(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
If you were a Rajdeep Sardesai or Shekhar Gupta or Barkha Dutt, you would wish for a return of pre-2014 days. You could write or broadcast what you wanted, unchallenged, unquestioned; behemoth of India’s media, sought by global media outlets; prime ministers and presidents, kings and queens, knocking at your door for interviews; film stars lining up as if for auditions. You were firmly in your ivory tower, never seen in grocery shops or bookstores, metros or airports, malls or traffic stops.
Then winds changed. India’s right-wingers took hold in Centre. Websites, such as OpIndia and Swarajyamag among others, began nicking the bubble. The lies were exposed, bigotry was unmasked, anti-Hindu stance was bared in public. History began breaking free from the narrative of glorious Mughals, valiant Tipu Sultan, soothing Amir Khusru and pacifist Ashoka. One began viewing a Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Audrey Truschke, Sheldon Pollock in the light they deserved. Amartya Sen and Raghuram Rajan lost their halo. The benign mask of neutrality dropped like shame around our film stars and directors. Writers and academicians were revealed to be peddlers. Jurists and legal luminaries were found to be men of straw.
An avalanche was thus set in motion. The ecosystem began drowning in the outrage of the masses. Narendra Modi won over the poor; the intelligent found the counter-narrative on social media. Eco-system upped the game, terming every threat as trolls or bhakts. Internet warriors, on their part, found new converts. Eco-system termed the rivals as fake news peddlers. Lutyens Media began organizing debates and seminars to save their turf. Anyone or anything which didn’t agree with them was “fake news”. The entire game was one of credibility – and they were losing it. The 2019 Elections confirmed their worst fears.
Now a new round of conflict has been set in motion. The eco-system has realized they have been outnumbered. Social Media platforms are rallying such mass to grow in size. The “fake news” narrative hasn’t helped. So they have now launched a new initiative. This initiative doesn’t just have newspapers and news agencies, it has also roped in biggies like the Google, Facebook and Twitter. “Fake News” has been given a new name of “misinformation.” What was seen as “local” divide in Indian context, now has acquired “global” dimension. We might just have stumbled upon the global network which feeds and breeds this “eco-system” to disrupt India.
The Hindu has a front-page anchor today where it has grandiosely announced that it is partnering BBC and other global media outlets to fight the “misinformation” in public domain. That it wants to protect its audience. That BBC set it in motion through a “Trusted News Summit” earlier this year. That those in it together include European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Facebook, Financial Times, Google, AFP, Microsoft, Reuters, Twitter, BBC and of course The Hindu. That,they would alert each other when a “misinformation” is to be fought.
It’s a new challenge to India’s internet warriors. So far, we knew the bias of, say Twitter, which suspended accounts (e.g of True Indology, Sonam Mahajan etc) made twitterati remove tweets (Paresh Rawal) while those with similar offence (Shehla Rashid etc) kept flourishing. Netizens were able to dig up the dirt on Raheel Khursheed, CEO of Twitter (2014-2018), on his pro-Pakistan bias. Parliamentarians were outraged enough to summon twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The clamour against Twitter’s alleged bias has only grown bigger in our times. Dorsey has admitted his staff could be overwhelmingly Left-leaning.
So how should internet warriors respond to this openly-aligned forces against them? First, it must leverage its numbers. Every sixth of twitter’s worldwide users is from India. Is has grown in leaps and bounds in last two years. This collective might must be leveraged by netizens, hopefully under the benevolent gaze of the government.
The time perhaps has also come for India to come up with their own micro-blogging platform such as one of Sina Weibo which China has. It’s a mix of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. India could thus also protect its own data. The internet giants would have no option but to fall in line.
Importantly, The eco-system is getting ready to bite you—what’s your response?
We all know Shaktimaan the horse. From March 14 to April 20 this year, between its unfortunate injury and death, it remained a front page news on our lily-pure newspapers. Such love for protection of animals doesn’t extend to illegal cow slaughters. Never ever a word. Instead, cow-protectors are seen as a plot of Hindutva’s agenda. That veneration for cows, without VHP, RSS or BJP prop, doesn’t exist.
Before I am dismissed as a Hindutva foot-soldier, an anti-Dalit, anti-Muslim, anti-beef Hindu fundamentalist, let’s look at Indian constitution’s position. After all, this is where all hysteria should end.
