Hindu festivals and dilemma among the Ambedkarites.
It's a festival season. Time for celebrations, get-togethers, delicacies and wait, *rituals*. Here begins the confusion among some groups. What do they mean by rituals. When the word *rituals* gets attached to all the fun, another word must be added. Yes the rituals are indeed *Hindu rituals*. In Marathi, the same can be called *Karma kaand.*
Here the confusion begins among the Non-Hindu groups viz: Muslims, Atheists and Ambedkarite Scheduled caste groups.
These groups are often fine with the celebration and fun part of the festivals. While they even participate with extra-zeal and enthusiasm in these Hindu festivals, there has been a long-run dilemma among the Ambedkarite groups in particular about the Hindu festivals.
The educated Ambedkarites who have read Ambedkar find it very difficult to explain and convince their fellow Ambedkarite friends, relatives etc who still follow - some superficially and some in full-fledged manner- not to follow the Hindu rituals. It is indeed not that difficult to convince the fellow Ambedkarites that the giving away of the Hindu rituals is not a forced or coerced act. With an argumentative discourse, it could be easily explained to them that this giving away of the Hindu rituals or the Spiritual transformation of the Ambedkarites is not out of some hate but has a sound logic, reasoning and good conscience associated with it.
The enlightened groups among the Ambedkarites anyways don't give a damn about the Hindu festivals. But there are some not-so-aware groups who still follow the rituals of the Hindu festivals. And as a paradox they also do not deny that they are Ambedkarites.
The root of this dilemma arose when Ambedkar in 1956 along with lakhs of his followers denounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur. The conversion was one of a kind. The peculiarity of it was that only adults above 18 were allowed to participate in the conversion ceremony. Which clearly indicates that it has to be a sanctioned act and not a forced or coercive conversion.
After the conversion, Ambedkar pledged 22 vows for all those who converted to Buddhism. Some of the 22 vows included vows like:
It is amptly clear from these three vows that the Ambedkarites shall not worship the *Hindu gods* thereon. Though the idea sounds radical, it was an obvious gesture of the group exploited for generations in the name of religion. In the name of Gods. In the name of the worshipping the Hindu gods in particular.
Chaturvarna has been a religious code sanctioned by the gods. Through various codes and mythologies, the institution of the caste system and inequality perpetuated for thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent. The inhuman Laws of Manu which treated Shudras and Women to the level of animals enjoyed the religious patronage until the implementation of Constitution lately. And all of this perpetuated in the name of worshipping gods and performing the Karma kaand.
Some Elite and learned Ambedkarites who have not read and understood Ambedkar still argue against this 'that being liberals we should not be aloof and separated from the fellow-Indians'. Therefore they still do not hesitate in celebrating the Hindu festivals.
How does not following the rituals the others follow would make a group aloof from another group? If only the group which follows these rituals is *not intolerant to boycott the people with a different view in matters of following rituals and customs*. Therefore, if the majority has mutual respect for the views of the minority, the argument of turning aloof doesn't hold true.
Some argue 'that religion and beliefs are private matters and nobody else has any right to interfere into ones personal beliefs'.
The mostly *elite* Ambedkarites or for that matter the Hindus also argue that the relation between an individual and God is a private affair and nobody has a right to intervene into ones in individual beliefs. Sure, that's a sound argument. Ambedkar has been one of the outright liberals the Indian intelligentsia has ever produced. How can Ambedkar therefore talk of interfering into an individual's personal beliefs.
When we properly examine the 3 vows mentioned above, Ambedkar is not addressing the question of Atheism or Theism. Of whether to believe in *existence of God or not*. Ambedkar clearly mentions the names of the Hindu gods (Read, Brahminical). And pledges to refrain from worshipping the Hindu Gods. Another name of worshipping Hindu gods is Karma kaand. In the name of which, these people have been exploited for generations. Therefore the question of interfering into ones person beliefs doesn't hold in this context. If it does,the spirit of it is questioning the belief of following a custom of Caste, Inequality and Male chauvinism.
