might be changing. Although the conventional idea of secularism in western democracies largely keeps religion out of governance, the influx of immigrants of various faiths into these countries in recent times and their assertive—even militant—stance with regard to their rights of religious practice has made these countries confront the problem anew. The spiky issues of burqa-wearing in France and of circumcision in Germany manifest the same law-religion conflict with which we are grappling here. The unease over Santhara may well be part of a global discontent. – The Hindu, 15 August 2015

» Prof Shekhar Hattangadi is a Mumbai-based professor of constitutional law and an award-winning documentary film maker.


Towards banning of cow slaughter in India – Dharampal

Sri Dharampal“After independence the continuing low status of the cow in Indian public life, has been caused by two major factors. One is the misperception of the westernised amongst us that this is a sensitive issue between the Hindu and the Muslim communities. … In fact during the debates in the Constituent Assembly (1946-1949), the Muslim members offered to support an outright ban on cow slaughter. The second factor seems to be that the elite of India have become so westernised in their outlook that they feel embarrassed to recognise the widely held perception about the sacredness of the cow and all life forms by the vast majority. All such paramparic perceptions, according to them are a sign of backwardness.” – Sri Dharampal

Article 48 of the Indian Constitution states:

“The state shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

The CowAccording to Indian belief, India, from the beginning of time, is a land of the sacred. Here all life including insects, ants, all animals and plants, big or small, each and everyone has a sanctity of his or her own and the soul of each living being migrates from one life-form to another life-form till the individual soul, after countless births and rebirths gets absorbed into the ultimate cosmic or divine form. In India even those who have over recent centuries been converted to other faiths like Islam or Christianity often tend to believe in this theory of transmigration from one life to another.

Of all beings, the cow in India is treated as the most sacred and sanctified. This sense of the unique sacredness of the cow is expressed in the works of ancient Indian Rishis (like in the Vedas, etc.) as well as in later literature and folklore.

Since about 1860 AD British and European scholarship started a new interpretation of the Vedas to impress upon the westernised in India that the ancient Vedas, etc., also advocated, celebrated, and feasted on the flesh of the cow, or bullock, on special occasions. This mid 19th century western view, despite its considerable scholarly effort to degrade the status of the cow in the view of the Indians, has however made little impact on the Indian mind.

Notwithstanding the daily endless slaughter of the cow for cow flesh, by the British for some 150 years, and the cow’s widespread neglect during the British rule and the increasingly emaciated state of the cow today, the cow remains sacred and holy to the generality of the Indian people. Ever since the British first started the systematic, daily, large-scale, organised, and factory-modelled slaughter of cattle in India, for providing cow-flesh to British officers and soldiers and for the other British and other Europeans who increasingly began to live in various parts of India from about AD 1750 onwards, the people of India had been anxiously waiting for a complete stoppage to the extensive and increasing killing of the cow and its progeny and continued by the post-independence governments of India, for one reason or other, even after 1947. For the past 150 years, Indians have been trying through various movements, to restore the paramparic sense of sacredness and the inviolate stature of the cow in the Indian society.

Kanchi Acharya Jayendra SaraswatiII

The most massive and recent protest against cow slaughter was by lakhs of Sanyasis and sadhus in Delhi in November 1966, but to practically no lasting effects. After the 1966 Delhi protest, dharnas, fasts, etc, the government of India did set up a high power committee in 1967 to suggest ways and means for the complete stoppage of the slaughter of the cow. But the committee fell apart in its very first meeting and it seems it did not ever meet again. A few years later Acharya Vinoba Bhave undertook a fast to effect a complete ban on the slaughter of the cow. Promises were made to him by the then Prime Ministers that they will bring about such a ban soon. But nothing happened though 25 years have passed since then. The setting up of the present National Commission on Cattle may be seen as a step by the present government to move in the direction of imposing such a ban to fulfill the expectations of the Indian people, and the promises made, the latest of which was to Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam.

