COWED DOWN

Maharashtra’s beef ban shows how politicians manipulate Hindu sentiments around cow slaughter

Laws purportedly aimed at cow protection are actually used to instigate violence and gather votes.

Beef has been banned in Maharashtra. The Union government has given its assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, almost two decades after the state assembly had passed it under the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government in 1995.

Maharashtra had always banned the slaughter of cows but allowed the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and water buffalo. The new act will ban the slaughter of all cattle with the exception of water buffaloes. In fact, the very possession of beef – much like, say, cocaine – is now punishable with a prison sentence.

While this is a particularly harsh law, legal provisions for restricting or banning cow slaughter are rather common: 26 states in India have laws which either regulate or ban cow slaughter.

Livewire political topic

Clearly then, the cow is a livewire political topic. In his prime ministerial campaign, Narendra Modi used the emotive power of the cow to attack the United Progressive Alliance government. “It saddens me,” he wrote on his blog, “that present UPA Government led by Congress is promoting slaughtering of cows and exporting beef to bring ‘Pink Revolution’”.

Of course, the “beef” that India exports is mostly buffalo and not cow meat but Modi couldn’t be bothered with such pedantic nuances (ironically, beef exports have risen since Modi came to power). The cow here was just a dog whistle with which to attack the Congress’ supposed "minority-appeasement", exploiting the age-old communal stereotype of associating Muslims with beef consumption.

Later on, Maneka Gandhi, a minister in Modi’s cabinet, would dispense with even the dog whistle and, in a remarkable leap of logic, claim that the profits from the beef industry were directly funding terrorism. The Rajasthan Bharatiya Janata Party government went beyond just talk and set up a separate ministry dedicated to bovine affairs. Even the Congress is not really all that different: remember, most of the state laws against cow slaughter were passed by Congress governments.

Historical roots

The political relevance of the cow has deep historical roots, an obvious outcome of the animal’s importance in Hinduism since the medieval age. Babur is supposed to have advised his son and crown-prince Humayun to ensure that cow slaughter was banned in Mughal territories. Akbar continued this tradition with a firman in 1586. Cow slaughter was also banned in the Sikh and Maratha empires and Haider Ali of Mysore threatened to chop of anyone’s hands as punishment. During the Rebellion of 1857, in a surprising show of spine, the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar made cow slaughter a crime punishable by death in order to present a united Hindu-Muslim front while facing the British sieging Delhi.

However, cow protection as a political issue really came into its own during the colonial period as Indians started to develop a collective consciousness based on their religious identity. “Hindu” and “Muslim” now became political groups. In this period of churning, Dayanand Saraswati, the grandfather of Hindu nationalism and the founder of the Arya Samaj, decided to take up cow protection as a core part of his agenda. In 1881, Saraswati published a pamphlet, Gokarunanidhi denouncing cow slaughter as an attack on Hinduism. The political mobilisation of people in favour of the cause was achieved via the formation of cow protection societies which were particularly active in current-day UP, Bihar, Haryana and Punjab. The situation was worsened by a ruling of a court in Allahabad, which held that cows were not sacred and killing them for meat was legal. All this culminated in India’s first large-scale riot driven by the issue of cow protection on Bakri Eid day in 1893 in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. So fierce was the violence that the British lost control of the area entirely for a few days.

After that, cow protection became a mainstream part of the Indian freedom movement. Gandhi took up the cause of cow protection but, characteristically, took great care to direct it against the British and not Muslims. The colonialists, Gandhi taunted, “cannot do without it [beef] for a single day”. In an essay in 1927, he advised untouchables to do away with “serious defects” such as uncleanliness, liquor, adultery and beef eating since “cow protection is the outward form of Hinduism”.

As a result, after Independence, cow protection found its way into the Constitution itself, as a Directive Principle of State Policy. Soon, states started to enact laws banning cow slaughter, overturning two centuries of colonial policy. Driven by religious passions, some of these laws were excessively harsh, even draconian. In Gujarat, the punishment for cow slaughter carries a seven-year jail sentence. Even more alarmingly, a number of states have laws that place the burden of proof on the accused. In the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi, among others, if you are arrested for cow slaughter, you are automatically held guilty until proven innocent, overturning a fundamental principle of criminal law. The law is more lenient if you happen to kill a human being, though: you are presumed innocent till you are proven you guilty.

