Friday, June 29, 2012

The Uncertain Future of Hindus

Dr. Gautam Sen

(Prof Gautam Sen has formerly taught political economy at the London School of Economics for more than two decades.) 

Hindus have suffered a succession of setbacks in recent years, intensifying a retreat that dates back to the partition of India, indeed earlier. The electoral fortunes of their putative defenders seem to make little difference to their political circumstances. Their ethnic cleansing from Jammu & Kashmir continues unabated and the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh remains desperate, echoing the fate of Hindus earlier in Pakistan. Islamic terrorists are routinely attacking their places of worship within India itself. And elected political leaders have sought to crush one of their supreme spiritual leaders, the Kanchi Acharya. India’s religious minorities are also displaying a truculent assertiveness that underlines Hindu powerlessness and hints at yet darker times ahead. 

Yet, perhaps all is not lost and a measure of historical perspective is required to assess what is likely to happen in the circumstances Hindus encounter. Once Greek thought was virtually eradicated by the combined onslaught of the Germanic invasions and the upsurge of Christianity (which became seriously intolerant after 500 AD) it took almost another 500 years for the European Renaissance to begin re-discovering Greek logic and reason. The revival did not triumph wholly even after the Enlightenment and the intolerant barbarian supremacists are still with us right now. Islam had already joined Christianity in the race for world conquest and domination. It reached an apogee under the Ottomans in the sixteenth century, having swept aside much of the Christian Byzantine world earlier. The Islamic lust for political power and Christian quest for world domination remain an unfinished agenda and military conquest the principal instrument for its attainment.

This same catastrophe could befall Hinduism because the beginnings of their intellectual revival in the late 18thC have stalled since independence – a coincidence? In an act of perversity, the RSS self-consciously turned its face against intellectual endeavour when it was founded. Guru-ji thought Hindus needed to organise themselves and intellectual life a luxury that they could ill-afford. It is true that Hindus were disorganised and a remedy was essential, but the actual choice made was paradoxically stark since activism and thought are surely two sides of the same coin. The consequences of that fateful choice are still with us and the Hindu movement is simply not intellectually equipped to deal with the complex situation Hindus face today. Ironically, the movement was able to achieve political power by recourse to an issue outstanding from the medieval period while the world around changed so rapidly that they found themselves in quite unfamiliar territory. And too many people in the movement remain ignorant about basic issues in the wider world, wielding organisational clout to silence serious intellectual criticism. 

The imminent specific danger India faces is its de jure territorial disintegration, accompanied by the casting to the winds of Hindu society and what promises it may embed. This is already happening in significant areas of the Indian subcontinent, including the Indian Union itself. Hindus are also facing the most diabolical and sophisticated assault from the Church, both Catholic and the various Protestant denominations. The Church enjoys a huge presence in the global media and within India too as well as possessing huge economic and organisational resources. The Churches have cleverly insinuated themselves into the imperial ambitions of their Western home states, reinforcing the political support they receive from these states for their nefarious engagement with the weak and the poor of the third world. The resulting danger of subversion is visible in everything from the vicious campaign by Michael Witzel and his colleagues against Hindus in California to the way the Dalit movement has been seized and subverted by various Churches. The latter rightly perceive the Dalits to be the most promising vehicles for forcing the retreat of those who identify themselves as Hindus and demoralising them. 

This is a highly effective campaign, which most Hindu activists simply do not understand nor are they capable of comprehending in their current state of self-confident arrogance and blissful ignorance. Instead of the mostly tenuous cliches being peddled by Hindu activists everywhere one needs to read the history of Christianity with care. I would recommend Peter Brown’s, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Robert Bartlett’s, The Making of Europe in particular, for a start, to understand the immense longevity of their project for world domination. Islam remains their sole global rival. Hindus merely constitute a sideshow despite their supposed numerical strength, which is an oft-repeated empty fact that obfuscates by creating a silly sense of reassurance. 

