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Mr Bal Patil's rejoinder

February 24, 2003

To, The Editor, The Milli Gazette,


I am aghast and appalled at the utterly ignorant and presumptuous statement by Mr.Danish A. Khan in his article Nationwide ban on cow-slaughter mooted in The Milli Gazette issue dt.Feb.22, 2003 that : “Followers of Jain religion and a sect of Buddhists are known to propagate the teachings of non-violence and strictly avoid eating meat. But, the fact is that even their founders could not exempt themselves from devouring meat. Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhist religion, is known to have eaten beef and pork. Vardhmana Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, is said to have consumed the meat of a cockerel.” (Italics supplied)

As the co-author of a standard introduction to Jainism with Dr.Colette Caillat, ex-Rector, Sorbonne University, Paris and a renowned international scholar of Prakrits and Sanskrit and Dr.A.N. Upadhye, a former President of the All-India Oriental Conference, and an eminent scholar of Jainism published by Macmillan Co. in 1974 which consists mainly of my translation of the French monograph Le Jinisme by Dr.Caillat, I strongly protest at the tendentious, off the cuff remarks made by Khan deeply injurious to the basic religious faith of the Jain community as per the universally propagated principle by Jainism : ahimsa paramo dharmah, that non-violence is the greatest religion, that “Vardhamana Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, is said to have consumed the meat of a cockerel.” (Emphasis supplied)

I may mention that I happen to be a Member of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission representing the Jain minority community in Maharashtra State . I am also for the last ten years pursuing the question of inclusion of the Jain community as a minority community in the Central Government Notification issued under the National Minorities Commission Act, 1992 in the Supreme Court of India where my Special Leave Petition is pending hearing. Already the National Minorities commission has twice recommended that the Jains should be recognized as a minority and despite the Bombay High court Order in my petition in 1997 that the Central govt. should take an expeditious decision as recommended by the National Minorities Commission which it has failed to do.

Mr. Khan’s assertion is so irresponsible, absurd and ridiculous causing a very grave hurt to the basic religious faith held sacred by the Jain community that it needs a thorough and categorical repudiation. Let me begin my rejoinder by stating categorically that Mahavira was not a founder of Jaina religion. As Dr.Radhakrishnan affirmed: “The Bhagawata Purana endorses the view that rishabha was the founder of Jainism. There is evidence to show that so far back as the first century B.C. there were people who were worshipping Rishabhadeva, the first Tirthankara. There is no doubt that Jainism prevailed even before Vardhamana Mahavira or Parshvanatha . The Yajurveda mentions the names of three Tirthankaras, Rishabha, Ajitnatha and Arishtanemi.” (Indian Philosophy p.287) Tirthankara in Jain terminology means a Ford-maker, a prophet who creates a spiritual bridge for the humanity to show the path to liberation.

So seminal has been the influence of Jainism and its teachings as propounded by the 24 Jain Tirthankaras-Ford-makers- right from the first Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha to the 24th Tirthankara, Mahavira, on ancient Indian thought that it would be proper to pose the question: What would have been the state of Indian culture and religious evolution had there not been Jainism and the uniquely ethical impact brought to bear upon by its religious teachings.

The Jaina contribution in the field of Ahimsa has been admitted by Lokmanya Tilak: “In ancient times innumerable animals were butchered in sacrifice. Evidence in support of this is found in various poetic compositions such as Meghaduta but the credit for the disappearance of this terrible massacre from the brahmanical religion goes to the share of Jainism.” (Bombay Samachar , 10-12-1904)

The principle of ahimsa (non-violence) and the prescription of strict vegetarianism are the prime and unique characteristics of Jain religion and ethics. They could not have developed in Vedic-Brahmanic so-called Aryan culture. There is ample evidence to show that meat eating was not a taboo to immigrant Aryans. But abstention from meat came naturally to the native inhabitants of India because of the climate. That the concept of ahimsa was foreign to Vedic culture is shown by the eminent Indologist Prof.W.Norman Brown in his Tagore Memorial Lectures, 1964-65, Man in the Universe. Prof Brown states:

“Though the Upanishadas contain the first literary reference to the idea of rebirth and to the notion that one’s action- karma determines the conditions of one’s future exitences, and though they arrive at the point of recognising that rebirth may occur not only in animal form but also in animal bodies, they tell us nothing about the precept of ahimsa. Yet that precept is later associated with the belief that a soul in its wandering may inhabit both kinds of forms. Ancient Brahmanical literature is conspicuously silent about ahimsa. The early Vedic texts no not even record the noun ahimsa nor know the ethical meaning which the noun later designated…Nor is an explanation of ahimsa deducible from other parts of Vedic literature. The ethical concept which it embodies was entirely foreign to the thinking of the early Vedic Aryans, who recognized no kinship between human and animal reation, but rather ate meat and offered animals in the sacrifice to the gods.” (pp.53-54)

Therefore, Prof.Brown concludes: “the double doctrine of ahimsa and vegetarianism has never had full and unchallenged acceptance and practice among the Hindus, and should not be considered to have arisen in Brahmanical circles. It seems more probable that it originated in a non-Brahmanical environment, and was promoted in historical Indiaby the Jains and was adopted by Brahmanic Hinduism.”

