Cow Politics and Slavery

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

The recent comments by members of the Sangh Parivar on the complete ban on the consumption of beef in Goa have ignited a controversy. The comments, casteist as they are, have shifted the attention of the Goan people away from pressing issues like the future of casinos, the Mopa airport, the crises in the mining sector, environmental pollution, and everyday governance. That such comments divert our attention elsewhere is unfortunate; but every time such comments are made we should remind ourselves what exactly lies at the heart of such hate politics.

 

The online Ambedkarite portal, Round Table India, has been publishing articles critically analyzing the economics and politics of ‘beef ban’, especially since the ban enforced by Maharashtra from 2015. It is with the help of these and some other news reports that I wish to make the case that, through ‘beef bans’ and cow politics, the poor and minoritized population is being pushed further into the depths of poverty and caste, eventually making them live in conditions akin to slavery.

 

Following the ban in Maharashtra by the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, Arvind Kumar argued that the move had all the makings of a “social conspiracy” against the dalit-bahujans in India, especially in Maharashtra. “I see the beginnings,” he says, “of a reversal of ‘social change’”. Kumar argues that if non-productive cattle – whether used for dairy products or as draught animals – are not slaughtered then they will have to be disposed by someone after they die. Who will do this dirty work? He says that it is those who come from the ‘untouchable’ castes who will either be forced or lured into occupations such as disposing and skinning dead cattle and further “get trapped in the evil practice of untouchability”.

 

Kumar seems to have rightly perceived the diabolic game plan behind the ban on cow slaughter in Maharastra as the NGO that worked to make the ban a reality has similar plans. In an interview to Scroll.in, Rajendra Joshi, a trustee of the Viniyog Parivar Trust, said, “Cattle will now die their natural deaths scattered across the state, and it will help revive the traditional vocations of chamars and mochis [tanners and cobblers] across the state”. In making such a statement, Joshi admits that people are moving away from occupations such as tanning and hence such occupations need to be “revive[d]”. Obviously, people would not volunteer to perform such demeaning traditional occupations, hence the coercion of the state is seen as so necessary.

 

This emphasis on bringing back the ‘traditional’ precisely confirms what Kumar had suspected all along: undo social mobility and reorder labor relations. The idea ultimately is to return to a casteist way of life and production relations that perpetuates practices of untouchability. Talking in terms of untouchability does not mean that the issue is solely about religion, rituals, or belief; it is also fundamentally an economic issue as those who provide labor in a caste society – including those who work in agriculture and clear/skin dead cattle – come from the lower strata of society.

 

Studies have shown that if non-productive cattle are not culled – that is livestock rearing is not done in a scientific and economically rational manner – then the population of cattle begins to shrink. In other words, slaughter is essential if the agricultural and dairy production is to be maintained at an economically viable level. Farmers, being unable to dispose of such cattle, have to bear the burden of sustaining non-productive animals. Selling non-productive cattle (whether cows or bulls) for slaughter (with the resultant production of food, leather, and other important goods) sustains an agrarian economy dependent on bovine animals. The butcher is an integral part of this economy. In fact we can observe that a ban on cow slaughter economically burdens farmers, dairy farmers, butchers, and meat traders. However, the only ones who are laughing all the way to the bank are the beef exporters – many of them upper caste Hindus – who seem to be increasing the quantum of exports despite this hate politics.

 

Seen from the perspective of the ill-effects that a ‘beef ban’ and anti-cow slaughter laws have on the society and the economy, it is imperative that secular forces and those keen to maintain Goan traditions call for nothing less than a complete revocation of these ‘cow protection’ laws, including the one that the MGP government brought into force in Goa in the 1970s. It is also a litmus test to the votaries of secularism and Goemkarponn if they will push for the revocation or change of laws antithetical to the lives and livelihoods of Goans.

 

In Goa too, one can observe that it has become increasingly difficult for people to maintain cattle. It is simply not economically viable, and over a period of time so many people have stopped rearing cattle. Add to this, one sees a large number of cows scavenging from dustbins and other areas. The oppressive ‘cow protection’ laws – circumscribed by a upper caste Hindu morality – has made it difficult for people to maintain cows and the bovine population to sustain itself.

 

Thus, the issue is not simply about people being unable to eat beef (that is, without being lynched or killed for it). While it is true that ‘beef bans’ pose a threat to a loosely defined ethos of ‘secularism’, the issue is much deeper in which the laboring poor are trapped within the oppressive structures of caste, poverty, and tradition. It is a form of slavery that is perpetuated by the law and a casteist morality which is undoing the social mobility achieved through the struggles of various groups. While forcing labor relations based on caste hierarchies, such ‘beef bans’ also deny ‘minorities’ like Christians and Muslims (of all castes and classes) the choice of food and cultural practices ostensibly because it offends upper caste Hindu sensibilities.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 26 April, 2017)

Caste Atrocities in Goa: Give Us this Day… Our Land!

