‘My Son’s Inheritance’: The roots of the gauraksha movement

‘My Son’s Inheritance’ is a disturbing examination of the history of lynching in the country. It traverses several centuries and offers powerful insights into the phenomenon. An excerpt from the book

‘My Son’s Inheritance’: The roots of the gauraksha movement
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Aparna Vaidik

Under the influence of the Nagari Pracharini Sabha of Banaras (1893) and the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan of Allahabad (1910) that established an ancient ancestry for the Hindi language going back to Sanskrit, Hindi became the vehicle for spreading the message of gauraksha. Many tracts and magazines such as Gausewak, Gaudharma Prakash, Bharat Dimdima Natak, Gaumata ka Sandesh eulogizing the cow and the need for cow protection came into circulation. Alongside the image of the gaumata, the cow as the mother of all Hindus, was mass produced and consumed. In these images, the body of the cow was presented as a repository of all Hindu gods, eighty-four of them. Tucked away in the corner of these images was the figure of a villainous butcher depicted as a wild boar

(on top of the image is inscribed: kalyugi mansahari jeevon ko dekho, see the meat-eaters of kaliyug) who in order to satiate his lust for cow meat was poised to recklessly annihilate the sacred symbol of the Hindus. The dharmaraj, upholder of dharma, a Hindu man is shown begging the butcher for mercy saying ‘mat maro gaye sarv ka jeevan hai’, don’t kill the life-giving cow that serves all. The ‘all’ here refers to the national community sitting below the cow’s belly waiting to receive cow milk—the Hindus (three male figures—a reference to the dvija, the three twice-born castes of the Brahmana, Kshatriya, and Vaishya), and a single image of a Parsi, a Christian, and a Muslim man. This was the image of the Indian nation capacious enough to include Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Parsis.

In other images the gaumata, the giver of milk that nourished the Hindu body was presented as a suffering mother who beseeched and invoked her Hindu son’s manliness and sense of pride to save her life and honour. Or a woman is shown waiting patiently with a bowl for cow’s milk while the calf suckled at her udders reminiscent of Dayanand’s injunction not to milk the cow until a few months after giving birth to a calf. Thus Hindu self-hood came to be intimately tied to the protection of the cow in relation to the rogue Muslim who insisted on eating beef and spoke Urdu (a language that was considered as the effeminate language of dancing girls and prostitutes). The relentless endurance of these images in the popular domain is attested by the fact that this image first appeared in Azamgarh district in 1894, then reappeared in the Hindi journal Madhuri in 1937, and then again in the 1960s as a calendar image, and thence made its way to family altars and knick-knacks like coin boxes in most homes in northern India, and can now be found easily on the internet.

It seems that by the late nineteenth century, the Hindu Khatiks or butchers did not undertake even the tanning of cow or buffalo hide. Although one doesn’t know conclusively how far back in history the Hindu Khatik’s aversion to handling cows went (or whether it can be attributed to the influence of Vaishnavism or to the Arya Samaj publicists) it was quite likely that it was primarily the Kasais, Muslim butchers, who were handling cattle in northern India in this period. The spectre of the Muslim butcher, the Kasai, was thus born. It was an image of the rapacious Other who possessed the meanest traits that one wanted to distance oneself from. It was as if the Hindu had projected all his worst fears on to the Muslim Other. The traits that the Muslim was believed to possess existed because the Hindu imagined them to be there. The Muslim thus became both an object of fear and a curious attraction. He possessed one trait, in particular, that the Hindu hated him for. This was the Muslim’s sexual potency. What else could account for the religiously-sanctified polygamy. A collection of essays titled Humara Bhishan Haas (Our Severe Decline) stated:

Our sexually unsatisfied widows are especially prone to Muslim hands and by producing Muslim children, they increase their numbers and spell disaster for the Hindus...You yourselves say, would you like our Aryan widows to read ‘nikah’ with Muslims?