Experience of most societies tells us that there is no point berating Hindu politicians and their associates for behaving in a self-serving manner. The standard textbook theory shows convincingly that politicians in open, pluralist societies act like selfish egotists. They achieve power by auctioning policies in exchange for cash and votes. There is a vast and persuasive literature that outlines how the process works, from the role that political institutions play in it to contrasting representational outcomes between majoritarian (India) and proportional voting systems. The latter empowers small political parties more than the former. There is no reason to expect that pluralist politics will lead to a different high-minded outcome in India. 

Politicians in all societies display the behavioural pattern required for their own survival. The espousal of conventional morality is only an aspect of their public relations and ideological sound bites are a means of communicating with their core supporters. These voters are the least likely to abandon them because they regard other alternatives as even less attractive. Thus, the actual policies implemented by political parties are designed to please voters who might actually defect to a rival. Of course there is a modest margin for truth and integrity in politics, but such principles are mostly honoured in the breach and have been marginalsed in India, more than in most other societies. Deceit and double-dealing are the norm in politics everywhere though Hindus perhaps excel in it unduly.

This is why what is missing in India is a consensus on obvious national interests, although that is not a non-issue even in large, mature democratic societies like the US. But in India everything is up for grabs and the lack of a national consensus has worsened in the past decade or so of the supposed Hindu upsurge. It is so bad that the police in Bihar and UP are alleged to have actually escorted bombers through their areas of jurisdiction to their targets in Delhi. Also, note there are virtually no successful prosecutions of terrorists (except that they get executed rather than arrested in J&K, as it should be). The accused from the Mumbai blasts remain unpunished and the notorious film star that helped them remains a high profile public figure, adored by millions of Hindu fans! The reason for this dismal situation is largely due to the fact that national consciousness is weak in India. In most societies, historically, such a consciousness was created by the state and ruling elites (see Linda Colley’s, Britons for a revealing illustration). 

In India anti-national forces, especially the Left and the Muslims and increasingly the Church (as distinct from traditional Indian Christians who are patriotic members of the Indian air force and navy in particular) have made sure that any move to advance a national consciousness is instantly labeled communal and anti-secular. Foreign governments, especially the US, have had a major role in this successful attempt to keep India divided in the past. The US government may now be changing its priorities because of geopolitical reasons, but the Church is unlikely to allow Indians to learn patriotism since that would contradict their proselytising activities - whatever would happen to their potential converts? 

Apart from the routine deceit of politicians, large political systems suffer from collective action problems owing to the difficulty of aggregating opinions and articulating policy arising out of it. This is primarily a technical issue, worsened in the Indian case by manifold social, regional, ethnic and caste divisions, with all these faultlines being assiduously cultivated by India's legion enemies. By contrast, Muslims have reaped huge political dividends by overcoming this potential collective action issue and managing to vote as a bloc. By controlling anything up to 125+ Lok Sabha seats, where their votes determine who will win, they can pretty much dictate to candidates. But Islam, historically, has had a tradition of the mosque organizing political life and, in the Indian case, the votes of their illiterate constituency. Can you imagine a similar organizational nodal point for Hindus? 

India’s mediocre leaders unfortunately chose a parliamentary system of government in 1947 because they failed to look beyond their noses, i.e. beyond Westminster in the UK. Large societies need presidential systems of government to prevent small groups (read minorities in India) having a veto over the political system. Since the President’s constituency is national recalcitrant minorities of whatever shape, whether religious, regional or indeed purely sectional would therefore find it more difficult to veto policies held by society at large to be in their common and therefore national interest. 

There are variants of a presidential system to choose from and it would have the great additional merit of forcing the issue of their identity on Hindus and indeed propelling some sort of national awareness, even if that doesn"t automatically mean patriotism. I fear this highly desirable outcome is now beyond reach. Nor is it any longer possible to have the kind of presidential authority parliamentary leaders with large majorities can enjoy temporarily. Eventually, the forces of division assert themselves because of the very imperious "presidential" behavior that the temporary primacy of a parliamentary majority may allow the Prime Minister in a parliamentary system. This is exactly what happened to the victorious Indira Gandhi after 1971.

