Cow-Satyagraha

Cow-Protection, Satyagraha and Non-violenceImage Gallery


Q. How did Vinobaji take up the question of cattle slaughter? What is the background? Why did he get the Satyagraha at Deonar initiated? . Click here for Answer

Q. The tale just narrated sounds horrifying. One must say that they are indeed betrayers? . Click here for Details

Q. What do you surmise will be the situation if cow-slaughter is not banned in the near future?. Click here for Answer

Q. How did Vinobaji take up the question of cattle slaughter? What is the background? Why did he get the Satyagraha at Deonar initiated? .

Answer : The demand for an end to cow-slaughter existed since the days of the Independence movement. Many top leaders and eminent individuals had represented to Queen Victoria for prohibition of slaughter. But the British administration had initiated slaughter in a concerted manner. As the mood for complete freedom from British rule grew stronger this demand became an integral part of the demand for Independence. Leaders of the movement, which included nationalist Hindus as well as Muslims and others, pledged this to the nation. Lokmanya Tilak had declared that on Independence cow-protection would be ensured by a stroke of the pen. Gandhiji said, "As long as the cow is slaughtered I consider my own self being slaughtered" . The Congress formed a Committee under Dr. Rajendra Prasad to study all questions relating to protection and rearing of cattle. While the Constitution was being formulated, the Constituent Assembly that included representatives from all religions and communities unanimously agreed to include cow-protection in the Directive Principles. Within three months of Independence a commit- tee of government and non-government experts under the Chairpersonship of Dr. Datar Singh, the head of the Department of Animal Husbandry, was formed. The committee, after yearlong deliberations, recommended that slaughter of useful cattle be stopped forthwith and that a law for a complete ban be implemented within two years. In the meantime cattle-houses be set up wherein unproductive cattle would be looked after. The Committee averred, "The slaughter of cattle is in no way in the interests of India and must be prohibited by law. India's prosperity, to a great extent depends on its cattle, and her soul shall be rested only alter a complete ban on the slaughter of the cow and the bullock is implemented." But, while the expert committee had submitted its reports and the Constituent Assembly accepted it as a Directive principle of state policy the central government secretariat sent out a circular to the provincial governments advising a "go slow" on its implementation as it would adversely affect the export of hide. The' hint' was aimed at discouraging a very stringent legislation and encouraging lax implementation where it had already been enacted-

The states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had already passed laws. Almost all princely states that later merged into the Indian Union had regulations prohibiting cow-slaughter. But, on the whole, the position was such that after the central circular steps towards anti-slaughter enactments were frozen. In the course of Vinobaji's walking tour through Bihar, the Chief Minister Dr. Shrikrishna Singh on his advice took the initiative of enforcing a complete ban on slaughter in Bihar. Those involved in the butcher-trade challenged the law in Patna High Court. They further went into appeal in the Supreme Court against the High Court's decision which was in favour of the Bihar Government- The Supreme Court pronouncement in 1958 is important. It dismissed the appellants ‘ contention that cow-slaughter is a religious duty according to Islam. The Coul1 held that no such evidence had been produced. The arguments in the case were on economic grounds. Clearly, it said, the issue is economic, not religious- The Supreme Court affirmed that " cattle in India had three-fold uses, firstly providing milk for consumption, secondly, for draught purposes, and finally as provider of manure for agriculture. Dung is cheaper than chemical fertilizers and extremely useful. In short the cow and the bullock are the back-bone of India. The Supreme Court in support of these facts stated that if cows yielding less than one-half liter of milk were to be permitted to be slaughtered, nine-tenths of the milch cows would also face extinction. It therefore accepted the demand for a complete ban on the slaughter of cows and calves while allowing impotent bulls and old bullocks to be slaughtered.

As a sequel to the Supreme Court ruling UP, MP, Rajasthan, Bihar and other states which had passed laws enforcing a complete ban had to amend their laws. Mysore, which had a law against slaughter passed by the Maharaja with help from his Prime Minister Sir Mirza Ismail, also had to amend its laws. Only in Jammu and Kashmir, due to its special status, did the law passed by Sheikh Abdullah remain unchanged. Slaughter of cattle is prohibited in that state and is punishable with rigorous imprisonment up to 10 years. A partial ban only made the whole law redundant and where a law for complete ban on cow-slaughter existed it was not enforced resulting in strong and sturdy cows and bullocks being killed, so much so that most government officials are unaware that any law in this regard exists.

