Sunday 7 October 2018

The Janus-faced attitude towards the holy cow!

This evening, listening to radio and making a mental list of the groceries to be purchased, I was broken out of my cocoon when our vehicle stopped abruptly on the NH 17 B, a little before the Dabolim junction. There were many vehicles which had stopped and people were running helter-skelter; We also saw many cattle running on the highway. We sensed that something was amiss. While we were guessing an accident, we saw a calf lying down on the highway, a little before our vehicle. It was almost on the verge of dying. My husband had just stepped out of the vehicle to find out what had happened because there was a crowd a few meters ahead of us - another cow, a pregnant one had been hit. There was also a bike which had fallen down and there were no humans who looked injured.

As I was taking in the situation, a man from somewhere rushed with water and poured it on the calf and gently into his mouth. It was a moving sight nevertheless raising questions in our minds - Would someone have cared if a dog or cat was hit. AND the question of straying cattle also accosted our minds - On the one hand, we revere the cow and raise its status to that of a mother and giver so much so that hell breaks loose when beef is consumed in certain parts of the country BUT the 'holy' and revered cows are left on their own to stray, eat plastic and disrupt traffic on the highway. This dualism/Janus-faced behaviour could be seen in many aspects of religion and culture - Revere the goddess and hold festivals in her honour but to think that the goddess could menstruate and bleed is unacceptable.

The issue of the cow and the woman is but an instance in the Janus-faced behavioural pattern of the citizens of this country If the cow could be seen as an extension of us and our family then the question of allowing it to stray and eat plastic does not arise at all. Since the cow is seen as a being worthy of worship and reverence, it is kept away as the 'other.' This process of othering by veneering is not something strange to the Indian society. For hundreds of years, there has been a dichotomy of the self and the other of humans and non-humans. This brings us to the question of nature-culture, which is often seen as a dualism. The primal community by calling the tree as their sister or the dwelling place of their ancestor have included the same in their daily lives in spite of giving due reverence to the tree but in the state society, the cow which is compared to the mother, earning the term, 'gaumata,' is a mother only in name; The mother is left to stray and even die in some cases. If such is the treatment of the 'holy' mother, I cannot but imagine the state of the literal mother!

Similar sentiments expressed in this blog-post is echoed in the documentary, The Plastic Cow (watch here: by Kunal Vohra. The documentary shows the two-faced treatment meted out to the cow and the sad state of plastic accumulating the stomach of the cow.

India is a country of contradictions which are often crude and sad and it might not surprise me if the swear words, "holy cow," was coined in India (it is not, though)!

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