The Commission is to examine the various laws and enactments which relate to the cow, to its welfare and to the objective that its non-killing becomes as effective as the law now provides, the problems which arise in the application of various law and rules, to the present state of the 20-30 Indian cow breeds and to find ways and means of restoring their purity and health and well-being and to look into the economic contribution of the cow through calves, milk, cow-dung, cow-urine and other minute but more widespread contribution to Indian society and economy. And the final, but somewhat unstated aim is to soon bring about the complete stoppage of the ill-treatment and slaughter of the cow and its progeny.

But the commission needs to appreciate that its appointment, in the first place, is a manifestation of the yearning of the Indian people for the past 150 years to restore the paramparic sense of sacredness and the inviolate stature of the cow in the Indian society. We need to not only understand the expectations of the people of India from the commission, but respect their sentiments as well. After independence the continuing low status of the cow in Indian public life, has been caused by two major factors. One is the misperception of the westernised amongst us that this is a sensitive issue between the Hindu and the Muslim communities. That it is not so is brought out by facts mentioned briefly later on in this note. In fact during the debates in the Constituent Assembly (1946-1949), the Muslim members offered to support an outright ban on cow slaughter. The second factor seems to be that the elite of India have become so westernised in their outlook that they feel embarrassed to recognise the widely held perception about the sacredness of the cow and all life forms by the vast majority. All such paramparic perceptions, according to them are a sign of backwardness. It also could be that they are afraid of the consequences of founding and basing of institutions and systems on such beliefs. These two factors seem to be behind all policies of the Government of India since independence.

Therefore if the commission is to be effective and earnest to the aspirations of the people of India, it needs to go into numerous other problems especially those connected with the ancient as well as more recent background of the question of cow-slaughter in India, as well as the position of Indian agriculture and cattle wealth around AD 1800, and the process and the numerous British policies and acts which have led them into their 200 years old continuing decline. It also needs to examine carefully the history of molestation and killing of the cow which is stated to have started with the eruption of Islamic conquerors into India.

Allah demands blood!III

Though Islam started entering parts of India by the 8th century AD, Islam’s widespread impact on large parts of northern and western India largely began about 1200 AD. From about 1200 AD to 1700 AD Islamic rulers, mostly hailing from western and central Asia began to dominate the polity of the north and western part of India. During these five centuries, a substantial number of the rural Indian people, especially in the Punjab and the Bengal, also got converted to Islam.

Before they came to India, the food habits of the west and central Asian Islamic immigrants was largely the eating of some type of bread with the flesh of sheep, goat and camel. On festive and religious occasions (especially on the feast of Bakr-Id which happened once a year) Islamic tradition had prescribed the sacrifice, killing and eating of a sheep, or a goat, and when there were seven or more to share the feast, then a camel could be sacrificed. The question of the sacrifice of the cow was not there as the land where Islam arose did not have many cows.

When Islam settled into India it continued to sacrifice the sheep, the goat, the camel on the Bakr-Id and such occasions. At times, however, it took to sacrificing the cow instead of the camel. As there naturally was some animosity between the Indian people and the Islamic conquerors, the latter at times, to humiliate and insult local sentiments, began to kill the cow, largely to impress the conquered of the conqueror’s power. But it seems that at the same time, due to political necessity and the need to reduce the hostility of the conquered to Islamic dominance, many of the Islamic kings at various times also forbade the killing of the cow in the areas they ruled. Not much work however has so far been done on the frequency of cow killing during these 500 years (1200 AD-1700 AD) of Islamic dominance. A modern estimate (c. 1950) by Lala Hardev Sahay of Haryana, a well-known advocate of banning all cow slaughter, suggests that the maximum number of cows killed in any single year, during Islamic dominance, would not ordinarily have exceeded 20,000 cows (Biography 1995, pp 105). In contrast according to Mahatma Gandhi, 30,000 cows were slaughtered daily (1 crore 10 lacs annually) by the British around 1917 (CWMG: 14, page 80).