Is it possible that the BJP will announce that it would agree to fight the next national general election on this constitutional issue alone and guarantee that it would then immediately announce an election for an Indian president? Perhaps they could even offer, as a gesture of goodwill, to abstain from putting up a candidate of their own in order to encourage others to support the idea of a Presidential system of government. Of course such a change will require other complex constitutional arrangements to be put in place, involving the distribution of powers between a President and the legislature as well as India’s regions. There are many such models of government internationally that could guide a unique Indian solution. I believe this prospect would galvanise the country and an electrifying election would occur, with many ordinary and prominent people campaigning for such a constitutional transformation. 

Let me finish with a small ray hope. While the forces seeking to cut India down to size seem potent there are some countervailing factors. There is growing Hindu anger and despair that can be organized though not by the present discredited Hindu politicos, who are, alas, beyond redemption. Urbanisation, which is proceeding apace in India, is connected to this sense of Hindu outrage because it tends to replace an essentially parochial consciousness with a more national perspective. Even so-called ‘backwards’ develop a more national sense of their being once they are educated beyond high school; actually two years in higher education seems to do it. This is why the disgraceful HRD minister wants reservations in premier institutions, but is careful to ensure that little education takes place at lower levels at all; nearly nil in much of UP state schools, for example. Both the Muslims and uneducated Hindus need to be kept that way for India’s current thieving politicians to survive and live like kings; just look at life styles of OBC and Dalit leaders. 

Finally, barring the presidential alternative, which would be a huge step forward at an institutional level, a minimum of good governance can be a vote winner. This seems unlikely to become a political platform because virtually all politicians have their snouts in the trough, secular and otherwise. But look at how the people of Goa and Punjab reacted to the upright and efficient General Jacob, who, by the way, has been treated poorly by the powers that be ever since, almost certainly because he proved so popular. 

When President's rule ended and elections were called in Goa, people took to the streets with the slogan that they preferred to be ruled by Jacob instead!! The good General used to stand outside government house at 8.30 am, looking at his watch and listing who was coming into work on time! By the way, he is also India's greatest military hero since Shivaji, but the Arab lobby made sure that he was not Bharat Ratna because he is Jewish. In 1972 a British military commentator described his victory in East Pakistan as one of the six greatest military triumphs of the 20th century, truly a period of gigantic wars.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Habibullah preaching Azadi for Kashmir

Hari OM

National Commission for Minorities chairman Wajahat Habibullah was in Srinagar on Sunday, 17 June, to take part in a seminar on “Jammu and Kashmir and the Federal Models of Shared Sovereignty”, organized by the Political Science Department of Kashmir University in collaboration with the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. The CDR is a Delhi-based controversial think-tank; its activities have been funded by the Government of India from time to time.

The truth is that the CDR has been working for the separation of Jammu and Kashmir from the Indian constitutional framework. It, like the Kashmiri leaders of all hues, believes that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory, that New Delhi has brought Jammu and Kashmir under the ambit of various Central laws and institutions by questionable means, that New Delhi has willfully eroded the special status of Kashmir, that New Delhi has to “assuage the hurt feelings of the alienated Kashmiri people” (read Muslims) by accepting all of their demands, and that the solution to the Kashmir problem has to be such as is acceptable to both Pakistan and the Kashmiri people.

Jammu and Ladakh are conspicuous by their absence in all of the CDR’s formulations. In fact, the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation considers Jammu and Ladakh and nearly 50 per cent of the state’s population that lives in these two regions, as irrelevant.

As for Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, he has been advocating the division of Jammu and Kashmir into five geographical (read religious) zones, and the creation of five regional assemblies - one each for the plain areas of Jammu Pradesh, hilly and mountainous areas of Jammu Pradesh, Shia-majority Kargil district, Buddhist-majority Leh district, and Sunni-majority Kashmir.