In the above context one can appreciate the conclusions arrived at by Dr. Hermann Jacobi, the eminent German Indologist. When comparing Jainism with Buddhism and Brahmanism Dr.Jacobi observed in Jain Sutras Part I (Intoduction) that there are four elements common to all the three religions and these are according to him, (i) faith in rebirth of spirit, (ii) karma theory, (iii) salvation from rebirth, and (iv) belief in periodic manifestation s of prophets to resurrect religious spirit on earth. Prof.Jacobi concedes that the first three are a logical outcome of a faith in non-violence and hence they could not arise in the Aryan culture consistent with its sacirificial cult and that is why they are apparently borrowed from non-Aryan faith , that is, Jainism. Therefore, Prof.Jacobi concludes:’ In conclusion, let me assert my conviction that Jainism is an original system, quite distinct and independent from all others, and that, therefore, it is of great importance for the study of philosophical thought and religious life in ancient India.”

As Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the German Nobel prize winner, a philosopher and a humanist medical missionary notes in his Indian Thought and Its Development: “The laying down of the commandment not to kill and not to damage is one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of mankind. Starting from its principle, founded on world and life-denial, of abstention from action, ancient Indian thought – and this in a period when in other respects ethics have not progressed very far- reaches the tremendous discovery that ethics know no bounds! So far as we know, this is for the first time clearly expressed by Jainism.”

Dispelling the common misconception that Buddha propagated ahimsa DrSchweitzer says: “Because the Buddha preaches that all life is sorrowful he has been held- before there was any accurate knowledge of Jainism- to be the creator of the ethic of compassion, and it has been believed that the commandments not to kill and not to damage originated from him. This is not true. He found the ahimsa commandment. In Jainism and adopted it from that source.” (Pp.100-101) Further Dr.Schweitzer states:”The ahimsa commandment does not appear to be so strictly observed in the more ancient Buddhism as it is in Jainism. The eating of meat was not completely prohibited. Otherwise it would have been impossible to relate in the sacred writing of Buddhism that the Buddha died after eating a dish of wild boar’s flesh served to him by the smith Cunda.

As related by Dr.Schweitzer: “But we know from a saying of the Buddha, or a saying ascribed to him as far back as the most ancient period, that in certain cases he regarded the eating of flesh as permissible. A court surgeon named Jivaka, so we are told in Buddha’s discourses, has heard that the Master on occasions even eats meat and therefore questions him about it. Thereupon the Buddha explains to him that he refuses meat when he knows that the animal was slaughtered on purpose for him, but that he allows himself the enjoyment of that placed before him when he happens to arrive just at the time of a meal, or what is put in his alms. For the animal was not killed on his account. Therefore he may regard such meat as ‘blameless nourishment’.”

As explained by Dr.Schweitzer: “The fact that sophisticated discrimination between slaughter of which one is guilty and slaughter of which one innocent is made by the Buddha, or can be attributed to him, shows that the older Buddhism was not yet quite strict about the prohibition of meat eating. The Buddhist monks in Ceylon still keep to this tradition. It meat is placed in their alms-bowls, they eat it.

The principle of strict vegetarianism and ahimsa is so meticulously observed in Jainism that eating of certain vegetables like brinjal and garlic and onion is taboo. It is in this context of irrefutable historic evolution of Jainism and ahimsa which are almost treated synonymously it is scandalous that Mr.Danish Khan should have indulged in such comments attributing meat-eating to Vardhamana Mahavira. Yet in all serious academic and scholarly interest I am very much concerned to know wherefrom he gathered this information and what are his sources.

In conclusion I would like to touch briefly on the historical and anthropological evolution of the religious taboo on cow killing and idea of cow worship. I have translated from German a monograph History of Vegetarianism and Cow Worship in India (unpublished) by the renowned German Indologist the late Dr.Ludwig Alsdorf (Beitraege zur Geschichte von Vegetarismus und Rinderverehrung in Indien, 1961) which gives the most exhaustive scriptural evidence from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sources.