Perhaps the sexual potency of the Muslim man was an element that rendered the Hindu inadequate and insecure of his own potency. Evidence from the period shows the Hindu wished he possessed the Muslim’s sexual abilities or prowess; the Muslim was hated for having it. And this made the Hindu fearful for his women (wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, and gaumata) who were seen as objects of Muslim lust. As one pamphlet titled Chand Musalmano ki Harkatein [The Deeds of Few Muslims] stated:

Ai Aryon kyon so rahe ho pair pasare

Muslim ye nahi honge humare tumhare... Muslim banane ke liye scheme banayi... Ekkon ko gali gaon mein le kar ghoomte hain.

Parde ko daal Muslim aurat ko baithate hain. (Aye Aryans, why do you sleep with legs spread out these Muslims will not be yours or ours...In order to convert to Islam they made a cunning scheme...They roam in streets and villages sitting in carts, Behind the veil they make Muslim women sit)

The last line was a reference to the abduction of Hindu women by Muslim carriage drivers in order to satisfy their lust and to convert them to Islam.

‘My Son’s Inheritance’: The roots of the gauraksha movement

The Muslim, they argued, did not stop at stealing their women and cows but was also gunning for lower- caste Hindus and untouchables by means of conversion. The cow protectionists thus came to be deeply involved in combating propaganda programs for the conversion of Dalit communities by Christian missionaries and Muslim organizations in the early twentieth century. For instance, the Muslim organizations primarily targeted the lower castes in various towns of Uttar Pradesh for conversion. Christian missionaries were able to convert several sweepers, Chandals, Chamars, Doms, and Lai Begis. The publicists of the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha lamented these conversions as they felt the Hindu ‘numbers were declining’ and launched a massive campaign against Christian and Muslim conversion.

As one propaganda poem stated: Hota nahin anar kabhi amrud badal ke. Tab hindu kis bhanti aaj bhaye muslim dal ke... Brahman, kshatri, vaishya, kshetra mein aage awo, Antyaj bandhu samaj vishad saadar apnavo... Teli nai khatik tamoli bhaat bhikhari, dhobi dhanuk lodh bodh se baarho agari Kurmi kevat kuril jati ke kori bhangi, aasha tumhin se lagi bano sache sangi.

A pomegranate can never change into a guava. Then how can Hindus today become a part of the Muslim community? Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, please come forward, accept with respect your junior brothers

March ahead oil miller, barber, vegetable seller, bard, beggar, washerman, cotton-carder.

Kurmi, boatman, Kuril, sweeper—we have faith in you, become our true associates.

The image is from the popular Hindi publication Chand with an upper-caste readership. These caricatures generally depicted two kinds of Dalit men—converted and unconverted—or two Dalit women. The converted Dalit man was more masculine, had a confident gait, was well-dressed, wore shoes, and was more European-like in the activities he was engaged in (playing tennis or ordering the servants about or walking like a sahib or flaunting his wealth). The unconverted man was shown engaged in a menial task, physically feeble, poorly dressed, barefoot, and smaller in size. There was a general belief that conversion brought about the stark physical and material elevation of the Dalits. These caricatures of Dalit men were an acknowledgement of the benefits that accrued to the Dalits as result of conversion and were also meant to serve as a warning to the upper castes that they were fast losing their lower-caste Hindu brethren to Christianity (unless they did something about it).

The Arya Samaj workers also started contact programs to win the lower castes over to the ‘Hindu’ side. The lower castes that had hitherto been barred entry or participation in upper-caste homes and festivities were now invited despite their highly ‘impure’ status. The image extols the efforts to establish equality with lower caste.


A close examination of the image (left) shows a Brahmin and an untouchable drawing water together. However, they are not actually taking water from the same tap. Note that the taps are separate and there is no physical contact between the two. This neither liquefied the untouchable’s identity nor sullied the ritual purity of the Brahmin. Moreover, once brought into the Hindu fold, the attempt was to wean the lower castes away from the consumption of beef and to acquire the values and ways of the upper castes. This was shuddhi or purification of the hitherto polluted castes to ensure the integrity of the Hindu self and their numerical majority. Although several Brahmins opposed shuddhi of the lower castes, most of the leading Hindi newspapers and magazines such as lauded the efforts of the Hindu organizations.

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