Mr. Habibullah was one of the main speakers at the CDR seminar. Given his previous record, it was expected that he would speak the language of Kashmiri separatists and vouch for a solution that not only renders the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) ineffective for all practical purposes, but also enables the people to enjoy an independent status with both India and Pakistan sharing sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir, which is legitimately Indian. He lived up to these expectations.

Speaking about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act, he said: “I personally believe that AFSPA should be done away with. The Government of India is working on a model to frame rules that would govern the AFSPA as so far we have no rules to govern the controversial Act. A clause in the AFSPA even surpasses the powers of Prime Minister and President of India. There is a clause that a soldier can shoot without seeking orders from the superiors. This clause even exceeds the powers of two top dignitaries”.

Regarding the PSA, he said, “It is a matter (revocation) to be resolved by Jammu and Kashmir Government. The Act was passed in 1982 by the Jammu and Kashmir Government. The Government of India can’t interfere in it as it is a state Act. People demanding scrapping of this Act should approach the Jammu and Kashmir Government”.

This is fairly obvious that the Minorities Commission chairman, like Kashmiri leaders, both “mainstream” and separatist, wants these two Acts to be thrown out root and branch. In other words, he wants the Army, paramilitary forces and state police to fight secessionism with their hands tied behind their backs, and suffer at the hands of the secessionists. He wants unbridled freedom for those in Kashmir who hate and despise India and everything Indian, including Indian laws, and want a dispensation independent of India.

Yet Mr. Habibullah continues to hold a constitutional post in New Delhi. Moreover, the Congress-led UPA Government had appointed him first as Chief Information Commissioner and then chairman, National Commission for Minorities, while knowing well that he is biased towards one community’s misplaced aspirations, and pro-separatist.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even appointed him as his emissary so that he could speak in the Working Group on Centre-State Relations and persuade the members of this Working Group to divide our Jammu and Kashmir into five communal zones and help the votaries of Greater Kashmir accomplish what they wanted: Establishment of Greater Kashmir comprising Kashmir and Muslim-majority areas of Jammu and Ladakh. The Working Group on Centre-State relations, appointed by Manmohan Singh in 2006, was headed by Justice Sagheer Ahmad, who submitted his report without discussing it with group members and wound up the group without further ado. To this day, members do not have a copy of the Report, which is simply unheard of, and a sad reflection on the manner in which the UPA has conducted itself on the sensitive issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Mr. Habibullah also expressed himself on the issue of shared sovereignty: “While finding out a political settlement (read communal settlement) of Kashmir, two things need to be kept in mind. When Shimla agreement took place (in 1972), it was decided that what is with Pakistan would remain with it and what is with India will remain with it and the Line of Control (LoC) will also remain same… Kashmiri people need Azadi – feeling of freedom. I have been reiterating this again and again. Kashmiri people should move forward by feeling the freedom of democracy”. Since Pakistan never abided by the Shimla Accord, just as it disregarded the UN resolution on vacating occupied Kashmir, how can any agreement be unilaterally binding on India alone? Naturally Mr. Habibullah does not say.

Three things were crystal clear from his exposition on shared sovereignty. One, Jammu and Ladakh have no place whatsoever in his scheme of things. Two, the aspirations of the people of Kashmir (read Muslims) have to be respected; they need be given the kind of independence they want from India. Three, he remembers only the 1972 Shimla agreement, and not the February 1994 Parliamentary unanimous resolution which rendered the Shimla agreement redundant. The 1994 resolution has mandated the Government of India to integrate into the Indian Union Pakistan-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, using all possible means. That no regime has been sincere in this quest is another matter.

Yet can one legitimately blame Mr. Habibullah for being so irrational and communal? No; because India permits anybody to say anything and go scot-free. We are not a Republic in the true sense of the term. We are a Banana Republic where the powers-that-be in New Delhi are least bothered to censure those who have been working overtime to disintegrate India or ensure yet another communal partition of the country.