Prohibition of cow slaughter is a Directive Principle of State Policy in Article 48 of the Constitution. It says: “The state shall endeavour…in prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” On October 26, 2005, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws. Only Kerala, West Bengal and India’s northeast don’t have any restrictions on cow slaughter.
Before you burn me at the stake on beef trade, remember most beef produced, consumed and exported is buffalo meat which is not considered sacred to a Hindu. Besides, most cow-slaughterhouses are illegal. It’s a rampant illegal practice where cows are shipped to restriction-free states. Wikipedia says: “In 2013 in Andhra Pradesh, there were 3,100 illegal and 6 licensed slaughterhouses in the state.”
Sure, in practice, States take uneven position on the matter. Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have the strictest laws against cow-slaughter. Assam and West Bengal permit slaughter of cows 10-14 years old. In many states though cow-slaughter is a non-bailable offence. The terms of imprisonment could extend from a mandatory 6 months to 5 years.
So get this straight. Cow slaughter makes you a criminal in most of India. And please spare me this Hindutva tag. For cow slaughter was opposed by notable Muslims from the Mughals’ times.
Muslims and cow-slaughter
Emperor Babar ruled in 1526 that killing of cows was forbidden. Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627), Ahmed Shah (1748-1754) all had restricted bans on cow slaughter. Yes, Aurangzeb deviated but Bahadur Shah Zafar completely banned cow slaughter in 1857. The de facto sultan of Mysore, Hyder Ali (1762-1785), punished cow-slaughter offenders by cutting off their hands.
It’s a fallacy that cow-slaughter in India began with the arrival of Islam. Vedas describe many gods such as Indra and Agni having preference for cattle meat. Sure the various invasions of Islamic rulers around 1000 AD made it common. Along with sacrifices of goats and sheet, cows too became a sacrificial animal, particularly on the occasion of Bakri-Id.
As in most things, British rule in India was trouble. They were used to eating beef. Slaughterhouses sprang up all over India. In 1944, British placed restrictions on slaughter due to cattle shortage. After all, they were required for transport, cultivation and milk among other purposes. But it came too late in the day. A historical survey, between 1717-1977, reveal that out of 167 communal riots, 22 were directly attributed to cow slaughter.
Arya Samaj, which opposed many existing practices of Hinduism in the 19th century, including idol worship, polytheism, child marriage, widow celibacy, the caste system, accepted the cow worship. Dayananda Saraswathi in 1881 opposed cow-slaughter as an anti-Hindu act. In 1683, Sambhaji, the eldest son of Shivaji, is said to have executed a cow-slaughter offender.
Ranjit Singh (1801-1839), founder of the Sikh Empire, banned cow slaughter throughout his domains. Cow was as sacred to the Sikhs as to the Hindus. Cow slaughter was a capital offence and offenders were even executed.
Let’s look at the stands of our revered leaders during British Raj. Mahatama Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malviya, Dr. Rajendra Prasad all had vowed to ban cow-slaughter in case India got its “Swaraj.” Let’s listen to Gandhi’s words: “Not even to win Swaraj, will I renounce my principle of cow protection…I worship and I shall defend its worship against the whole world. The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection.”
In 1966, Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan wrote thus to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi: “For myself, I cannot understand why, in a Hindu majority country like India…there cannot be a legal (cow slaughter) ban.”
Why Cows Matter
Animals have always been worshipped in India as deities. Elephant-god Ganesh, monkey-god Hanuman, Vishnu’s fish, tortoise and boar forms, their “vahanas” such as swan, bull, lion and tiger were all major deities. As well as snakes out of fear; and crows as the abode of the dead.
Cows are sacred to Hindus as a companion to Lord Krishna. Dairy products have always been essential in Hindu culture. Panchagayya, a mixture of five products of cow milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung, is consumed in Brahmanical rituals. Cows and bull—such as “Nandi”—have been the symbols of Dharma. Owning cattle was—and is—a status symbol in many parts of India. It’s dung is a source of fuel and fertilizer. Hence, its position as a maternal figure—“Gau Mata”– to a Hindu’s mind. Buddhism and Jainism both rooted for cow-protection.
It’s a delicious irony of history that Hindus and Muslims together revolted against the British East India Company in 1857 for being made to use gunpowder greased with cow and pig fat. As cow is sacred to Hindus, the consumption of swine is forbidden in Islam.
So recognize facts as they are. Sure punish where law is taken into hands. But for god’s sake, don’t think cow-protection is a political manipulation. It’s constitutionally guaranteed and you subvert it at your own peril.