A movement for prohibition of cow-slaughter was initiated in 1966-67. Huge demonstrations took place in Delhi. The government would not budge. Swami Niranjan Dev Teerth, Shankaracharya of Puri, and Shri Prabhudutt Brahmachari undertook fasts-unto-death. Vinobaji, referring to this in a letter to the late Shri Hanumanprasad Poddar, stated:

"I am greatly concerned about the great vow taken by the Shankaracharya and Shri Prabhudutta Brahmachariji for the cause of total cow-protection. My fullest sympathies lie with them in this sacred mission. Death comes when it has to. A man, hale and hearty may meet death. These friends are inviting death for a sacred cause but death does not cause me anxiety. I am distressed about the Government's attitude. I have faith in prayer. I am praying. Let us see what God wills."

Mr. Jayprakash Narayan tried his best to find a way out of the impasse. After 72 days of their fast the Government agreed to set up a committee and promised to implement its recommendations through its declaration of 5th January 1967 and thus the fast ended after such torturous penance.

The then Agriculture Minister reiterated in parliament on 12th March 1970 that the government was determined to implement Article 48 of the Constitution regarding cow-protection. The government, in accordance with its statements of 5th January '67 and 1st February '67, constituted a cow- protection committee. It was expected to report its findings in six months. The committee submitted an interim report after six years, recommending that the government enact laws regarding the preservation of cows, bullocks and bulls within the limits prescribed by the Supreme Court without delay and implement, and enforce implementation with all care and alertness. The final report was never submitted and in 1979, after twelve years, the Janata Government finally dissolved the committee.

Cow-slaughter continued unabated. A new dimension of beef export has been added and due to the craze for export of hide the Government has shelved the implementation of the Constitutional directive. With these steps it is as if the government has signed the death warrant of the whole species.

Vinobaji, time and again, expressed concern on the subject. In 1962 he drew. the nation's attention to the fact that able cows were being slaughtered in Calcutta. Prior to this, in 1951, on Pandit Nehru's invitation he went to Delhi in the course of his Bhoodan (Land-gift) march and forcefully argued in favour of a ban on cow-slaughter in his meeting with Planning Commission. In 1958 during the course of his tour in Karnataka, in reply to a question about the continuing decline in cattle-wealth Vinobaji said that the problem would definitely have to be taken up but suggested waiting for a while. In March 1959 in Rajasthan, and in Haryana in December, two meetings were arranged during Vinobaji's foot- march. The participants included the UnionAgriculture Minister, officials, experts and activists involved in cow-protection and animal husbandry. In this way he tried to mobilize support among all sections, viz. government, people at large, trading community, social activists etc. That he attached the greatest importance to the issue is obvious from the fact that he who always shunned all positions in organizations and establishments agreed to be the Chairperson of Go Seva Sangh, a body set up to promote the cause of cow-protection. When the slaughter of the cattle increased and all the efforts to stop it immediately did not succeed he decided to fast in 1976.

Though he never approved of the Supreme Court ruling allowing the killing of aged and unproductive bulls and bullocks he called for at least a law in keeping with the said ruling, failing which, he declared, he would undertake a fast- unto-death from 11th September, 1976 onwards. Until then Assam, Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Kerala and other states had no laws in this regard. The government of Mrs. Indira Gandhi undertook to pass laws in all states by the year end, except West Bengal, Kerala and Goa where a decision was deferred for until a year. Vinobaji, having faith in the government's word, agreed to drop his fast. Accordingly, laws were passed in the remaining states. Goa also followed suit. The governments of West Bengal and Kerala refused to pass such laws. As a result the laws of other states have proved ineffective. All the nation's cattle are led to these two states and slaughtered. The Union government remained indifferent towards fulfilling its promise while cow-slaughter and beef export registered steep increases year after year. It was then that Vinobaji again declared his resolve to fast unto death in November 1978. The then government led by Mr. Morarji Desai did their best to reason with the state governments of West Bengal and Kerala but they would not budge. Vinobaji commenced his fast on 22ndAplil '79, giving it up only after Mr. Desai announced in Parliament five days later on 26th April that the subject of cow-protection and animal husbandry would be brought under the Concurrent List and a law would soon be made on the matter. In accordance with the assurance the government also introduced a bill in Parliament. But political events intervened resulting in the dissolution of Parliament and therefore also in the death of the said bill. A new Government under Mrs. Indira Gandhi assumed office in 1980. But unfortunately, that Government did not fulfill its promise made to Vinobaji. On being reminded time and again the Prime Minister and other Ministers replied that the matter was under consideration. Vinobaji, with sorrow exclaimed,"Indiraji will remain seized of the matter while the slaughter will not cease." ...And the matter remained under consideration...