The worst part of the whole situation has been the total and abysmal failure of the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Had it played the part of a responsible and effective opposition, New Delhi would not have dared to do what it has done to promote the likes of Wajahat Habibullah who continue the unfinished task of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his ilk. But when the BJP, including its parent RSS, is unable to checkmate the towering ambitions of its Jinnah-loving leaders, this too, is no surprise.

The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Delhi their home but pandits yearn for Valley

It was the Janmashtami of 1990, and Rashneek Kher, a 16-year-old Kashmiri pandit in exile in the squalid refugee camps of Jammu, stood in line at the milkman's. In addition to selling milk, the vendor also stored copies of the morning newspaper, which Kher would hungrily pore over. That day Kher read that his house was burnt down. "My father didn't speak to anyone for a month. He had built that house himself," says Kher. 

According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 26.4 million ended 2011 as internally displaced people, a figure far higher than the number of refugees. Kher and his clan know what internal displacement means, having lived like refugees in their own country since 1990, when an estimated 3.5 lakh pandits left the valley. Yet their flight from Kashmir remains shrouded in silence. 

"All we want is an acknowledgment of what happened. People say pandits fled Kashmir. But Hindus didn't run away. We had no option but to leave," says actor Sanjay Suri, who was 19 when his family left Kashmir. "The mass exodus took place in January 1990. But we stayed on till August 1, when my father was shot dead by militants," says Suri. He recalls his anguish when a government officer in Jammu asked him to prove his father was dead. His family is among those who had to sell their homes in Kashmir. "I can't describe what it feels like when you knock on the door of the house where you grew up and somebody else opens it," he says. 

"The exodus of Kashmiri pandits is the largest internal displacement in India since partition. And yet, so little is said about them," says filmmaker Onir, speaking to TOI from Berlin. He earned accolades for the representation of a Kashmiri pandit widow returning home in his film I Am. 

Some like Sumati Thusoo (21), have never lived in Kashmir. "My mother was pregnant with me when our family left Kashmir," says Thusoo, who was born in Jammu and grew up in Chandigarh. 

When the pandits left Kashmir, many believed they'd return home once the violence subsided. "During the winter of 1989, when I left Kashmir to spend my holidays in Delhi, I thought I'd be back in a few weeks. But it has been 22 years," says Amit Raina. Artist Veer Munshi, another pandit in exile, has made Kashmir the subject of his work. He has photographed the remains of his own home, long burnt down. 

Munshi feels education helped pandits rehabilitate themselves. "I have seen parents forcing children to study even within refugee camps." 

Surviving Jammu's refugee camps was the next big ordeal for Kashmiris. "My grandmother lived for only three months after we shifted to the camps," says Vinod Bhan, recalling the miserable years his family of five spent in a 10ft by 10ft space. "We would sleep on the roof, even when the temperature was 42 degrees," says Bhan. 

A yearning for home drove Kher to form Roots in Kashmir, a forum for pandits scattered across India. The group has 4,000 Facebook members. Those who live in Delhi meet each Friday at CP. Kashmir is what binds them. It's also an open wound festering in their hearts. Kher's group is disillusioned with the government and the Hindu right-wing BJP which "took our votes but paid lip-service to our cause." 

They want to return to Kashmir, but not to the places they earlier lived. "We want the government to carve out a separate province within Kashmir for pandits. We can't live with the people who persecuted us," says Kher. 

But some, like Suri, feel this won't solve the problem, but will create an exclusive Kashmir. "We need to build bridges between pandits and locals in Kashmir," says Suri. Onir says the loss of Kashmir's multiculturalism has created a vacuum in the valley. Munshi, who believes in reclaiming the composite culture of the land, feels ordinary Muslims in Kashmir should not be confused with Islamic terrorists. "The only solution is through dialogue between those who fled the valley and those who live there today. But this hasn't happened. Somewhere, the government has failed both Kashmiri pandits and those who continue to live there," says Onir.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Man murdered for marrying Muslim girl

A 24-year old man was hacked to death allegedly by the brother of a Muslim girl and his associates for marrying her, triggering tension in Idalakudi area of the district, police said.

