“Nothing in this world was more difficult than love,” says Gabriel García Márquez and this sounds best to the idea of love propagated in India today. Being a country that believes in democratic principles, how much has the state and its people been democratic in the idea of love is still a double-edged sword to play with. At a time when the politics, religion and caste of love are debated and discussed, there is a larger need to dive into the current state of India, where ‘Cow Hug Day’ is observed (was later withdrawn by the Animal Welfare Board), and when people from different religions love each other, are stigmatised and harassed, lynched to death or asked to leave the country.
“The cow hug statement was laughable – and that’s what happened- it produced immense mirth in India. So to that extent it wasn’t a bad thing, as it gave us a moment of respite in grim times. However, the Madhya Pradesh government says they’re going to go ahead with cow hug day on Valentine’s Day. Clearly, this misguided idea has roots in the recent past in the west.”G. Arunima, Professor, Centre For Women’s Studies, JNU
Speaking to FII, Dr. Aqsa Sheikh, one of India’s first transgender doctors and Community Medicine specialists, said, “I think there is a certain way of looking at these changes which savarna Hindu supremacists are forcing on the entire country. From Bajrang Dal beating up couples in parks, Romeo squads, forcibly marrying off couples to this latest trend.”
Not to comment on the hate speech that ruins the principles of this nation, India has turned into an insecure space for gender-religious-ethnic minorities. With the intention of celebrating Valentine’s day, the Indian government asked its citizens to hug a cow, as they said that it “will bring emotional richness” and “will increase our individual and collective happiness”.
The idea of love, for an average Indian, has been political in terms of caste, class, religion, colour and gender from time immemorial. J. Devika, Professor, Centre for Development Studies, a historian, feminist and social critic, in a conversation with FII said, “If love is a force that emboldens people to break through social and economic divides and find rest in the loved one, such love is a veritable impossibility in conservative thinking. It can only be glue-like, sticking people together emotionally, impeding the free movement of each. It is also necessarily functional to conservative social institutions, notably the hetero-patriarchal family. This is why love in such families underlines so much oppression and inevitably becomes a burden. Such love is recognised through signs of submission and equally, through acts of dominance.”
Very interestingly, with the recent shift in Indian politics, there has been a drastic change in choosing life partners, where it is often the state who decides whom one should spend the rest of their lives with. Dr. Aqsa also adds, “There is also increasing hate regarding interfaith and inter-caste marriages, as we know about Love Jihad, Anti conversion laws, etc”. It is not too old for India and for the state of Kerala, the idea to brand Love Jihad popped up where religion intersected ‘horribly’ with the idea of love, and it seems to continue for a longer period of time.
If not in the name of love, how will the state channelise hate?
Cow politics in India: From mother to valentine
From being a mother to valentine, India has not come a long way both logically and intellectually in situating the life of and love for cows over humans.
Aabha Muralidharan, Activist and Documentary Filmmaker, asks, “Whose love are we talking about and how do we define the right-wing era? I think we should be clear on that. In a country like India which has so many states, their behaviours are defined by caste, what is the form of love one is searching for? The economic decisions taken will also decide the social and cultural norms. If a poor labourer or landless farmer is faced with the reality of not having enough documents to get wheat that they are entitled to or have to submit in front of the State power every day, what significance does love have there?“
“To hug a cow is the rhetoric. Behind the veil, the attack has been far more brutal. The slashing of funds for MGNREGA, dilution of labour laws, adulteration of Wage Code 2019, withdrawal of PMGKAY and other social security schemes. When there is food in the stomach and money in hand, the poor and working-class upon which this country is made would also have time to think of love. The decadence of the human will to love is how I am seeing the evolution during the right wing.” says Aabha to FII.
Mass lynchings done in the name of ‘cow protection’, is not just a nightmare but a reality for Indian Muslims and other religious minorities. “Many Hindus consider cows sacred and most Indian states ban slaughtering cows. But in recent years, several BJP-ruled states have adopted stricter laws and policies that disproportionately harm minority communities. In February 2019, the government announced a national commission for cow protection,” says a Human Rights Watch report on Cow Protection and Minorities.
“To me, the implicit contempt for love was the cruellest part of this despicable order. I can’t help thinking this: love has to do with something animal, these evil people seem to be saying, and their twisted way of punishing all of us who may think otherwise is to humiliate us by telling us to hug an animal. This insults not just us but animals too, and the fact that hugging a pet brings much comfort and is an accepted therapy method,” says Prof. Devika to FII.