Reasoning and Conscience obviously remain one of the important aspects of Ambedkar's teachings. However in context of worshipping Hindu gods through the vows, his idea and duty was to make the people aware about what is good and what is bad for them. In fact once Ambedkar also appreciated Jews for their belief in God which according him created a plus condition of mind and body which ultimately won them a war. In the context of the vows however, Ambedkar is not talking of believing in God or not. Ambedkar is talking about *whom not to believe as God*. His exhaustive works like Philosophy of Hinduism, Riddles in Hinduism and Revolution and counter revolution in Ancient and Medieval India justify quite in detail his stand.
Therefore while arguing on this matter, we must understand the difference between an Open mind and an Empty mind. In Rohith Vemula's words, Being an Open Mind and vouching for Individual freedom does not mean following an atrocious religion (at least for a large group) and the rituals attached to it. Therefore, it is only safe for these people to keep away from atleast the the Rituals/Karma kaand associated with the festivals. For the following of the rituals and Karma kaand has been the primary pretext under which these groups lost the status being humans. Being suspicious about the cause of slavery is only wise and there is no reason to observe it as some hatred.
Ever since I heard of the renaming of Gurgaon to Gurugram, it was as if something exploded within me. Naming one metro station “Guru Dronacharya” did not bother me as much – especially since the next one is “Sikanderpur”. (I died mildly, thinking of the irony, when someone suggested that the next station in Gurgaon, “M G Road”, was Mahatma Gandhi Road – it’s actually Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road). But renaming the whole city for a fictional character raised my hackles no end. While this did throw up many jokes, it also revived one of the darker episodes from the fabulously flawed epic – that of #Ekalavya.
I noted, again in alarm, that no sooner did the discrimination against Ekalavya get revived that some right-wing twitterati started circulating their own fable about Ekalavya being on the wrong side of “Dharma”, apparently, because he fought against the Pandavas and eventually died at the hands of Krishna. The ultimate fate of Ekalavya, to me, is irrelevant. What is of significance is the excessive wrong done to him at the outset of his life, and this I knew from first-hand reading of the original English translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli published in the 1890s (all translations since have borrowed from this one).
The Ekalavya story, which I ended up “live” tweeting so to speak (link above), is revelatory for it throws up a number of modern parallels. But what it underlines crucially is that entitlement and appropriation have been contemporaneous with casteism – no matter to what period you date the composition of the Mahabharata, its events borrow from a deeply casteist society whose elite did not balk at any opportunity for preserving their privilege. And so I started..
"So, anyway, #appropriation or not, I want to narrate the Kisari Mohan Ganguli translation of the #Ekalavya episode of the #Mahabharata today. Mute if you want to ignore, or just unfollow. I am doing this cos #Ekalavya is also being #appropriated, and the lie needs to be called. Also, as a final introductory point, today is most auspicious for this. Ganguli impresses me because of his rigor: he compared many versions.
Story so far: Drona has been appointed by Bheeshma on account of being a merited-yet-poor Brahmin weapons expert to teach the scions of Kuru. Also, Drona has a grudge against Drupada, who just happens to be king of neighbouring Panchala. Perfect killing two birds with one stone. So the pandavas and kauravas become pupils of Drona and soon Arjuna becomes the teacher's pet after Drona discovers him practicing at night. Quoting Ganguli "Drona, hearing the twang of his bowstring in the night, came to him, and clasping him, said, 'Truly do I tell thee that I shall do that unto thee by which there shall not be an archer equal to thee in this world.'" This is a compact Arjuna will hold. "Thereafter Drona began to teach Arjuna the art of fighting on horse-back, on the back of elephants, on car, and on the ground.'"
Drona's popularity drew many other kings. Among these "was a prince named Ekalavya, who was the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas (the lowest of the mixed orders)." (Important points here!)
"Drona, however, cognisant of all rules of morality, accepted not the prince as his pupil in archery, seeing that he was a Nishada who might (in time) excel all his high-born pupils."
Observe! No reservation so the Brahmin teacher rejects the "low-born" pupil!
We all know what #Ekalavya did next - goes back to his forest, builds a clay image of #Drona, worships it, practices archery in front of it! "And one day, O grinder of foes, the Kuru and the Pandava princes, with Drona's leave, set out in their cars on a hunting excursion. A servant followed the party at leisure, with the usual implements and a dog. Having come to the woods, they wandered about intent on the purpose they had in view. Meanwhile, the dog also, in wandering alone in the woods,came upon the Nishada prince (Ekalavya)..."