Ramesh, a goods carrier operator based here, had married the girl belonging to Idalakudi some months ago though her family had opposed it, they said.

On June 14, two persons had stopped Ramesh's vehicle and taken him to Idalakudi where a seven-member gang including the brother of his wife attacked him with iron rods, police said, adding he succumbed to injuries at a hospital yesterday.

As the news of his death spread, a group indulged in stone pelting in some localities in the area while some people blocked traffic to protest the violence, they said. Police rushed to the spot and dispersed both the groups.

Six hundred police personnel had been deployed in the affected areas, they said. Besides additional reinforcements had been rushed from Rajapalayam and Palani, police said. Shops in Idalakudi and Ilangadai areas remained closed. Two persons were arrested and a hunt is on to nab the remaining five accused, they said. The situation was tense but under control in the area, they said.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Nothing's sacred: the illegal trade in India's holy cows

Andrew Buncombe reports from Kaharpara on a bloody war between rustlers and border guards

Even in the dog days of summer, the quiet paddy fields that mark the border between India and Bangladesh look as supple and green as the soft stems of herbs grown in a window box. But the daytime tranquillity belies a stark reality. This delta region of the Ganges river is a place of often deadly conflict that underpins an activity many in India would rather not discuss. Every year, hundreds of thousands of cows – considered sacred in India, with export of the beasts banned – are illegally smuggled into Bangladesh where they are turned into shoes, belts, bone china crockery and, of course, meat.

"There is smuggling here every day," said Umesh, a member of a three-man Indian Border Security Force (BSF) team on duty at a watchtower near the village of Kaharpara, just a few hundred yards from the Bangladesh border. "The smugglers will take 50, 100 or 200 cattle at a time. We try to create an ambush and surround the smugglers."

The story of the annual smuggling of an estimated 1.5 million cattle says much about modern India – about the sometimes hypocritical treatment of supposedly sacred cows, the political power of right-wing Hinduism and the corruption that allows the £320m illegal trade to flourish. But ultimately this story is about supply and demand. Hindu-majority India has an estimated 280 million cows but killing and eating them is legal in only a handful of states. Meanwhile, Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where beef is eaten with relish, suffers from a shortage of cattle. Half of the beef consumed in Bangladesh comes from its large, western neighbour.

The snaking border that divides the two countries runs for 1,300 miles. Here in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, 150 miles north-east of the state capital Calcutta, large sections of it are unfenced. It is a lure both for human traffickers and gangs from both sides of the border smuggling cows.

Villagers, who claimed not to know any smugglers but appeared to know the intricacies of the operation, said cattle were brought by truck from states across eastern India such as Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand. Some may even be brought from further away. Despite the effort involved, the mathematics is persuasive. An animal that might sell for £60-£80 in the country's cow-belt hinterland will here fetch £130. Once inside Bangladesh, they could change hands for £225 or more.

"Those buying the cows always look to see how fat it is. They feed them husks from the paddy," said Mohammed Ashraf, a blacksmith who was hammering into shape a glowing curved sickle that locals use to cut the rice crop that is harvested three times a year.

Yet the trade comes with a deadly price. The BSF has been accused of killing hundreds of cattle smugglers, as well as civilians not involved in the trade. A 2010 report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) suggested that more than 900 people had been killed with impunity by the BSF over the past 10 years. It also said locals claimed some BSF members were complicit with the smuggling and took bribes. This year, an incident in which an alleged smuggler was badly beaten by the security force personnel was captured on video.

"Over the last decade, they used excessive and indiscriminate force, shooting at villagers on suspicion that they were smugglers," said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's south Asia director. "While many may have been engaged in cattle rustling, the BSF ignored the most basic principles of protecting the right to life. Instead of arresting suspects, they shot and killed them. The BSF claimed they had to use lethal force as self-defence, an argument hard to believe since the police reports on the weapons recovered usually [refer to] sickles and sticks."