At a time when the state cannot differentiate between animals and humans and sometimes places animals over humans, this order has also put a big question on what actually the future holds for this country that treats minorities as lesser than animals.
A day commemorated in the memory of St. Valentine, has been conceptualised into a capitalistic dream and sold at a good price worldwide where it is celebrated as Valentine’s day, for a longer period across the globe. What can be more dangerous than the double-headed monster — of capitalism? It is religion in India, where the whole idea of love is weaved through the tales of capitalism, religion, caste, class, colour and at times cow.
Challenging the idea of love: A ‘Cow Hug Day’ story
The nation wasn’t shocked last week, as it was on November 8th 2016, when the ‘Cow Hug Day’ statement was released by the Animal Welfare Board. FII spoke to the Professor of Women’s Studies, JNU and Director of Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), G. Arunima who said, “The cow hug statement was laughable – and that’s what happened- it produced immense mirth in India. So to that extent, it wasn’t a bad thing, as it gave us a moment of respite in grim times. However, the Madhya Pradesh government says they’re going to go ahead with cow hug day on Valentine’s Day. Clearly, this misguided idea has roots in the recent past in the west (many pieces on this in the news), so for all their great claims about countering western licentiousness, even their notion/form of cow hugging for mental health comes from the west.”
“We are told to hug the cow as our mother in a society where an adult child hugging their mother in public is not considered decent. Also, this entire cow politics is a dog whistle to oppress and kill Muslims and Dalits. The love for cows is misplaced and even a farce when you see cows dying of hunger and eating plastics once they have outlived their utility.”Dr. Aqsa Sheikh, Doctor and Community Medicine Specialist
The idea that ‘Cow Hug Day’ was declared to replace the western perception of love is itself a big joke and the statement from the authorities also read that “Vedic traditions are almost on the verge of extinction because of western culture.”
“Clearly all this is thought up by people who have no idea or hang in the difficult work of cattle care or rearing. Would be good to know what people who labour every day with cattle think of this idiotic plan,” Prof. Arunima adds.
According to the All Muslim Youth Association (AMYA), there have been 58 lynchings in the state over the span of 6 years. Among the 58, there were 16 Muslims, 11 Hindus, 5 Christians and 4 Sarna Adivasis. The number of people murdered and lynched in the name of cows is not really small and how can this be considered a joke at a time when the country is still led by hate politics and propaganda that not hugging a cow can also be a reason to kill or lynch a human in today’s or tomorrow’s India.
Human emotions vs love for the cow
Love is a universal and abstract emotion. It has always been in humans, animals and plants for that matter. And it completely becomes the personal choice and privacy of an individual to consider what, where, when and how to express their love or how they would consider being loved (in the case of humans, for better clarity). This becomes a serious debate in India today where the state intrudes into the privacy of every random individual, champions their right to choose and shames and lynches them if their choices are against their belief system.
Dr. Aqsa says to FII, “We are told to hug the cow as our mother in a society where an adult child hugging their mother in public is not considered decent. Also, this entire cow politics is a dog whistle to oppress and kill Muslims and Dalits. The love for cows is misplaced and even a farce when you see cows dying of hunger and eating plastics once they have outlived their utility.”
Sad to say, the lives of cows are also at stake in this country, where they are weaponized as instruments of love and hate according to the will and politics of the state.
Looking at the larger picture
India’s political weather is largely changing and even jokes that are supposed to bring laughter to its citizens are making them scared and panic, especially the minority communities. With an increasing number of pogroms, caste-gender-religion-based murders, and nerve-racking reports coming from various organisations on how India will turn into a country that executes mass killings and genocides in 2023 is still an anxious puzzle to play with.
“Cows on the stage is a good show for the conservatives. I am appalled by how even we are swayed by the performance, often exploding as memes and jokes; contents that are essential condiments in a right-wing kitchen. This is the same lab that manufactured the flogging of Dalits in Una and the lynching of Akhlaq. In the absence of calories, if the meat that provides proteins is taken away (the power to deny) then wouldn’t this be considered a crime against humanity? A genocide we are going through and not a future that would come someday?” says Aabha Muralidharan.
While people residing in this country have the audacity to release official statements on how to love a cow for collective happiness, it’s interesting how inhumane and illogical they are in ignoring human rights and needs.
Posing the question here again, if not in the name of love, how will the state channelise hate?