Cow science exam: Did the BJP government bite more than it could chew?

The exam, scheduled for February 25, was abruptly cancelled a day after Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog’s first chairman Vallabhbhai Kathiria left office, seemingly on completion of his two year term

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
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Sanjukta Basu

A whopping 5 lakh people including students and general public across the globe had reportedly registered online to take the highly publicised ‘Kamdhenu Gau-Vigyan Prachar-Prasar Exam’ or the ‘cow science’ exam scheduled to be held on February 25, 2021 by Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA), a Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Ministry of Fisheries.

It was going to be a free of cost, voluntary exam of one-hour duration with multiple choice questions, to be conducted online in English and 11 regional languages.

However, the exam was abruptly cancelled a day after the Aayog’s first Chairman Vallabhbhai Kathiria left office seemingly on completion of his two year term. The exam “has been postponed”, announced the Aayog’s website without providing any reasons. A new date for the exam was also not provided.

Further, as per latest reports, the Ministry of Fisheries has disowned the Aayog’s exam saying it had “no mandate”. “Until date, the Ministry was not involved. Only Mr. Kathiria was involved and he was conducting the exam. Ministry does not know the exam paper and did not play any role in the reference material for the exam…We will now examine everything on a scientific basis, and then take some decision,” Dr. O.P. Chaudhary, joint secretary within the Animal Husbandry Department told The Hindu.

The announcement came amidst a nationwide outrage from various colleges, universities and scientific communities, such as the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad, and Jadavpur University, Kolkata among others, who allege that the Modi government, through the Kamdhenu Aayog and this exam, was not only promoting superstition and pseudo-science but also trying to saffronize education in furtherance of the Sangh Parivar’s stated objectives of attaining a Hindu Rashtra.

A 54-page reference material uploaded by the Aayog on its website, which now stands rescinded, had been at the centre of most of the public criticisms and ridicule.

Firstly, it sought to pass off ancient Hindu religious scriptures as ‘source’ of scientific knowledge which is problematic from an epistemological perspective. Secondly, it makes bizarre unscientific claims such as ‘Indian breed cow is more emotive than exotic or jersey cow’.

“Whenever any unknown person comes near a desi cow, she will immediately stand whereas a jersey cow displays no emotion,” the document read. It also added that Indian cows are clever enough “to not sit at dirty places. It adapts itself as per the climate and can withstand extreme weather.” The document further described cow dung as “antiseptic”, “tooth polish” and having “anti-radioactive” properties.

Linking cow-science to Hindu religion, the document in one of its sections claimed that beef consumption causes ‘bad karma’ and went on to link cow slaughter to earthquakes.

The ‘curriculum’ also gained international media attention, not for its scientific prowess but as a subject of ridicule, which is not much of a surprise for the critics of Modi government.

“The Western world used to call India a land of snake charmers. Nehruji focused on scientific temperament. It took years of efforts in fields of space research, nuclear science, communications technology etc to change India’s image. But thanks to Modi government, we are again all about cow, and related pseudo-science,” says Manish Sood, a Congress supporter from Jaipur.

“The BJP has been only using the cow as a political tool, while hundreds and thousands of cows were dying in the government cowshed under the previous Vasundhara Raje government,” he added.

Dismissing criticism, the Aayog chairman said there was "nothing unscientific" about the exam. He also claimed that the exam was simply postponed due to “administrative reasons” and a new date would be announced in the next three-four days,” reported TOI.

The Aayog’s relevance, role and responsibilities are not clearly available in the public domain. According to its website, it was set up as an ‘apex advisory body’ vide a Resolution dated 21st February, 2019 with the purpose “to address the issues related to conservation, protection and development of cows and their progeny, proper implementation of laws with respect to prohibition of slaughter and / or cruelty to cows and to provide policy and direction to the cattle conservation and development programmes in the country.”

Notably, the content on the Aayog’s website does not speak of a high powered professional body and instead comes across as an undignified and juvenile rant against “pseudo intellectuals” who laugh “when any person says that milk of indigenous breeds of cow has gold.”

But that it enjoys a significant backing from Central government is evident from the publicity the ‘Cow Science’ exam received from various departments, particularly the University Grant Commission (UGC) which directed the Vice Chancellors of 900 universities to encourage their students to write the examination.

“I write this to request you, to give wide publicity to this initiative and encourage students to enrol/register themselves for this examination,” UGC Secretary Rajnish Jain said in a letter to the VCs, reported Scroll. The move has been highly criticized by academics across the nation who found it shocking that the highest body of education was promoting unverified claims of religious nature in the name of ‘cow-science’.

The chain of events shows that the government probably bit more than it could chew in its attempt to conflate the Hindu identity with Indian identity. By pushing the exam, the govt tried to superimpose cow-worship as an universal practice for the entire 1.2 billion population, brushing away religious and cultural diversity and secular principles.

But public outrage and ridicule seems to have forced them to step back in this constant push for Hindu Rashtra.

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