Asked about the allegations, a BSF spokesman said: "The BSF is a disciplined and professional force [and] exercises utmost restraint in the use of any force. The BSF has also an impeccable record of upholding human rights."

Ms Ganguly said that since issuing its report, the BSF had started using rubber bullets which led to a drop in fatalities. But, villagers said their evenings were still sometimes disrupted. "We hear the gunshots at night-time. Sometimes the smugglers get shot. It's mainly people from the other side of the border," said Mr Ashraf. Locals said the smugglers often used teenagers to transport the cattle across the border in the belief the security forces were less likely to shoot a youngster.

There is a clear antagonism between the guards and the villagers. Some locals said the BSF troops retaliated against anyone they could find. Matir Rahaman, a rice farmer who was cycling back from the fields, said he had been badly beaten by BSF personnel. "One night the cows came over the border and the paddy got smashed. I went to the BSF and said, 'Why is this happening'. They said, 'You are smugglers' and they attacked us with [metal-tipped bamboo sticks]," he alleged.

Ashfaqur Rahman, a retired Bangladesh diplomat who now chairs the Dhaka-based Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies, said the matter was sensitive but that legalising the export of cows or beef would put an end to corruption and violence. "There needs to be wise counsel on both sides," he said.

An irony is that India is expected to become the world's largest exporter of beef – from non-sacred buffaloes, rather than cows – by next year. According to an estimate recently published by the US Department of Agriculture, India is likely to export 1.5 million tons of beef in 2012, a 25 per cent increase from last year. Its biggest markets are south-east Asia, the Gulf and Africa.

Cows have been considered sacred in India for centuries, and in only a few states is killing and eating them legal. More recently, a movement by Dalits, or so-called untouchables, demanding the right to eat cows has gathered pace. In 2004, Indian historian DN Jha published the controversial The Myth of the Holy Cow, which argued that during the period when a number of the most important Hindu religious texts were produced, people in India ate cows.

Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalit activist and a professor at Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad, believes Aryan invaders of Hindu promoted the (white) cow over the (black) buffalo. "The buffalo predates the Aryans," he said.

There have been attempts by the Indian authorities to review the ban on cow exports. Earlier this year, a report by the government's central planning committee suggested changing the law to allow the export of beef. The plan was hastily dropped and explained away as a "clerical error" amid an angry backlash from right-wing Hindu organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and so-called "cow protection" groups.

Among those who complained was the UN-affiliated International Organisation for Animal Protection. The group's India director, Naresh Kadyan, said: "It is the fundamental duty of Indians that [everyone] should respect all animals. We strongly opposed the lifting of the ban and the government made a U-turn," he said. "The cow is a very important animal for Hindus."

Revered and worshipped: Saintly beasts


In Thailand, the elephant is considered the national animal, and it is also revered in Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Particularly auspicious is the white elephant – not a distinct species but an albino or elephant with particularly pale skin – which Buddha's mother is said to have dreamt about before the birth of her son. The appearance of a white elephant in the reign of a monarch or leader is meant to signify good fortune and power.


The ancient Egyptians took their worship of animals to artistic heights with statues to honour their feline gods, which frequently featured cats' heads on human bodies. Cats were prized for their useful rat-catching abilities, and some argue they were first domesticated in the region.
While cats are no longer worshipped as gods in modern Egypt, they are certainly preferred as pets to dogs, which are traditionally considered unclean in Islam.


Their association with the Hindu faith – the monkey god, Hanuman, helped Lord Rama defeat the evil king Ravana – has largely protected India's monkeys in the face of much annoyance at their mischievous and sometimes aggressive ways. Delhi's tens of thousands of monkeys are a frequent nuisance, stealing food, breaking into homes, and even attacking people. But residents continue to feed them.