Observe again - it is the dog that comes upon #Ekalavya
"beholding the Nishada of dark hue, of body besmeared with filth, dressed in black", repeat "Nishada of dark hue, of body besmeared with filth, dressed in black and bearing matted locks on head, the dog began to bark aloud. Thereupon the Nishada prince, desirous of exhibiting his lightness of hand, sent seven arrows into its mouth (before it could shut it). The dog, thus pierced with seven arrows, came back to the Pandavas. Those heroes, who beheld that sight, were filled with wonder and, ashamed of their own skill, began to praise the lightness of hand and precision of aim exhibited... by the unknown archer."
"And they thereupon began to seek in those woods for the unknown dweller therein that had shown such skill... the Pandavas soon found out the object of their search ceaselessly discharging arrows from the bow. And beholding that man of grim visage, who was totally a stranger"
(again, worth noting "man of grim visage") "they asked, 'Who art thou and whose son?'" (the Mahabharata version of "tu kaun? tera baap kaun?") "...the man replied, 'Ye heroes, I am the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas. Know me also for a pupil of Drona..."
[For those who know Sanskrit, #Ekalavya's father's name (Hiranyadhanus), interestingly, means "Golden Bow". Worth asking if #Ekalavya's skill was hereditary!]
This has modern parallels, of course. Colonialism killed artisanship - could the suppression of skilled-but-"low-born" archers be an augury? Carrying on with the tale
"The Pandavas then.. returned (to the city), and going unto Drona, told him of that wonderful feat of archery. Arjuna, in particular, thinking all the while of Ekalavya, saw Drona in private and relying upon his preceptor's affection for him said, 'Thou hadst lovingly told me, clasping me, to thy bosom, that no pupil of thine should be equal to me."
(Oh, the effing entitlement!)
"Why then is there a pupil of thine, the mighty son of the Nishada king, superior to me?"
(Observe how "merit" works - through influence!)
"On hearing these words, Drona reflected.. and.. took Arjuna with him and went unto the Nishada prince. And he beheld #Ekalavya..."
(wait for it)
"And he beheld #Ekalavya with body besmeared with filth, matted locks (on head), clad in rags, bearing a bow in hand and shooting arrows!"
Interjection: I don't believe Ganguli is piling on his own Brahminical biases (his introduction is worth reading!) but note the repetition! Whoever composed/compiled this section of the #Mahabharata, really had to drive in the appearance of #Ekalavya - as if that disqualifies him!
On we go...
"when Ekalavya saw Drona approaching towards him, he went a few steps forward,and touched his feet and prostrated himself. And the son of the Nishada king worshipping Drona, duly represented himself as his pupil, clasping his hands in reverence stood before him. Then Drona addressed Ekalavya, saying, 'If, O hero, thou art really my pupil, give me then my fees."
(Entitlement and appropriation all over again. Drona rejects the candidature of Ekalavya, refuses to make him a student, but is conceited enough to demand fees!)
"On hearing these words, #Ekalavya was very much gratified, and said in reply, 'O illustrious preceptor, what shall I give? Command me for there is nothing, O foremost of all persons conversant with the Vedas, that I may not give unto my preceptor."
This is #OneTightSlap territory, in my opinion. A right-minded teacher should have turned into a puddle of wax at this continued righteousness. But no!
"Drona answered, 'O Ekalavya, if thou art really intent on making me a gift, I should like then to have the thumb of thy right hand."
Gift! As #Mahabharata pundits like to rave, where was #Dharma here? #Ekalavya followed it to the tee, and #Drona, the entitled pompous ass? Gift!
After this, when the Nishada prince began once more to shoot with the help of his remaining fingers, he found that he had lost his lightness of hand. And at this Arjuna became happy, the fever (of jealousy) having left him.
There you go! "Merit" wins again! The least justice for Ekalavya would have been a no-holds barred contest with Arjuna - may the best man win! But instead we hear of how he is handicapped, literally, because he follows the #Dharma of a student even though he has technically never been admitted as one by #Drona. Nowhere in the story do we here of what support system Ekalavya might have had as a student whereas Arjuna is palace-raised, in high comfort. Yet, because Ekalavya could pose a threat to Arjuna's supremacy, he is cut down in his prime. Again, Arjuna watches this with joy but never in the Mahabharata is he called to account for this! This is "establishment" behavior - "hey who cares for a low-born Nishada huh, huh? #BroCode", Arjuna might have tweeted.