It seems that a large number of the Indian converts to Islam did not ever take to the killing or eating of cow flesh. Therefore, as the dominance of Islam disappeared around 1700, so did the killing of the cow. It can reasonably be assumed that there was very little killing of the cow after about 1700 AD. Strangely however, the impression, originating perhaps around the mid 19th century, has continued till date, that the slaughter of the cow at present, or in the past 200 years, is a continuation from the days of Islamic dominance. Moreover there is no effort to make a distinction between the killing of the cow for political or for sacrificial reasons, during some 500 years of Islamic dominance.

Namdhari Sikhs hung by British for killing butchers and freeing cows at an Amritsar slaughter house in 1871.IV

For some 2000 years Europe has been a major consumer of the flesh of the cow. Naturally therefore the killing of the cow by Europeans, especially the British, started soon after they began to establish themselves in various parts of India in the early 18th century. To begin with the number of cows killed would not have been too noticeable. But by the end of the 18th century such killing would have assumed larger proportions, and large number of slaughter houses on the European pattern would have been set up in various parts of India by the Commissariat wing of the three British armies (of Bengal, Madras and Bombay presidencies). To do such killing large number of slaughterers had to be found. As the vast majority of the Hindus would have declined the job, some of the converted Indian Christians and such Muslims who were accustomed to being butchers were persuaded and cajoled to adopt the profession of cow-slaughterers.

The number of British officers and soldiers were around 20,000 at c. 1800 AD. In 1856 AD this number is stated to have been around 45,000. This number of British army officers and soldiers increased by the end of 1858, i.e. after the mutiny, to over one lakh and stayed at that during 1858-1910, and of the British and other Europeans to around 3 to 5 lakhs between 1800 – 1900. As the major part of this increased army personnel was posted in northern India, consequently the killing of the cow and the consumption of cow flesh by the British in northern India would have multiplied four-fold or more. Such a sudden increase in cow slaughter, along with the increased impressment of strong bullocks for the transport of the increased army, which had been going on for over a century wherever the British army moved, greatly alarmed the people of the northern India.

Numerous massive protests against this cow-killing have no doubt taken place since 1850, especially the one starting around 1870 by the Namdhari Sikhs (popularly known as the Kukas). A few years later Swami Dayananda Saraswati gave the call for the stoppage of cow-slaughter by the British, and suggested the formation of Go-samvardhani Sabhas. These culminated in becoming a massive India-wide protest from 1880 onwards till 1893. Practically everybody in Northern and Central India was a part of this movement and crores of people, including large number of Muslims, participated in it in all possible ways. Many of the Sanyasis from South India spread it all over the country. The movement was finally crushed by the British through the instigation of major riots between the Musalmans and the Hindus.

Victoria Empress of IndiaV

We must thank Queen Victoria of Great Britain to have broadcast the truth about the widespread killing of the cow in India, by the British, in her letter to her Indian Viceroy. During the anti kine-killing movement of 1880-1894, Queen Victoria referred to the subject thus on December 8, 1893, “Though the Muhammedans’ cow killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is in fact, directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, than the Muhammedans.” Not only most Indians, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, saw this clearly at the time, but a large number of high British officers knew, and talked amongst themselves, about the fact that the anti kine-killing agitation was actually against the widespread killing of the cow to supply daily cow flesh to the over 1,00,000 British soldiers and the officers of the British army in India, and the several lakh British and Europeans living in India to assist in the running of the British imperial system.

These facts need to be examined by the commission and the impression dispelled that the matter of cow slaughter has anything to do with the Muslim sensitivity. A study which is required, and which one hopes could be completed during the term of the present Commission, is about the role of Islam in India, both as rulers and as subjects, since AD 1200, in relation to Islam in India, both as rulers and as subjects, since AD 1200, in relation to the cow. Various unrelated statements are current about the relationship. The major statement which has been much current, possibly through British instigation in the 19th and early 20th century has been that the Muslims are the main killer of the cow. In contrast it is also widely stated that several of the major Muslim rulers of Delhi, and other places, strictly forbade the killing of the cow and its progeny, during their reigns or for fairly long periods. No work seems to have been done on the regions, or total period of time where and when such prohibitions were actually enforced. On closer examination we may be surprised to find only a small section amongst the Muslims and a still smaller number amongst those currently termed scheduled-caste Hindus partaking of cow flesh.