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By AMITA KANEKAR

Gayechi shepdi tumi doura,amkaam amchi zamin diya – such is the slogan (translated into Concani) of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladayi Samiti, formed in Gujarat after the recent atrocity where 4 Dalit men were tortured by Gau Rakshaks, for disposing of dead cattle. Atrocities on Dalits are of course not new for South Asia; indeed they are the way of life for the brahmanical societies here. But, even as India rang to this new slogan, and other inspiring news from Gujarat where a vow has been taken by Dalit communities to forswear this occupation that they have traditionally been forced to do, leading to the dumping of cattle carcasses in front of government offices, Goa has been mostly silent. There was a small protest on 15 August in support of the Gujarat struggle, but, apart from this, one would imagine that Goa has nothing to do with such atrocities.

 

But this is not true. Atrocities against Dalits (and others) are part of not just Goa’s history, but contemporary culture too. Just a few days earlier, the people of Shahu Nagar wado in Ibrampur village, Pernem, had invited lawyers and others to their village to discuss the serious caste discrimination rampant there. Ibrampur has seven wados with a total population of 1800, of which the Mahars comprise 166 persons. As is the case with most Goan villages, the wados are caste-based, with the Mahars living to this day in a separate wado, known to the village and the government as the Maharwado or Harijanwado, though the residents have decided to change the name to Shahu Nagar. And although they have lived here for generations, toiling on the land and growing many fruit trees and other crops there, the land is not in their name, except for their houses. The rest is in the control of the Communidade of the village. And this Communidade is dominated by members of the Gawas community, who consider themselves higher than the Mahars.

 

The recent grievance of the Mahars concerns the Prime Minister’s Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, under which Ibrampur is one of three villages selected to become a ‘model village’. Funds have been laid out for these villages to invest on various kinds of infrastructure. The Shahu Nagar residents had applied 2 years ago for a community hall and children’s park in their wado, individual (private) toilets and water connections, and a proper road to all houses in the wado. The Gram Panchayat apparently said that a No-Objection Certificate (NoC) was required from the Communidade, which the latter had refused to give. When the villagers approached the Communidade, they were told that the NoC would only be provided if the people of Shahu Nagar took up all their old occupations again. They had been permitted to stay on the land, the Communidade members are reported to have said, only in return for providing ‘seva’ to the village. In other words, the Mahars had to go back to beating drums at temple festivities, beating the dhol through the village at other times, clearing carcasses, delivering messages, etc, all of which they had given up years ago.

 

The people of Shahu Nagar protested that many of them were employed otherwise now. The Communidade however remained adamant. the Mahars had to do the work. Only then would the development of their wado be considered.

 

Meanwhile, the funds released under the scheme are being utilised in the other wados, where roads, gutters, taps, toilets, and wells are being built. In Shahu Nagar however, even a deep and dangerous hole which has developed in the main road remains unrepaired.

 

And this is not the only atrocity being faced by the Dalits here. They are not allowed to build new houses, extend their old ones, or even build new sheds or barns; one person was threatened when he tried. And they are, even today, not allowed to enter the village temple. There are some houses, including that of a teacher of the local school, where they are offered water in separate glasses. This school conducts a Satyanarayana puja every year (itself a questionable activity—why should a government school hold religious programme, and that of only some faiths?) in which Mahar students are not allowed to play a role. The villagers say that they have complained about all this to BJP MLA Rajendra Arlekar, who represents Pernem in the Assembly, but to no avail.

 

And Ibrampur’s story is not a unique one. Avinash Jadhav, an activist of Dalit Ekta Samiti, carried out a one-day hunger strike in Panjim on 15 August, in solidarity with the Gujarat movement and also to highlight atrocities in Goa, especially in Sattari. Jadhav described Dalits there as living ‘in custody’. They lived, he said, completely at the mercy of the bhatkars, i.e. the Rane family, with no title to the land on which they have lived and toiled for generations, without the freedom to harvest the produce from their own trees, sometimes even with barbed wire fencing put around their houses by the bhatkar’s men to prevent them ‘trespassing’ on the sprawling lands controlled by him.

 

In other words, our ‘progressive’ land of Goa is rife with caste-based atrocities, most of them directly connected to the practices and beliefs of Hinduism, as pointed out ages ago by Jyotiba Phule as well as Dr Ambedkar. And a critical element of this oppression is through control of land. Thus the slogan given by the Dalits in Gujarat, challenging the Hindu obsession with the cow and also focussing on land, is the slogan for Goa as well – Keep the cow’s tail for yourself, give us our land!

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 25 August, 2016)