To conclude #Drona fears from the start that #Ekalavya will defeat the "high-born" pupils of his. From here on it is entitlement all the way - on Drona's and Arjuna's part. And scholars far more erudite than me - both Dalit and Savarna - have demonstrated how this sort of privilege has continued to stake its claim in modern India as well. It is of this that Ambedkar sought to break the back by turning away from Hinduism itself. It is telling of India's storied lethargy and unwillingness to break from conformity that this singular act was not the death knell it should have been for casteist Hindu practices. To this day, we continue to chew the cud over this - to what end?
Today there is a new Hindu elite seeking to turn back time to that fictional era in which a Drona could oh-so-easily stomp his privilege over an Ekalavya. That Drona is being celebrated through renaming a city. Today's Ekalavya's must spit in the face of modern Dronas and Arjunas, refuse to parley with them, and, most definitely, must refuse to cut off their own thumbs.
I know I would do so as an Ekalavya. Good night and good luck.
The Indian socio-political space is polarized as never before. The religious and economic right wings came together in an unprecedented show of solidarity and gave India its first Prime Minister who refuses to answer any questioning. The writing was on the wall. Subramanian Swamy had detailed the RSS "plan" as far back as 1999 with remarkable accuracy if one is to read it with the wisdom of hindsight.
What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in Independent India. The secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It’s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They’re fighting for the right to merge with the world’s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere.
Journalists, bloggers, social media commentators have been pointing to this situation coming. This blog has certainly not pulled any punches, and the only surprise in it is the number of people who apparently did not imagine that people given to disregarding law and country while not even in power are wreaking complete mayhem now that they are.
Repulsive utterances and acts have systematically decimated any gullible people who had believed that the country would thrive under a Hindutva right extremist government. Pretty much the only supporters the government has left is its core constituency - those who support them not in spite of their communally hostile views and acts, but because of them. Businessmen are already talking about lack of investments, rupee continues to sink and so on.
Call it BJP's anti-intellectualism committing suicide by pitting itself against institutions of education or call it the simple end of the election campaign resulting in the fog of advertising coming off people's eyes, blaming the right is not such a difficult thing these days. They seem to be doing more than half the work themselves.
In the process, what is happening is a complete absolution of those who are not these barbarians. The nice halos of liberals, intellectuals, leftists and what not other identities with lofty morals are shining brilliant more from the lack lustre contrast of a determinedly incompetent right than any particular merit of their own.
How easy it has become to forget that the Congress pretty much handed the country to BJP on a platter, or that the excellent campaign of Kejriwal suddenly stopped talking of deliverables and dived into Gods after pitching the meager finances of the party into Varanasi and ensuring that hundreds of other seats did not campaign well for shortage of money? A careful Modi wave respected the Gandhi and Yadav parivars even when it swept across UP in a historic win. BJP returned the favor in Delhi elections giving AAP the landslide win so close to Kejriwal's heart. Of course, Kejriwal wasn't ungrateful. After becoming CM and whisking off for treatment at the supposedly hated PM's recommendation, his party did a nice purge of leftists who could have a problem with placing results over ethics or process.
And it goes on. Rahul Gandhi has started finding his eloquence. A near dead left is suddenly visible on Twitter. The country, as is normal for a democracy has no real answer for who should lead it.
Unless India wants to keep swinging between opportunists, the need of the hour is for a struggle for the intellect. A struggle to examine social norms, assumptions, and holy cows and test them against own reasoning, own experiences in life, own sense of judgment. A struggle to assert own authority to demand accountability and performance from a government.
While there is no doubt that the Hindutva right is a disaster for India not just socially and economically, but in terms of intellectual capital, fundamental freedoms and perhaps even national integration itself, blaming the Hindutva right for the state of the country would be a mistake. For all their faults, their unsuitability was never hidden. A phenomenal carpet bombing of propaganda, entire cover ups of history, brutal and crude campaigns, opportunistic use of human rights propaganda and more got them a landslide victory. A complete multi-pronged brainwashing campaign with a budget to rival the GDPs of entire countries and still, their vote share wasn't a third of the voters in the country.