Emblem of India: Promotes cow slaughter and leather industry.VI

Around 1946, and till a few years later, the Animal Husbandry Departments of the Governments in India could be considered as considerate and loving to the animals especially towards the cow and its progeny. But by 1950, a substantial section of the powerful in India had not only lost any interest they had in the subject of cow-care, instead they began to be tempted by the material and commercial advantages of continuing the slaughter of cows.

During 1947-48 a committee of the Animal Husbandry Department of the Government of India chaired by Sardar Datar Singh also urged upon the country to put a total ban on the slaughter of the cow, in two stages, but within a period of two years. This recommendation was taken up by most of the states of India, and within a few years laws were enacted in most states banning the slaughter of all cattle below the age of 15. The committee constituted in Uttar Pradesh in 1948 included prominent persons from all communities, it had the Nawab of Chattari, and Justice Maharaj Singh (a judge of the UP High Court and also a Christian) among its members. But the interest and work of these committees was substantially marred by the Government of India telling them, in 1950, that cow slaughter should not be stopped as the export of hides bring India foreign exchange, and that the leather of a slaughtered animal was far more valuable than that of a fallen animal.

J. Nehru & Edwina MountbattenVII

In 1954 a Government of India committee, established to suggest ways to stop cow slaughter came up with the observation that as India had little fodder and cattle-feed, it could only maintain 40 out of the 100 cattle India had. It recommended that the rest, 60, should be culled. This view was officially expressed by the Expert Committee on the Prevention of Slaughter of Cattle in India, its report was submitted in January 1955.

In the same year (1954), replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha on a nonofficial Bill demanding the total banning of the slaughter of the cow and its progeny, the then Prime Minister of India told the Lok Sabha that if the Bill under consideration was passed he would have to consider resigning from the Prime Ministership. This threat of the then Prime Minister led to the withdrawal of the Bill, a Bill which had been debated in the Lok Sabha for some two years and on the adoption of which there seemed to be general agreement in the House.

From henceforth along with the learned judgements of the Supreme Court the Government in Delhi became an advocate of larger slaughter of cows as well as other animals for this purpose and that, and in recent decades has started handing out grants and loans for setting up of huge modern slaughter houses.

The Report of the high-power committee of 1954, advocating the elimination of around 60 percent of India’s cattle wealth was followed by similar other reports in the following decades. The National Commission on Agriculture 1976, some twenty years later amongst others, suggested that:

“The buffalo should be developed not only for enhancement of milk production but also for making it a source of production of quality meat

“A deliberate and energetic drive made to develop for export trade in buffalo meat

“Modernisation of slaughter houses should be undertaken immediately

“Massive programmes for improving the reproductive and productive efficiencies of cattle and buffaloes should be undertaken. Low producing stock should be progressively eliminated so that the limited feed and fodder resources are available for proper feeding of high producing animals.”

In July 1995, the Government of India claimed before the Supreme Court that: “It is obvious that the central government as a whole is encouraging scientific and sustainable development of livestock resources and their efficient utilization which inter-alia includes production of quality meat for export as well as for domestic market. This is being done with a view of increasing the national wealth as well as better returns to the farmer.”

 Nadeem QureshiVIII

This shows how far, within three years of the British quitting India, those who were in the position of making policies had deviated from the traditional belief held by Indians from ancient times, and even today, by the majority of our people. The Commission may therefore, look into the relationship of the cow with the Indian society through history. It may look into the ancient, the days of the great rishis, then into the long period of Indian history reaching to the days of Harshavardhana and in fact upto about AD 1200; then into the Islamic intervention and the condition of the cow then; then into the beginning of the European imposition on India and the setting up of hundreds of slaughter houses; then the departure of the British from about 1946 but of our carrying on more or less in the British ways, even worse, in the past 55 years.

