Guest Post by SRIRANJINI R
Finally it has happened. ‘Debeefing Kerala’ has arrived. That’s not what the leader of Hindu Makkal Katchi said, though. He said that he’s out to defend animal rights. Really? Then, do animal rights in India help to protect all animals or only specific animals?
These were the questions that popped into my mind when I saw the news of Hindu rightwing activists physically preventing the export of beef from Tamil Nadu to Kerala (The Hindu, Trivandrum edition, July 21, 2015). The trucks carrying the cattle for slaughter to Kerala, are being stopped by the Hindu Makkal Katchi and the Hanuman Sena on the Tamil Nadu border and taken to a Goshala near Coimbatore, where these animals are supposedly being taken care of. But according to the traders, the cattle are being mistreated in the Goshalas. If this is true, it is not only the traders who are in big trouble, it is also the cattle that probably prefer quick and painless deaths rather than life as pawns of the Hindutvavaadis in the Goshalas!
And all this is happening because the leader of Hindu Makkal Katchi, Arjun Sampath, claims that almost 50 heads of cattle are being stuffed into a truck during transportation, such that they are not able to drink water or even move. The Hindutvavaadis are out to stop this. This is where the animal rights card is being played. Even if we consider all these as violations of animal rights, then the question arises: why does the Hindu zealot have no mercy for other animals apart from cattle? Elephants, chickens, goats – these animals also go through terrible things humans do to them. Don’t they deserve animal rights?
Of course, the actual reason for this sudden compassion for cattle in Tamil Nadu has nothing to do with animal rights. It is simply the power enjoyed by Hindu rightwing forces, sheltered and fostered by the present Hindu rightwing government, using this as a weapon to advance their own cultural agenda.
What I have been wondering is why these people care only about cows (and their husbands and perhaps cousins). We are certainly not short of sacred animals after all. Let us take the Elephant. Lord Ganapathy is an elephant, but so few Hindutvavaadis go wild over reports of the harassment of elephants which is very common in India, and particularly in Kerala. They are overworked in forests and forced to carry idols during Hindu temple festivals, amidst very large crowds, often in terrible heat and sun, and denied even basic care. Loud fireworks and fire scares all animals. I, a human, myself cannot stand such big crowds. The last time I attended a temple festival, I fainted because I was stuffed between so many people. I wonder how the elephants feel, standing there in chains for hours together. Isn’t the torture of elephants in Hindu (and other) temple festivals and for ‘Kerala culture’ events, against animal rights? Or is it not against animal rights because these are mostly Hindu temple festivals? We don’t see many Hindus stuffed with Hindutvavaadam, protesting against such use of elephants, at least in Kerala.
Then there are the snakes. Snakes are considered to be divine in Hindu religion. But if a snake is seen on the road, the first thing for most people – Hindus are no exception – is to kill it since they are thought to be ‘deadly’. But snakes only attack people if they mess with them. There are only a very few people like Vaava Suresh who catches snakes in a humane way and takes them back to where they should be. There must be some reason for the snakes to come out of their habitats. Who would want to leave their habitat? Well, the snakes like to live in the forests or places with thick bushes. Are there any left in our country? Our government is giving away all the green areas for real estate people to build shops and resorts and basically buildings, buildings, and more buildings. Even the wonderful old Attakkulangara School, Trivandrum city’s oldest green lung and a great refuge for animal and bird life is not safe. Trivandrum Development Authority is planning to fell the ancient trees to build bus bays and a shopping complex. How would you like to live in the middle of the Sahara? Isn’t denying a habitat to snakes against animal rights? Where are the Hindutvavaadis who are dying over animal rights?
Dogs are known to be the human beings’ best friend. Well, it is more than that for us in Kerala. There is a temple in Kerala called Parassinikadavu Madappura where dogs are revered. Recently the Kerala High Court gave the green signal to the killing of stray dogs in Kerala since they are violent. In my whole life, I haven’t come across any stray dog which is violent. But there might be some, as there is evidence of people getting bitten by stray dogs. The reasons for the dogs’ violent behaviour are however hardly ever explored. It is not that all human beings are saints, who never throw even a stone at dogs or irritate them! Isn’t there any other way? The government can build shelters, have an efficient system to neuter the stray dogs, and build more veterinary hospitals. Maneka Gandhi may be trying to save the dogs, but the Hindu rightwingers in Kerala are not bothered about the kin of Parassinikkadavu Muthappan’s canine companions! Nor are they bothered about any other creatures that suffer violation of their rights. Cow’s milk is for the calf, so how come goat’s milk is not for the goat’s kid? Broiler chickens go through intense pain their whole lives. Plus, they are transported in small cages and cannot drink water or have food or move during transportation. I guess that doesn’t come under as violation of animal rights. So in short, the Hindu rightwingers’ concern for animal rights is limited to one animal. Secondly, they are not concerned about one particular human right: the right to eat food that is culturally acceptable and found palatable to individuals and groups.
What does this mean? What is so special about cattle that they alone are protected and other ‘sacred’ animals of the Hindu faith itself, ignored? I think there are reasons, mean and dirty ones. The traders of cattle are mainly Muslims; and though meat- and beef-eating is widespread in Kerala, the Hindutvavaadis want to project it as ‘Muslim’! The Muslims are of course the targets of hate as far as the Hindu rightwing is concerned. It is not news in this country that the latter have been trying for very long to cripple the Muslims of India economically, culturally, and in every other imaginable way. If only they had Alladin’s magic lamp, they would have wished for the Muslims’ disappearance! No wonder they do not wish to consider the more complex question of balancing the rights of all beef- and meat-eating people with the rights of animals which are meant to be slaughtered.
It is quite unlikely however, that such careful reflection will emerge from the present rulers. Why? Because it requires a deep commitment to democracy which means concern for rights of all groups of people; secondly, there must be genuine respect for animals as deserving of rights. But this rightwing government and its Hindutva adherents have no love for anyone other than themselves, human or animal. The playing of the animal rights card in stopping the cattle exports to Kerala from Tamil Nadu is just an excuse. When people blame Islamic countries for having very strict Islamic rules, they must remember that our country is also turning into a place run by rigid ‘Hindu rules’ framed by the Hindutvavaadis.
Sriranjini R is a higher secondary school student in Thiruvananthapuram. She is interested in human rights, animal rights, and the environment.