Can a citizen afford to forget that while the Hindutva right may be guilty of conducting this "advertising scam" and while it may be "guilty" of governing exactly as it has always said it wants a country to be run, it is the complacency of the left and the intellectuals that completely failed to challenge even a single prong of the facade? The word intellectual implies a mind that spends time in thought. A mind capable of more efficient thinking, more robust processes of concluding. Is it not time that the citizen asked whether the country's public intellectuals have served it well?
I have yet to find a reasoned argument that can engage with a crude and illogical defamatory conclusion that makes up in quantity what lacks in quality when it comes to propagation. Why is it that our intellectuals have not made an effort to fight the dangerous undermining of critical thinking nationwide, even as there has been no shortage of them screaming alarm that it was happening?
The right has never pretended to include people. Their concept is simple. "We are the rightful rulers of this land, and we'd like the rest of you to vanish. In any case, we will oppose you anything you want, fundamental right or otherwise" This is no secret. The fundamental of the ideology plays out when it is possible to simply accuse someone loudly enough for it to be a truth to be fixed with a lynch mob. It is not that the mob is stupid enough that no one realizes that the targets are probably framed. It is that the mob is fine with the destruction of the targets for whatever the superficial reason. Be it a Dadri lynching or "terrorists" in JNU.
The question of national integration has to be one for the left to answer. Because the left claims to believe in inclusion. Have they been talking to be understood by all, if a country can be fooled into pseudo-nationalist outrage at the drop of a hat? Have our public thinkers thought loud enough?
While our upper and middle classes are seceding into the stratosphere economically, is it not equally true that our intellectuals have so seceded into an intellectual stratosphere that their ideas of free speech and fundamental rights don't sound familiar to the masses?
A blog by a right wing blogger, Amrit Hallan comes to mind. In it, he compares why Niti Central shut down, but Scroll thrived. To me, the reason seems to be that Niti Central was set up with the specific purpose of electoral propaganda when BJP was in the opposition. Its archives contain often reckless condemnation of a lot of things done by the UPA2 that BJP is currently doing, and it is no longer a suitable publication for the purposes of those it served, because its own archives would condemn those it favors. My guess is that in a few months, it will mushroom up in another avatar with content more suitable to publicizing the work of this government and nothing inconvenient criticizing very similar actions by another government.
But reading the piece by Amrit Hallan was a revelation. Not because his analysis differed from mine - that is bound to happen - I have an extremely cynical view of political propaganda as a whole and BJP affiliated propaganda in particular. What stunned me was how he saw the "Left". From reading his post, the inescapable perception is that of the "left" as he puts it (including leftists and "Congis", activists, etc) as a monolith. He goes to the extent of speaking of leftists promoting each other by name or linking to pieces and creating an artificial credibility where none exists. To look at the piece in terms of its merit as a debate would laugh it off the stage, because it is so absurd.
Yet, if someone does not understand the thinking that leads to stands on fundamental rights, would not completely independent instances of agreement with rights they do not wish to give appear to be an incomprehensible conspiracy? If I did not understand, say for example architecture and published something that creates an unstable building for reasons completely beyond my knowledge, would experts who trashed my article not appear as a conspiracy of elitists unwilling to recognize my masterpiece because I did not agree with them?
Would it not appear as a conspiracy to someone conditioned to react with hate to "enemies" of India, if their reaction were criticized for impinging on the rights and safety of another? To someone who has never had a deep dialogue on citizenship and the right of every citizen to their nation, would it not appear that there was nothing being impinged in order to correct a perceived threat?
Why would an urban mind think about the crisis of fodder and water in rural India? Why would it think of a centuries old thriving trade (and exports) of Kolhapuri chappals? Why would it think of massive income from the export of beef, because Indian taboos make India the only country in the world where beef (considered superior meat) is actually cheaper than goat meat, resulting in massive export business? These things are not told to the mind, the ideas of individual rights are not informed to the mind. What remains is a fog of outraged insult that anybody would kill and eat their mother. That is where the bizarre questions come from.
No one can know what they don't know. What sort of an intellectual capital have we created that there are so many among our masses who are unaware of the reasoning behind fundamental rights? What sort of an intellectual capital have we created that there are so many left in ignorance that they can be fodder for opportunists to feed ideas for political profit? How is it that we can have a country where the population of cows rivals that of states, and yet the products of our education have no idea of the economy cattle sustain beyond religious faith?