We have also gone for large scale mixing up of Indian cows and foreign cows etc., with the result that most of our cattle are becoming nondescript.

We now not only export hides and leather, but we are proud of increasing the scale of export of all varieties of meat to the outside world. Such export of the huge amount of meat of innocent animals is a heinous crime not only against them but as well against our tradition and civilisation. Till we completely stop this export there does not seem to be any way at all to even begin stopping cow-slaughter, or to regain our suppressed and down-trodden civilisation and also our parampara to flourish again.

Valley of Flowers in  HimalayasIX

What our ancestors have told us about their instinct and experience, and perhaps on the basis of some limited ancient texts, and oft-quoted oral sayings, the more reflective and scholarly amongst us may today just have a glimpse of through modern scientific learning. About 150 years ago there were about 350 varieties of flowers in the Valley of Flowers, in the Himalayas. Now only some 50-100 are left. The decline seems to be because of the enforced stoppage, according to modern understanding, of grazing in the area. The question of the cow, agriculture, our beliefs, swabhava etc. are all interrelated. We need to look into all these aspects if we need to be effective. Based on such linkages and relationships, based on which perhaps an Indian indigenous theory could be constructed on plants, animals, environment, swabhava, etc. India requires an in-depth history of the Indian cow and its relation with life and society around it, from ancient times to the present. Perhaps the Commission can initiate the preparation of such a study and its publication.

From about AD 1770 in places like Surat, Malwa, Patna etc. through the introduction of new cash crops cultivated on plantation basis, the British and other Europeans tried to introduce new methods and species amidst Indian agriculture, cattle rearing and the like. What they did then was according to their own understanding and needs, and not necessarily to disrupt India to begin with. These experiments increased, multiplied, some cancelled the others, and by about 1860, the shape of Indian agriculture and life and breeding of cattle began to change at least in the British-managed plantations specialising in opium, cotton, indigo, sugar-care, tea, coffee.

In the same way irrigation practices began to be deeply affected soon after 1800. In the Bengal and Bihar area there began to be much British unhappiness with floods in the great rivers of India, which brought rich silt from the Himalayas which was welcomed according to the indigenous knowledge and there were ways of coping with the floods but these began to be treated as calamities. Perhaps the commission needs to look into the numerous causes of the wide-spread impoverishment and bio-degradation we have faced especially since 1800; go in detail into the background of our agriculture and cattle keeping and the disruptions and alterations these have faced in the past 200 years; and gather detailed data on each district of India as regards i) forests, ii) pastures, iii) village grazing lands, iv) cultivated lands of various kinds indicating those which were irrigated and the source of irrigation and v) the extent of area sown under different major crops in periods stretching if possible, from about 1850 onwards say for the years 1850,1890,1940,1970 and 1995. Similarly we need to know the details of cattle in each period and also the number and type of other domestic animals. Next we need the number of cattle slaughtered in each period (if possible the number of cows, bullocks, male calves, female calves and bulls). Since about 1950 or may be from about 1920 or 1930 we need to know the number of animals (cattle separately) for export as meat from each of these districts. Similarly we need to have details of traction used in ploughing etc. specially since about 1940 when we would have started going for tractors and other power-driven mechanical means.

Cow slaughter in Andhra PradeshX

Finally if total prohibition of cow slaughter has to be enforced by a particular date what major changes would have to be made in the cropping pattern and the crops which are grown, the changes in fertilising the land, major variations in irrigation and allied matters to make Indian agriculture more healthy and prosperous as it was till about 1800.

There are also a large number, perhaps a few thousand pamphlets, posters etc. relating to the anti-kine killing movements especially after 1860. Such material, to the extent possible, should be located and made part of the literature on Indian agriculture and the cow. -At Sevagram, Dec. 2001 – Jan. 2002

» Dharampal (1922–2006) was a Gandhian thinker, historian and political philosopher. He authored The Beautiful Tree (1983), Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century (1971) and Civil Disobedience and Indian Tradition (1971), among other seminal works, which have led to a radical reappraisal of conventional views of the cultural, scientific and technological achievements of Indian society at the eve of the British conquest. See all Dharampal’s works here.