Kafkaesque approach

Even more oddly, the only time the state or politicians get involved in the cattle value chain is at the time of slaughter. In Ahmedabad, where the police worked itself into a frenzy during Eid last year over cow slaughter – they even shot a man dead – the manufacture of cow leather takes place without incident. Like Maharashtra, Delhi also has strict provisions against all cow slaughter but posh restaurants in the city openly display what they call “beef” on their menus. Last year in Madhya Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party voted against a bill which sought to ban the sale of cow bones and fat. In a state where cow slaughter is banned, it takes a special Kafkaesque sense of the surreal to digest that trading in the animal’s body parts, however, is protected by law. And, of course, as the cherry on the cake: India’s favourite sport features a ball that is necessarily made out of the hide of the cow.

The special status of the cow in current-day Hindu culture and religion cannot be disputed. Given the large number of people who are affected by it, it is almost inevitable that a democratic state would take cognisance of the issue in some form or the other. However, it is also paradoxical that the state targets cow protection somewhat patchily, attacking only the act of slaughter when it is quite obvious that steak houses, tanneries or cricket ball manufacturers are as much to blame ‒ after all these industries, by definition, necessitate the killing of the cow.

This contradictory approach to the issue of cow protection shows that it is treated more as a political rather than religious matter. Cow protection sentiments are exploited by the state and politicians to mobilise people and catch votes, targeting poor Muslims and Dalits by accusing them of cow slaughter. Of course, since other factors are clean ignored (as a result of economic considerations), these laws do nothing to actually improve the lot of cattle in the country.

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The incredible engineering that can save your life in a car crash

Indian roads are among the world’s most dangerous. We take a look at the essential car safety features for our road conditions.

Over 200,000 people die on India’s roads every year. While many of these accidents can be prevented by following road safety rules, car manufacturers are also devising innovative new technology to make vehicles safer than ever before. To understand how crucial this technology is to your safety, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a car accident.

Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.
Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.

A car crash typically has three stages. The first stage is where the car collides with an object. At the point of collision, the velocity with which the car is travelling gets absorbed within the car, which brings it to a halt. Car manufacturers have incorporated many advanced features in their cars to prevent their occupants from ever encountering this stage.

Sixth sense on wheels

To begin with, some state-of-the-art vehicles have fatigue detection systems that evaluate steering wheel movements along with other signals in the vehicle to indicate possible driver fatigue–one of the biggest causes of accidents. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is the other big innovation that can prevent collisions. ESP typically encompasses two safety systems–ABS (anti-lock braking system), and TCS (traction control system). Both work in tandem to help the driver control the car on tricky surfaces and in near-collision situations. ABS prevents wheels from locking during an emergency stop or on a slippery surface, and TCS prevents the wheels from spinning when accelerating by constantly monitoring the speed of the wheels.

Smarter bodies, safer passengers

In the event of an actual car crash, manufacturers have been redesigning the car body to offer optimal protection to passengers. A key element of newer car designs includes better crumple zones. These are regions which deform and absorb the impact of the crash before it reaches the occupants. Crumple zones are located in the front and rear of vehicles and some car manufacturers have also incorporated side impact bars that increase the stiffness of the doors and provide tougher resistance to crashes.

CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.
CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.

Post-collision technology

While engineers try to mitigate the effects of a crash in the first stage itself, there are also safe guards for the second stage, when after a collision the passengers are in danger of hitting the interiors of the car as it rapidly comes to a halt. The most effective of these post-crash safety engineering solutions is the seat belt that can reduce the risk of death by 50%.

In the third stage of an actual crash, the rapid deceleration and shock caused by the colliding vehicle can cause internal organ damage. Manufacturers have created airbags to reduce this risk. Airbags are installed in the front of the car and have crash sensors that activate and inflate it within 40 milliseconds. Many cars also have airbags integrated in the sides of the vehicles to protect from side impacts.

SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.
SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.

Safety first

In the West as well as in emerging markets like China, car accident related fatalities are much lower than in India. Following traffic rules and driving while fully alert remain the biggest insurance against mishaps, however it is also worthwhile to fully understand the new technologies that afford additional safety.

So the next time you’re out looking for a car, it may be a wise choice to pick an extra airbag over custom leather seats or a swanky music system. It may just save your life.

Equipped with state-of-the-art passenger protection systems like ESP and fatigue detection systems, along with high-quality airbags and seatbelts, all Volkswagen cars have the safety of passengers at the heart of their design. Watch Volkswagen customer stories and driver experiences that testify its superior German engineering, here.

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This article was produced on behalf of Volkswagen by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

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