The cow is just an example. This kind of deficit of reasoning that results in dangerous, life threatening outrage can be traced to a lack of adequate information, lack of education, lack of public debate.
We could sneer at them for their stupidity, but it would be useful to remember that we are all products of our circumstances. None of us were born wise. None of us stop learning. All of us learn in various ways unique to us that trigger deeper thought on assumptions that often lead to complete changes in views.
Whose responsibility is it to inculcate such thought? Actually, no one's. Today, we have an abundance of activists pointing out problems and demanding solutions from governments and advocating change, but relatively few reformers who create change regardless of society or government. Governments themselves have over and over abdicated this responsibility. Remember, it wasn't fanatics ruling when we chose to embrace liberalism so thoroughly that our films went from coolie and mazdoor heroes to flashy cars and item girls. It wasn't fanatics in rule when our media chased wealth so thoroughly that national integration was no longer for public content. No more ek chidiya anek chidiya and mile sur mera tumhara. Now paisa bolta hain.
Well, paisa spoke. It spoke so loud that it created an entire fantasy world for youth who never experienced a public space where children dreamed of becoming teachers and scientists instead of MBAs and MNC employees. It never told them of social injustices and showed them films like Amar Prem. Their world is one where these ugly things don't happen. In fact, they are "less privileged", if you look at the bling they are bombarded with as "normal".
You cannot expect private individuals to educate public intellect. You cannot even force them to speak so that they are understood by masses without violating their rights to free speech. That almost sounds like forced conscription for weapons of mass instruction. Something a government will never bring about regardless of political party in power, because idiots are easier to con with pipe dreams than people asking why midday meals are so pathetic and where the money went.
So who is left, whose responsibility it is to create intellectual capital?
No one's. It is a responsibility abdicated by one and all.
But I can tell you what will happen if we do not have a more thinking citizenry. We will burn each other to the ground when incited by opportunists for goals that won't give us a thing beyond the heady sense of being the neighbourhood's biggest bully. Regardless of whether it is the left or the right, the dalits or the brahmins, the Muslims or the Hindutvawadis, everyone will burn. No matter who the opportunists, the ones dying in street fights are always cannon fodder.
In an attempt to bring reason to the debate on cow slaughter bans, I have tried to present data from Maharashtra where the broadening of an existing ban on the slaughter of cows to include calves, bulls and bullocks has the poor cattle owners of the drought stricken state devastated as their livestock has overnight become a liability.
The sentiment about the holy cow is beyond doubt. Upper caste Hindus revere the cow, even though there are many Hindus who do eat it. Whether Savarkar agreed with it or whether the vedas sanctioned it is irrelevant. The idea of cow slaughter is revolting to many Hindus.
However, as sentimentalism and hyperbole builds up, there is a need to take a long, hard look at realities, and for the government that claims to be interested in development to decide whether development lies in the past or in building a new future.
A quick glance at the numbers is enough to tell us that in the five decades since the first census data available in 1961 and till the 2012 19th livestock census, the population of cattle has grown by 1,56,632 or slihtly more than a lakh and a half. The population of buffaloes has grown by 25,07,378 or over 25 lakh - about five lakhs short of being doubled. While this, in itself is an astonishing difference, it becomes even more astonishing when we see that the population of cattle was almost five (4.9) times that of buffaloes in 1961 and in 2012, cattle are slightly more than two and a half (2.7) times that of buffaloes. So this dramatic increase has happened in a much smaller population.
AND, the buffaloes were also getting slaughtered all through, for food.
If you look at the break ups of the population, you will see this more clearly.
The line lying almost flat against the bottom is the population of male buffaloes, which has barely ever risen other than around 2007 and 2012 - recent years saw distinct radicalization of society against slaughter. This fluctuation, 2007 in particular, could also be explained if the census happened before the festival season when a lot of the slaughter happens. And in five decades, out of the 25 lakh rise in buffaloes, not even a tenth or two and a half lakhs has happened in the male population. And of course India is the world's largest exporter of carabeef (buffalo beef).