Video: Cattle trafficking to Kerala

Video: Glass Walls: Meat production in India

See also

  1. Peace on your plate – Bhuvaneshwari Gupta
  2. VIDEO: Inside a Kerala slaughter house – Jamsheed Jamshi
  3. The Desi Cow: Almost extinct – Jay Mazoomdaar
  4. India has become a large slaughter house for cows – Maneka Gandhi
  5. Cow Slaughter: Dravidian traffickers and beef’s own country – B.R. Haran
  6. VIDEO: Their Last Journey: Cattle trafficking to Kerala – Temple Worshippers Society
  7. Cow is a sacred asset of the nation – Subramanian Swamy
  8. The principle of vegetarianism in Sanatana Dharma – Sri Acharyaji
  9. Buddhism and its dubious ‘pure meat’ teaching – Sandhya Jain
  10. Osmania Beef Festival: A mouthful of controversies – Swapan Dasgupta
  11. JNU students plan pig-eating festival – Vijaya Rajiva
  12. Growing beef trade hits India’s sacred cow – Arezou Rezvani, Benjamin Gottlieb & Elise Hennigan
  13. McDonald’s in India – Heather Timmons
  14. Olympic Vegetarians: The elite athletes who shun meat – Adharanand Finn
  15. 34 Celebrity Vegetarians – HuffPost

Peace on your plate – Bhuvaneshwari Gupta

Bhuvaneshwari Gupta“When we sit down to eat, we have a choice. We can support misery and violence, or we can make choices that support mercy and compassion. The decision should be an easy one for us. If we believe that it is wrong to kill, we should not support an industry that requires others to kill for us.” – Bhuvaneshwari Gupta

CompassionAll of India’s religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism – share one commonality. Whether we call it “ahimsa” or something else, compassion and nonviolence are central to most people’s faith. These are not merely lofty, philosophical ideals that we read about in books. We become compassionate by acting with compassion in our daily lives. We become merciful by extending our mercy to those who are less fortunate or weaker than ourselves. It is hard at times to know how we can make a real difference in the world, but every one of us has the opportunity to practice nonviolence every time we sit down to eat. All we have to do is leave meat off our plates and choose kinder vegetarian options.

Our fellow inhabitants of the Earth – other species – may look different or have different ways of communicating, but all living creatures share an interest in living free from pain and fear.

Friends!Did you know that pigs are smarter than dogs and every bit as friendly, loyal and affectionate? They communicate constantly with one another, and more than 20 of their oinks, grunts and squeals have been identified as distinct communications that apply to various situations. Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices, and mother pigs “sing” to their young while nursing. Pigs are known to dream, recognise their own names, learn “tricks” like sitting for a treat and lead social lives of a complexity previously observed only in primates. Biologist Tina Widowski, who studies pigs and marvels at their intelligence, has said, “When I was working with the monkeys, I used to look at them and say: ‘If you were a pig, you would have this figured out by now'”.

Hen with chicksMother hens also care deeply for their babies. A mother hen will turn her eggs as many as five times an hour and cluck soothingly to her unborn chicks. Studies have shown that these smart, inquisitive birds have good memories and that they can learn basic math skills. They also develop lasting bonds with their companions.

Kim Sturla, the cofounder of an animal sanctuary in the United States, recounts the story of Mary, an elderly hen who had been rescued from a city dump, and her companion, an elderly rooster. “They bonded, and they would roost on the picnic table”, she says. “One stormy night with the rain really pelting down, I went to put them in the barn and I saw the rooster had his wing extended over the hen protecting her.”