In December 1981 some activists involved in direct action against the transport of cows and bullocks into West Bengal and Kerala met Vinobaji in the hope of getting some guidance to make their campaign more effective. It was then that Vinobaji directed them to offer satyagraha at Deonar to demand that no cattle of any age be slaughtered there. Shri Achhyut Deshpande, an old colleague from the Ashram was selected to co-ordinate the action. So, the present campaign was initiated on 11th January 1982, and since then it goes on incessantly, all 24 hours of the day. (It is in its 20th years as on 2001.)

Over 200,000 people, from all parts of the country, belonging to all religions have participated in it. In conjunction with the campaign, programmes have been conducted in different states. Shri Gnanchandraji, a respected monk, con- ducted relay-fasts for two years. Then in 1982, he commenced a fast-unto-death. The government resorted to force feeding. Fearing that the force-feeding could consist of non-vegetarian ingredients, and also on Vinobaji's advice he gave it up after many weeks. Later he continued a relay fast. In 1983, a weekly satyagraha campaign was initiated outside Parliament House under Shri Radhakrishna Bajaj's leadership. The campaign ran for around three and a half years, most of the participants coming from surrounding states. The fast-unto-death undertaken by Shri Badrinarayan Gadodia of Bombay was given up after 69 days on the express assurance given by the government, through Mr. Keyur Bhushan, MP, that the law would be strictly enforced. Campaigns to prevent the exit of bullocks at the state boundaries of Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were also conducted. Actions have also been conducted at various slaughter-houses in Maharashtra. In Jalgaon district Vinobaji 's associates, the late Shri Nilobaji and Shri Yashwant Joshi survived near-fatal assaults by butchers. Similar efforts at reaching out to people have been carried on through women's marches, vehicle tours, meetings, men's marches and such effol1s continue.

The two demands of the Deonar campaign are:

1. In a predominantly agricultural country such as India slaughter of cows and bullocks of any age be prohibited by law.

2. Export of any kind of meat be stopped.

In initiating this campaign Vinobaji did not accept the Supreme Court Verdict of 1958 which he had earlier not challenged. The government was incapable of implementing that limited law. As a matter of fact, experience shows that a law imposing a partial ban is wholly ineffective. Vinobaji, though aware of this, in the context of his fast-unto-death made a minimum demand in keeping with the principle of non-violence and accepted the limitation. This is the tragic tale of the pledge made by our constitution-makers and the repeated assurances of the governl11ent. It is as if promises are not meant to be kept in this country. Not even ones made to great saints. The moral base itself has been corroded.

Q. The tale just narrated sounds horrifying. One must say that they are indeed betrayers.

Answer : To say that would be uncharitable. Undoubtedly, the whole story smacks of breach of faith and reneging on promises but it can be said that the powers that be have been consistent with their beliefs and perceptions. And what they consider right they continue to follow even today. Soon after Independence poverty removal and development were the top priorities. The fact that Gandhiji's followers and associates came to assume power did not mean they all agreed with his economic programme. The subsequent turn of events showed that those who adhered to the Western model of development in the hope that it would bring India prosperity and a place of honour to India in the world community were in charge of the show. Austerity and self-dependence, principles that Gandhiji preached, were considered as holding up progress and were believed to be the cause of poverty. The former Canadian High Commissioner in Delhi has quoted an Indian official, very influential, in the 1960s as saying,"it was good that Gandhiji passed away within a few months of India's Independence, lest the country would have had to put up with his eccentricities such as his love for the cow, opposition to artificial means in family planning, preference to Hindi over English, prohibition, spinning wheel and cottage industries that are all obstacles in the path of development”. Similarly an influential Finance Minister had a spinning wheel set-up at his bungalow to demonstrate to the nation its retrogressive effect. These examples signify the view held by extreme votaries of the Western model. This school of thought, very strong even before Independence, is an offshoot of, and under the deep influence of Western thought".

It might be pertinent to elaborate "Western Thought". The British and other Europeans established their colonies all over the world during the 19th century. In addition to the motive of avarice, imperialism and exploitation were given an ideological form. Science is also advanced in the West. Darwin's theory of evolution appeared around this time, given this background, Western philosophers and thinkers honestly held that their civilization and culture being new, were superior and better developed. As such it was their responsibility to undertake the uplift of the more primitive. Imperialism appeared to them to be a necessary step in order to fulfill this noble mission . So, their exploitation gained an ideological basis. Lord Macaulay believed that a single shelf of books of English literature was richer than all Indian works put together. The same belief possesses Indians brought up in or influenced by that culture and they view everything oriental as sub-standard and inferior. With this view as base, those who shaped the policies and gave direction to the nation should not be considered wicked or traitors. They were and are patriots. Due to their view of the masses being ignorant they see nothing wrong in deceiving them a little! For them it is pragmatic to disregard a few promises in the large interests of the nation.