Not only do buffalo owners profit from the high yields of the buffalo, and then an income from the sale of the unproductive animals for slaughter, they also do not feed much surplus livestock unnecessarily.
If you take the total population of buffaloes to be 100%, the sex ratio for cows and buffaloes would be thus over the years.
The only time in the history of the livestock census in Maharashtra that cows have been more than bulls and bullocks is in the year 2012, though the trend starts at 1997 (also relevant later). If you look at the data, you will see that the numbers dropped more drastically than for cows. This basically means that for the first time in Maharashtra, bulls and bullocks were being butchered in any noticeable numbers. But why now, if not for five decades? We will look at the 2012 data in detail in a bit.
The ratio of male buffaloes to female buffaloes consistently hovers between 8% and 18% - we aren't even pretending gender equality here. 50% is far away in the stratosphere, let alone male buffaloes being the majority of the population. At no point does the male buffalo population even touch 20%.
But the buffalo population did slow in 2007 and fall in 2012 in particular. So did the overall population of cows, which has been falling steadily since the late 90s.
Explanations for changes in trends in livestock data can be found in events that impacted livestock farming practices.
Cow population started dropping after 1997
What else was happening in the agricultural world around that time? Maharashtra's post-economic liberalization agrarian crisis had established. By 1995, P. Sainath's reports of farmer suicides in rural India had triggered enough alarm that they had started being recorded in NCRB data. While livestock, as an economic asset provides a buffer against poverty, to me it seems like it lost its potency by 1997 with the agrarian crisis creating a similar situation for most cattle owners.
At this point, the farmers were committing suicide, but still there is no noticeable slaughter of bulls and bullocks. However, the overall populations started dropping steadily as cows started becoming economically unviable.
Understand this, when less than 50% of the cattle population is cows, milk producing cows are even fewer, so cattle owners probably had two unproductive animals for every milch cow. With the rise of motorized transport, while bullock carts could be used for own needs and ploughing the fields could be done, income earning opportunities from bulls and bullocks started dwindling (and are near non-existent today).
What happened in 2012?
The worst drought to hit Maharashtra happened in 2012. People were desperate for water for themselves. Buffaloes actually have higher water requirements than cows ("water buffalo" d'uh). Buffalo owners seem to have sold off their livestock in greater than usual numbers. This is probably also a factor in India becoming the world's largest exporter of beef at that time.
What was happening with the cows in 2012?
The cattle population continued to drop, except for two major departures from the norm till then.
The population of exotic and crossbred cows rose
While all the other cattle and buffalo population was busy going down, the one notable exception was the population of exotic and crossbred cows - this would be your fancy imported dairy breeds with very high production. Their requirements of water would be less than buffaloes, and milk production would be comparable. Indigenous cows, on the other hand, barely produce enough to justify a business if it also means caring for an unproductive cow later. Those continued to reduce.
Actually, the crossbred and exotic cattle population has been showing a steady rise all through, it only became visible here, when everything else went down. The rise in the number of exotic and crossbred cows (usually reared for dairy business because of high yields and correspondingly high dietary requirements), combined with the highest drop in male cattle also belonging to the same category shows that the more progressive dairy businesses were moving toward a pragmatism in their business model.
Dramatic drop in male cattle numbers
Male exotic and cross bred cattle saw the highest drops (they are less suitable/sturdy for local climates and work AND they require more feed and water). Male indigenous cattle too saw a drop. For the first time in the history of the livestock census in India, Maharashtra has more cows than male cattle. To put it bluntly, when food and water got scarce, male cattle were the ones sacrificed in greater numbers - either to butchers or starvation and dehydration in abandonment.
My views on what the government should have done, as opposed to what it did
In the absence of slaughter bans, cattle farming is actually more profitable than buffaloes
This is because buffaloes require more care, water and suffer more in drought - which seems to be a permanent feature of Maharashtra now. In the absence of slaughter bans, cow beef is more palatable and thus priced higher than carabeef, which would add to the income of the cattle farmers and make it a viable choice.
Given the lack of any real increase in the cattle population in Maharashtra (similar is seen nationwide), the government should have taken the initiative to free people from traditional taboos against cattle slaughter and encouraged them to sell cattle to middlemen, even as they themselves remained reluctant to engage in slaughter or consumption.