Prof. Alsdorf has hypothesized that there are two main currents in India prevalent from pre-Aryan times: one, ahimsa and vegetarianism and two, the bloody Kali sacrifice directly opposite to the former and also belonging to the pre-Aryan times. Therefore, he observes: “In fact, the hypothesis that both manifestations have their roots in pre-Aryan sources is in no manner strange as their juxtaposition in modern Hinduism defying every consistency and logic.”

Prof. Alsdorf has , of course referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s classic statement about the protection of cows but notes that “Gandhi’s explanation of the unique place of cow in Hinduism remains absolutely inadequate.” Thus he concurs with Dr.V.Glasenapp’s view that “It admits of no doubt that the cow worship in India can be traced back to primitive perceptions but it is difficult to establish its starting point; in the older Vedic times it does not appear to have had durability in any case.”

Prof. Alsdorf notes examples of cow-sacrifice and consumption of cow-flesh even in late and post-Vedic period. This is proved by the fact that there used to be a Court position of govikarta during the Brahmana period meaning ‘cow-carver’ showing that his position was not a disreputable one in ancient times, and that cow-flesh held good as a prized means of nourishment during Brahmana period.

Similarly A.B. Keith says in his Cambridge History I, p.137:

“But it was still the custom to slay a great ox or goat for the entertainment of a guest, and the great sage Yajnavalkya ate meat of milch cows and oxen, provided that the flesh was amsala, a word of doubtful import, rendered either ‘firm’ or tender’ by various authorities.”

Therefore Prof. Alsdorf concludes: “Cow-flesh originally belongs to the most favoured kinds of flesh prescribed for the sraddha-meal and thus consumed by the Brahmanas invited to this meal.” Cow was a most important possession of the Aryans. It became a mark of money-gavista, “cow-quest, cow-requirement” is the familiar Rigvedic term for the military expedition or predatory incursion. Thus one can understand how the whole Rigveda is full of heavenly bulls and cow and milk symbolism iin poetic metaphors and mythological speculation.

Prof.Norman Brown has noted in his article “The Sanctity of the Cow in Hinduism” published in the Journal of the Madras University, Section A, Humanities, dt 28-02-1957, pp.29-49: “Yet in all these richness of references to cattle (in Vedas) there is never, I believe, a hint that the animal as a species or the cow for its own sake was held sacred and inviolable…It should be noted that though the Brahman’s cow is sacred, it is not sacred because it is a cow. It is sacred because it is a Brahman’s. All his property is equally inviolable. The wicked king’s sin lay in robbing the priesthood, not in taking animal or specifically bovine.” (Empasis supplied.)

That the cow-flesh consumption was an exclusive Brahmanic privilege is also proved by the fact that “Like their counterparts all over the old world, the early Brahmans enjoyed a monopoly over the performance of of those rituals without which animal flesh could not be eaten. Brahmans, according to the sutras were the only people who could sacrifice animals” says A.N. Bose in his authoritative study Social and Rural Economy of Northern India 6oo B.C. – 200 A.D., 1961

There is also testimony of cow-flesh consumption in the well-known medical text-book Susruta-Samhita. In an important chapter on the articles of food and their medical qualities and therapeutic worth flesh plays a very big role. The cow comes after horse and mule, before ass, camel, goat, sheep,. Stotra 89 enjoins: “cow-flesh is good for asthma, cough, catarrh, chronic fever, exhaustion and for quick digestion; it is holy (pavitra) and alleviates the wind.”

Dealing with pregnancy-longings and the avoidance of fulfillment of certain foods susruta mentions that cow-flesh pregnancy-longings must be fulfilled. From this it is clear that according to susruta (which it its original form belonged to “latest to the first century A.d. but the text under discussion completed and revised esp. either in 6th or 10th century”) cow-flesh was considered to be an esteemed article of food even for the satisfaction of pregnancy-longings and that it was considered to be so by an important medical text of 10th century which did not see any occasion to suppress such passages.

How then did the taboo on cow-flesh evolve despite the high-caste monopoly of ritual sacrifice and eating of animal flesh? There were several factors responsible for it. By 600 B.C. sacrificial public feasting had become more and more difficult because the high rate of animal slaughter for religious sacirificial feeding could not be maintained without seriously affecting supply of animals for plowing and manuring needs.

Common peasants were thus compelled to preserve their livestock for traction, milk and manure and meat-eating became a privilege of the high-caste Aryans. As Marvin Harris,. Professor of Anthropology of Columbia University notes in his book Cannibals and Kings (1978): “Long after ordinary people in northern India had become functional vegetarians Hindu upper castes- later the most ardent advocates of meatless diets- continued to dine lustily on beef and other kinds of meat.”

As Prof. Harris says :”Cattle thus became the central focus of the religious taboos on meat-eating. As the sole remaining farm animals they were potentially the only remaining source of meat. To slaughter them for meat, constituted a threat to the whole mode of food production. And so beer was tabooed for the same reason that pork was tabooed in the Middle East: to remove temptation..”