Macaulay initiated the system of education to produce people, who, while brown in colour would behave as the rulers in every way and become the foundation of the Indian Civil Service. Hence the British built a government and bureaucracy based on mistrust of people. This concept of mistrust now extends very deeply into the fabric of Indian society. Even after our country became free the same attitude has prevailed. With mistrust in their own people on the one hand, and blind faith in everything Western ,our rulers opted for a Western model of development for which loans and aid from the Western countries became indispensable. In this scheme of things foreign exchange became the sine-qua-non. The natural consequence being that the nation's resources and all her output rather than being used in the interest of the people of the country is supplied to the foreign buyers who can pay higher prices. Needs and interests of the Indian people are no longer the priority, they are subservient to those of foreign nations. Such development process of dependence on external aid and loans begets lack of confidence on the one hand, and wasteful expenditure and corruption on the other. These are inevitable. But the tragedy is that There are many men and women who honestly believe that wasteful expenditure and corruption are the measuring rod of development and they signify progress.

As a consequence of our attempt to bring prosperity through external financial aid together with wasteful expenditure and corruption we have to bear the crushing burden of debts. Apart from the internal borrowings amounting Rs. 1708.34 billion and Rs. 104.16 billion interest thereon, the foreign debt stood at Rs. 366.70 billion at the beginning of 1988-89. We often have to find lenders in order to be able to pay loan installments and interest. The matter demands serious attention. The most shattering consequence is the loss of confidence in ourselves. The people at large stay inactive and aloof from development programmers. Dr. J. W. Spellman, Head of Institute of Asian Cultures, University of Windsor, Ontario (Canada), in his perceptive analysis of the development pattern adopted by India says (page 106/107):

"such concept, the result of a aggressive drive under colonialism and imperialism - whether that was political, cultural or economic does not really matter a great deal - believes that the main problem of development and the main obstacle to development are the people of this country themselves.. It is not necessary to indicate in great detail the number of the projects that have failed in this country - projects that have essentially based on alien ideas, alien institutions, and transposed technology. It really did not matter how powerful was the organization sponsoring those ideas.... most of these projects, I am delighted to say, have been failures in this country. So long as development plans are based on Western concepts, the number of failures will rightly continue. Development must be built and indeed can only be built on the institution of the people. There is no possibility of any meaningful development without restoration of confidence, since confidence and development go together"....

Development will have to be based on the massive resources of land, plants and trees, animal's and human-power, or else we will stay with no success.

Dr. Spellman goes on to say:

"Agricultural technology of tractors and pesticides and pesticides and chemical fertilizers are found dominating in every agricultural college of India. It is my hope that the agricultural colleges will create a major department of organic people's gardening which is not based on the expensive, debilitating system of Western agriculture....All you can do is to make recourses available for the rich at the expense of the poor. This is the greatest danger in following a model that is based on alien technology. To sustain that is the poor have to pay for it".

A farmer from Gujarat expressed in moving words the plight of villagers grow the grain but our own families go without them. The only place they are available is the market. The cotton we grow goes only to mills of cities. The type of cloths we wear is determined by others." Such economic manipulation, leading to political manipulation is a natural consequence. The result is total helplessness, total dependence on the part of citizens.

Q. What do you surmise will be the situation if cow-slaughter is not banned in the near future?

Answer : There is no need to conjecture as the signs are already visible. In the absence of bullocks, human beings, especially women who have to be yoked for tilling operations. A friend narrated what he saw in Indonesia. The cattle wealth there has depleted due to slaughter. They now yoke women for tilling operations. He said that this should be filmed and shown to the people. These facts when they become public knowledge may force people to sit up and think.

In the post-Independence era land distribution among tenants and the landless was undertaken. The Zamindari system was abolished and lands transferred to tenants. The Land-gift movement sought to remove the inequalities in land ownership and conferred ownership rights on hundreds of thousands of landless labours. But the wheel is now turning in the reverse direction. Faced with scarcity of bullocks and consequently with uneconomic agriculture, small farmers are forced to abandon their land and a new ownership pattern in the form of larger farms is developing. Beneath the glitter and glamour on the surface villages are milked dry and cities are crushed under their burden. We must spare a thought on what these symptoms portend!