This would not only make cattle farming viable and result in similar increases in population and quality of cattle as with buffaloes, and reduce non-productive investments for the already stressed agrarian economy, it would allow better treatment of cattle, instead of abandonment, injury and worse. It is a matter of debate which is the greater cruelty - a quick death or a week in pain with a stomach full of plastc or legs broken by an irate farmer whose crops stray cattle destroyed. Having fewer non-productive cattle would mean a better diet and care to cows and calves. It would mean optimal use of scarce grazing, fodder and water, which would indeed go to the revered milk producing cow.
It was a matter of educating the people and leading them to economic viability - is that not the government's pet grudge? That the poor are given handouts when what they need is sustainability?
Instead, the government chose to take Maharashtra back to a rigid cow worship as a part of their ideological agenda, but funded by the already stressed cattle owners, turning their investments to liabilities overnight for the sentiments of those who don't raise (and thus serve) the cows themselves at all. It chose to smother the budding realization of the need to reduce male cattle - even if triggered by desperate circumstances and protect the cattle instead of the people. It put the welfare of an animal over that of its voters. That is the bottom line. An open declaration that the state that leads the nation in farmer suicide still expects farmers to spend on unproductive cattle, even as government actions have brought an unending drought.
Basically, the government has turned the cow into its murder weapon. And no, I am not talking of its murderous affiliates slaughtering humans by leveraging rumors here. Is it not murder for a state that sees educated girls give up on non-existent jobs and dreams of marriages and turn to prostitution to feed starving families to force them to fund the government's cattle fetish as well? Is it not murder to force an expense on farmers, remove an alternative to loans and debt in the state that leads the country in farmer suicides? Because that is how it is, you know? Sell a bull instead of taking a loan. Buy another after harvest. Instead, the bull is now unsaleable, and the loan the farmer takes must feed it as well.
What lies in the future?
In my view, unless the oh-so-posh idealistic middle classes are willing to live without milk, the reversal of the ban is inevitable. The dwindling population of cattle if not arrested, will lead to milk shortages sooner or later and recovering from them after they are established will be far more difficult.
Unless the government has bright ideas for increasing grazing available to livestock, reducing the number of unproductive livestock is the only way forward.
There is no alternative. The government has a choice to do it on their own, or have the people kick them out in future elections. If not the immediate next, the one after that is guaranteed. Look at how the curve is going down, and this is before the government's enhanced ban.
The government has a choice here. To rein in their affiliates, to educate people and do enough social reform to allow culling of unproductive cattle, or watch their Frankenstein's monster devour the state.
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Note2: There are some inconsistencies in the manner in which the data has been recorded over the years. In particular for young stock, which, in earlier years had not been segregated by sex. There is a small jump in numbers where it integrates. It is similar for both cattle and buffaloes. I have deliberately chosen comparisons and examples where the impact of this would be minimal. Alas, there seems to be no other way of looking at the data long term with the criteria changing midway.
There is a visible epidemic of Sahitya Academy Award winners returning their awards in protest of the government. Less visible is a low key epidemic of public intellectuals and assorted public figures suddenly finding their consciences and regretting promoting Modi because of what they see now. It is the dream of every blind supporter of modi - the much hated intellectuals are voluntarily vanishing from recognition.
From a virtually unknown Arpita Chatterjee to the very famous Ram Jethmalani. Now Aatish Taseer. There are others. Countless journalists have changed their tones from "OMG Modi" to "uh... Modi" without being explicit. Others have taken to trenchant criticism and proclamations of disappointment without mentioning other gushing praise.
There is a problem with all this washing of consciences in the Ganga of public confessions. The problem never was their support for Modi. India is a free country. People have free speech. The problem was their MISUSE of their reach and influence to actively cover up the communal polarization campaign that was running parallel to the development speeches. From dismissing concerns about minorities to claiming that Modi would not tolerate the rise of Hindu fanatics, and the undermining of RIGHTFUL calls for action against criminal methods powering Modi's rise out of the "bold and the beautiful" internet connected India.
This cover up is what THEY did in their greed, not Modi or the RSS. This, they dare not confess to, nor offer to rectify, for the harm to India is beyond measuring.
This was my response on Twitter today after Aatish Taseer's grand eloquence on Modi's inadequate education. It hadn't been adequate when they were all gushing, had it?