Cows are individuals with distinct personalities. Some are bold and adventurous, whereas others are shy and timid. They are intelligent and curious animals who form social hierarchies, can recognise more than 100 members of their herd, have best friends and cliques and even hold grudges against other cows who have treated them badly.

Weeping CowThese gentle giants mourn when a loved one dies or when they are separated from one another, and they shed tears over their loss. The mother-calf bond is particularly strong, and there are countless reports of mother cows who frantically call and search for their babies after the calves have been taken away on dairy farms.

Cows have also been known to go to extraordinary lengths to escape from abattoirs. For example, when workers at a US abattoir went on break, Emily the cow made a break of her own. She took a tremendous leap over a 5-foot gate and escaped into the woods, surviving for several weeks during New England’s snowiest winter in a decade. When she was eventually caught by the owners of a nearby sanctuary, the public demanded that the slaughterhouse allow the sanctuary to buy Emily for a dollar so that she could live out her remaining days in peace.

Although fish cannot always express pain and suffering in ways that humans easily recognise, marine biologists assure us that fish do indeed feel pain. And that’s just one of many ways that fish are like us.

Cattle trafficking to KeralaStudies have shown that fish are smart animals who form complex social relationships and “talk” to one another underwater. Fish can count and tell time, are fast learners, think ahead and have unique personalities. Some fish use tools, such as the blackspot tuskfish who was photographed smashing a clam on a rock until the clam cracked open.

Yet the animals killed for food – inquisitive individuals who value their lives, solve problems, form friendships and experience fear and pain, just as we do – are treated more like “things” than the thinking, feeling beings that they are. They are crammed into cages and crates on filthy farms, their babies are taken away from them and they are kicked and prodded and deprived of everything that makes their lives worth living.

 Nadeem QureshiFarmed chickens are in constant pain, bred to grow so large so quickly that the bones in their tiny legs splinter because they cannot support all that extra weight. The accumulated waste in which they are forced to stand burns their eyes and lungs, and many birds lose their feathers and develop blistering, ulcerated feet. At the end of their miserable lives, the birds are roughly grabbed by their frail legs and wings – which often causes their bones to snap – and stuffed into cages to be transported to their deaths.

Video footage sent to PETA India of the cruel and unlawful killing of pigs in Goa shows the animals being repeatedly – and haphazardly – stabbed in the heart with knives, causing them to writhe about and scream in agony while desperately gasping for air. Some of the animals choke on their own blood.

John AbrahamDuring an undercover investigation of India’s dairy industry, PETA’s investigators witnessed cows and buffaloes who were routinely struck and kicked, buffaloes who bled but received no attention, unsanitary conditions in the tabelas and other examples of abuse and filth. One worker stuffed a dead calf’s head with hay and used it to try to coax a cow to produce milk.

When fish are dragged out of their ocean homes in huge nets (along with “non-target” victims such as dolphins and turtles), their gills often collapse, their eyes bulge out of their heads and their swim bladders burst because of the sudden pressure change. PETA’s investigation of fish farms revealed sick, parasite-infested fish who were forced to live in filthy water that was teeming with fish faeces. Conditions at fish markets were equally appalling. Mangur fish were kept alive in very little water and struggled to breathe. Endangered species, including sharks and dolphins, were sold openly, and the market grounds were strewn with discarded flesh, which attracted flies and stray animals.

Lord Buddha & Albert Shweitzer's Compassion QuoteSuch abuse and ill-treatment of other beings defies the teachings of our holiest books – and should repulse any caring person.

When we sit down to eat, we have a choice. We can support misery and violence, or we can make choices that support mercy and compassion. The decision should be an easy one for us. If we believe that it is wrong to kill, we should not support an industry that requires others to kill for us.

Whenever we feel powerless to control the violence and prejudice that has gripped so much of the world, we can do this one thing and leave the broken bodies of other animals off our plates. The most important thing in life is to be kind, and if you are kind to animals by not eating them, then all the other kindnesses don’t seem so hard to embrace.

» Bhuvaneshwari Gupta is a nutritionist and campaigner at PETA India in the Mumbai area.