Recently University of Hyderabad saw some deadly clashes over a 'beef eating' feast. Students clashed and fought against each other. Those who conducted the 'festival' claimed that eating beef was part of Dalit culture and hence attempt to suppress it was anti-democratic and anti-Dalit. Soon the media and the 'progressive' elements joined the chorus on expected lines. Eating beef is our cultural right they said. In a Pavlovian reaction Marxist historian D.N.Jha's book that claims that Vedic Brahmins sacrificed and ate cow, was dusted out and got quoted like a scripture by 'intellectual' debaters. Another attempt has been made at different levels to condition Dalit culture with beef eating.
This raises a lot of issues. Beyond the political rhetoric is it true that beef eating is part of Dalit culture? Many 'scholars' at once bounce upon Dr.Ambedkar's book 'The Untouchables' in which he states that the resurgent Brahminism used beef eating as a tool to suppress Dalits who were actually those who refused to reconvert to Brahminism. Debatable as they are, Dr.Ambedkar's theory nevertheless rejects the racial origins of untouchability propounded by Dravidianists and Marxists. For example, Dr.Ambedkar says: “If the Brahmins are Aryans, the Untouchables are also Aryans. If the Brahmins are Dravidians the Untouchables are also Dravidians. If the Brahmins are Nagas, the Untouchables are also Nagas. “ With regard to ban on cow slaughter Dr. Ambedkar states that Buddhists were the first to campaign against cow slaughter: “The Buddhists rejected ... animal sacrifice, particularly of the cow. The objection to the sacrifice of the cow had taken a strong hold of the minds of the masses as they were an agricultural population and the cow was a very useful animal.” He further notes that ban on cow-slaughter by Gupta kings, in itself is not the cause for untouchability. Further he associates refusal of Dalits to taking the carrion for meat as a symbol of social reform and rebellion against caste system. So associating of Dalit culture with meat eating as its core feature is against the vision of Dr. Ambedkar.
Dr. Ambedkar also recognized the civilizational rationale of cow veneration by Hindus. In his PhD thesis he stated: “The Hindoo devotion to the Cow has been an enigma to most of the foreigners and above all has been an efficient lore in the hands of those half-baked theological failures who go to India to conduct their missionary propaganda for blackmailing the Hindoo. The origin of cow worship is as much economic as that Roman practice of not offering wine to the Gods from unpruned vines. The cow and for that matter all draft animals, is the soul of the farmers. The cow gives birth to oxen which are absolutely necessary to the cultivation of the farm. If we kill the cow for meat, we jeopardize our agricultural prosperity. With full foresight, the ancient Hindoos tabooed cow-flesh and thus prevented cow killing.”
In resonance with this rational basis of Hindu cow veneration, Dr. Ambedkar made cow protection part of the Directive Principles of Indian constitution. The Directive Principle -Article 48 of the constitution says: "The State shall endeavor to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and in particular take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and other milch and draught cattle. In 1971, Justice Gajendragadkar, who was a Supreme Court Judge, stated regarding this directive principle thus: "The truth of the matter is that in providing for a ban on the slaughter of cows and calves, and other milch and draught cattle in the last part of Article 48, the Constitution, in effect, treated the Hindu sentiments as both relevant and valid in laying down the directive principle." It is interesting to note that Dr.Ambedkar made cow protection part of the scientific obligation of Indian nation rather than a religious edict to be followed. The same approach has been used by Marxist cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris when he explored the rationale for cow veneration by Hindus. Seen in this context, what happened at Hyderabad University campus, instigating students to violent clashes by peddling beef eating as a core Dalit cultural element, is nothing but sheer hate propaganda and dissemination of negative stereotype community relationships. Cow veneration based on rational scientific secular considerations is part of Modern India as envisioned by its architects including Baba Saheb Ambedkar. This is a shared legacy that belongs to Dalits and other Hindus.