This is precisely the point of constitutional irrelevance of ban on cow slaughter. The self-contradiction of the directive Principle has been aggravated erroneously by its judicial interpretation for a total and discriminatory ban in favour of cows only. A perspective view of the evidence presented above leads one inevitably to the conclusion that the constitutional aim of scientific husbandry can be best served only by being courageous enough to dissociate cow from the ritualistic and religious sentiments and overtones. And this cannot be done unless the constitution steers clear of such overtly religious sanctions.

As a Jain I am committed to the its basic principle ahimsa which enjoins uncompromising vegetarianism. At the same time I cannot shut my eyes that a large section of the mankind is non-vegetarian. It would be wrong to forcibly convert them to my way of life. Hence I am concerned to present a rational perspective on cow-slaughter ban issue. At the same time I emphatically repudiate any scandalous statement as in Mr.Danish Khan’s article that Mahavira ate meat which for a Jain is a contradiction in terms.

I think it would be relevant to quote the view of Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer who says in his book Social Mission of Law ( 1975) giving a balanced interpretation of secularism under the Constitution:

“The cow has come up in the Courts in this connection because the Muslims on Bakr Id day kill a bull and the Hindu of the chauvinist orthodox brand imagines that he has a religious duty to preserve the life even of famished and sick cattle. The constitution has yielded to non-secular pressure giving it a rationalized veneer when it has declared in Article 48 that the ‘State shall take steps for prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.’”

Regretting that the Supreme Court has “succumbed to sacred sentiments when it upheld the total ban on the killing of cows but not of bulls and buffaloes” Justice Iyer goes on to say: “Meat-eating being a matter of diet and beef being a staple food, the killing of cows subject to regulations of public health and order should have been considered constitutional in a secular State. The especial solicitude for cows and particular fancy for killing bulls in public on Bakr Id have both religious overtones and are inconsistent with secularism.”

As Justice Iyer exasperately puts it: “Why the slaughter of cows should have been prohibited in the name of organizing agriculture and animal husbandry, puzzles the secularist.” It is precisely in this context one must note that the Article enjoins the State to organize animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines. But how to reconcile total ban on cow slaughter with scientific and rational animal husbandry?

A perspective view of the evidence presented above leads one inevitably to the conclusion that the constitutional aim of scientific husbandry can be best achieved only by being courageous enough to dissociate cow from the ritualistic and religious sentiments and overtones. And this cannot be done unless the constitution steers clear of such overtly religious sanctions.

Even the Mahatma was secular enough to realize that “Just as the Shariyat cannot be imposed on non-Muslims, Hindu law cannot be imposed on non-Hindus…I hold that it is no part of Hinduism to defend the cow against the whole world. If the Hindu attempted any such thing he would be guilty of forcible conversion.”

It is pertinent to remember in this context that Gandhiji did not hesitate to castigate the Hindus for their ill-treatment of the cow. He said: “In no part of the world perhaps are cattle worse treated than in India. I have wept to see Hindu drivers goading their jaded oxen with iron points of their cruel sticks. The half-starved condition of the majority of our cattle is a disgrace to us. The cows find their necks under the butcher’s knife because Hindus sell them.” Nor did he hesitate to condemn the cow protection societies as “destroyers of the cow and not her protectors.”

Jawaharlal Nehru too preferred to look at the cow slaughter ban issue from an economic, secular and social rather than the religious angle. He said:” India is a secular State” and that the food habits of a particular community “should not be imposed on other communities. It is a sensitive issue and will create problems.”

I have attempted to give my reasoned rejoinder and a rational perspective on the cow slaughter ban issue which the VHP and the Sangh Parivar is raising with devastating consequences for the secular fabric, or whatever remains of it , of the nation. At the same time I reiterate my unqualified condemnation of Mr.Danish Khan’s irresponsible and totally unfounded statement regarding Mahavira’s meat-eating. I do hope you will publish my letter.

Yours sincerely

Bal Patil


Member, Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, Government of Maharashtra,
Convenor, Jain Minority Status Committee, Dakshin Bharat Jain Sabha, INDIA,
Co-Author: JAINISM (Macmillan Co). with Colette Caillat, (ex-Rector, Sorbonne University, Paris,)
& A.N. Upadhye, (ex-President, All-India Oriental Conference,)
54, Patil Estate, 278, Javji Dadaji Road, Mumbai-400007. INDIA
Tele: 91 022 3861068
Fax:  91 022 3893030

(1-15 May 2003)

See also:

Nationwide ban on cow slaughter mooted 
Lord Mahavira was not a meat-eater
Jains and meat-eating — apology and clarification

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