“An English doctor, on hearing that the law student was a vegetarian,
insisted that he make an exception for beef-tea, since, unlike in the tropics,
where a diet based on grain and vegetables would do, ‘in the cold climate of
England the addition of beef or mutton is essential’. They argued, back and
forth, till the doctor, in exasperation, exclaimed: ‘You must either take
beef-tea or die!’ Gandhi answered that ‘if it were God’s will that I should die
I must die, but I was sure it could not be God’s will that I should break the
oath that I made on my mother’s knee before I left India’.”
That is what the Mahatma or
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi followed about his diet in his life as a law student
in England. And it remained so throughout his life. He revered cow. He
preferred to die than to include beef in his routine.
But, though he was a staunch Hindu,
he was the one with a deeply secular worldview. He never advocated ‘legal ban’
on cow slaughter based on religious grounds. The man, who till last fought to
prevent India’s partition, the man who saw India as the motherland with a
diverse cultural heritage of different religions, the man who advocated ‘Hindustani’,
with combined tradition of Hindi and Urdu, as the ‘lingua franca’ of India – he
could have never said so.
The Hindu’s account of his last
200 days (Mahatma Gandhi: The Last 200 Days, p19) says – “The Mahatma was irrevocably convinced that the people of independent
India should be linked by Hindustani, a language comprising the scripts and
resources of both Hindi and Urdu, and that English should only be of secondary
Political India is in midst of a
legacy war to claim ‘patronage’ of the ‘brand Gandhi’ but every person trying
it must remember that it can happen only the ‘Mahatma way’.
And among many visions of a grand
independent India vision were the Mahatma’s views on cow slaughter and beef
eating – because cow protection has been a central religious theme in India in
The Hindu’s book on his last 200
days says (p19) – “In his prayer meeting,
Gandhiji again roundly criticised the hypocrisy of Hindus who sold their cattle
for the animal to find their way to butchers, and yet demanded a Government ban
on cow slaughter.”
An article on the website The
Wire has published a long, translated version of this – from the ‘Collected
Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 88, the Gandhi Heritage Portal - based on the
Mahatma’s observations on the day (July 25, 1947). Here it is:
Rajendra Babu tells me that he has received some 50,000 postcards,
between 25,000 and 30,000 letters and many thousands of telegrams demanding a
ban on cow-slaughter. I spoke to you about this before. Why this flood of
telegrams and letters? They have had no effect.
I have another telegram which says that a friend has started a fast for
this cause. In India no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter. I do not doubt
that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have been long pledged to
serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the
Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.
We have been shouting from the house-tops that there will be no
coercion in the matter of religion. We have been reciting verses from the Koran
at the prayer. But if anyone were to force me to recite these verses I would
not like it. How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself
so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There
are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here.
The assumption of the Hindus that India now has become the land of the
Hindus is erroneous. India belongs to all who live here. If we stop cow
slaughter by law here and the very reverse happens in Pakistan, what will be
the result? Supposing they say Hindus would not be allowed to visit temples
because it was against Shariat to worship idols? I see God even in a stone but
how do I harm others by this belief? If therefore I am stopped from visiting
temples I would still visit them. I shall therefore suggest that these
telegrams and letters should cease. It is not proper to waste money on them.
I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also
be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those
Indians who are not Hindus.
Besides some prosperous Hindus themselves encourage cow-slaughter.
True, they do not do it with their own hands. But who sends all the cows to
Australia and other countries where they are slaughtered and whence shoes
manufactured from cow hide are sent back to India? I know an orthodox Vaishnava
Hindu. He used to feed his children on beef soup. On my asking him why he did
that he said there was no sin in consuming beef as medicine.
We really do not stop to think what true religion is and merely go
about shouting that cow-slaughter should be banned by law. In villages Hindus
make bullocks carry huge burdens which almost crush the animals. Is it not
cow-slaughter, albeit slowly carried out? I shall therefore suggest that the
matter should not be pressed in the Constituent Assembly…
I have been asked, ‘Since in view of the atrocities being perpetuated
by Muslims it is difficult to decide which of the Muslims are to be trusted,
what should be our attitude towards the Muslims in the Indian Union? What
should the non-Muslims in Pakistan do?
I have already answered this question. I again repeat that all the
religions of India today are being put to the test. It has to be seen how the
various religious groups such as the Sikhs, the Hindus, the Muslims and the
Christians conduct themselves and how they carry on the affairs of India.
Pakistan may be said to belong to Muslims but the Indian Union belongs to all.
If you shake off cowardice and become brave you will not have to consider how
you are to behave towards the Muslims. But today there is cowardice in us. For
this I have already accepted the blame.
In villages Hindus make bullocks carry huge burdens which almost crush
the animals. Is it not cow-slaughter, albeit slowly carried out?
I am still wondering how my 30 years’ teaching has been so ineffective.
Why did I assume, to begin with, that non-violence could be a weapon of
cowards? Even now if we can really become brave and love the Muslims, the Muslims
will have to stop and think what they could gain by practising treachery
against us. They will return love for love. Can we keep the crores of Muslims
in the Indian Union as slaves? He who makes slaves of others himself becomes a
slave. If we answer sword with sword, the lathi with lathi and kick with kick,
we cannot expect that things will be different in Pakistan. We shall then lose
our freedom as easily as we have gained it…
[Translated from Hindi] - Prarthana Pravachan –I, pp 277-280
The website published this
account in the context of the mob lynching incident of a Muslim Indian citizen
in Delhi’s neighbourhood Greater Noida ‘for allegedly slaughtering a cow and storing
beef in his house’. The man was killed and his son was left critically injured.
And political parleys are on to politicise
the matter – to polarize votes on religious lines – to gain upper hand in the
Bihar assembly election that is beginning on October 12 and in the Uttar
Pradesh assembly election in early months of 2017.
What the Mahatma had spoken some
68 years ago still holds true. Today, Hindus are in fact major beneficiaries of
beef export. After 68 years of independence, India, with all its problems, is a
strong and functional democracy – the largest in the world – with a transparent
electoral process. And in such a democracy, questions like ‘legal ban’ on cow slaughter
or ‘beef’ on religious grounds would never ne logical.
The Hindu’s book about Bapu’s
last 200 days further says (p19-20) – Bapu concluded, “If we can become brave, and love the minorities, they will return love
for love… Can we make crores of minority people slaves?... We should remember
that he who would make slaves of others does himself become a slave.”