Speedy Gets the Nobel Prize for Beef, sorry, Peace

Roberto de Nobili — the Brahmin of Madurai

Who is Speedy, you ask. Well it’s me.

Cows are sacred in India, whether dead or alive.

Cows are sacred to Hindus. In fact the cow is seen by Western writers and tourists as the very image of an unchanging India. Pictures of cows nonchalantly chewing the cud as they lie sprawled across roads, casually blocking traffic, as people and cars make their way around them, are the stock of Western journalism. Of course, the idea of India is also associated with naked fakirs, snakes, tigers and dirt — a typical Western view of the Third World. May not be fully true, though we need to acknowledge our lax attitudes to cohabiting with garbage — perhaps an example of our much-touted ‘tolerance’.

According to some, the ancient Indians used to eat beef. Such writers quote from the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Hindu sacred texts, to emphasise the point that to the Aryans, the cow was just meat on four hooves. According to others, the cow was sacred. They too quote from the Rig Veda, to buttress their arguments about the sacrality of cows.

The idea that cows are sacred probably arose with the rise of Vaishnavism, centred around the worship of Sri Krishna, the divine cowherd and avatar of Vishnu and his association with cows. Along with that came the idea of vegetarianism and non violence, probably due to the influence of Jainism. Nothing wrong with the idea per se.

The Indian cow in general is a mild-natured, patient beast, tolerant of great abuse. Its large doe eyes are the very symbol of meekness and the idea that such an animal could deliberately be killed for meat is abhorrent to most Hindus.

So over time by the date of the Arab and Turkish raids, one can safely assume that cattle were not killed for meat in Hindu India, despite what we are told about Rig Vedic food habits.

But then along came the Muslims and the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.

There are no cattle in Arabia, the home of Islam. The only prohibition was against the eating of pigs, which were seen as unclean. This was probably lifted from Jewish tradition as were a lot of other stories from the Old Testament, subsequently included in the Koran.

The idea that a beef diet was necessary to the Muslim soul once Islam reached the subcontinent, despite the easy availability of goats, sheep and chickens, probably arose from a need to humiliate the Hindus by killing and eating their sacred animal, thus violating one of their religion’s most sacred prohibitions. And if cows had to be killed, what place better than the precincts of a Hindu temple?

Islam also came with an agenda to play the numbers game, the Abrahamic faiths’ primary goal. Actually this is possibly incorrect, because increasing numbers are a requirement only in Christianity and Islam, not in Judaism. The Jews seem to perfectly happy with their numbers as currently constituted and do not wish to dilute the quality of the Chosen People with unsatisfactory accretions. However this does not apply to the other two faiths, who promote quantity over quality.

In order to increase the number of the faithful (the umma) conversion by force or fraud was OK. No anti conversion laws then. Unfortunately, Hinduism itself by its caste system and social structures made that easier. The lower castes probably embraced the idea of a change of religion more easily, though not in the numbers that the invaders desired. We have records of low caste Hindu converts to Islam boasting about their change in status after conversion to Islam, saying that even Brahmins now acknowledged them as equals while still treating as unclean their brethren who had not converted.

But even now, Hindus still outnumber Muslims in India by a factor of five to one or so. Therefore it is clear that many lower caste Hindus chose to remain in the old faith despite their apparently lower status. This statistic has also been construed to imply that the Muslim rulers did not use force but that Muslim numbers were augmented by persuasion and not the sword, despite sufficient evidence to the contrary in Muslim historical texts of various periods. Even that supposedly modern Muslim ruler, Tipu Sultan, did not shirk his Islamic duty of increasing numbers by forced conversion in his campaigns in Northern Kerala, Coorg and Mangalore, even though we are told by leftist historians of his admiration for the ideals of the French Revolution — The Rights of Man and the Citizen. And again in the twentieth century the Khilafat agitation saw the killing and conversion of several thousand Hindus in northern Kerala by Muslim Moplahs maddened by religious frenzy. Thank you Gandhiji, for conflating religion and politics in your ill-thought and misguided Khilafat venture. And lately we have had ISIS in Iraq and Syria killing and converting and raping Yazidi women and others. That was probably what it was like in North India when the Turks and Arabs came pillaging through from the eighth century on. I did not hear many Muslims saying that ISIS actions demeaned Islam. In fact, many Muslims in Kerala were so enthused that they rushed to join ISIS in Syria in order to fight for the true faith. In view of the number of people who stayed Hindu despite the apparent advantages of converting to the faith of the conquerors, it is evident that our current understanding of what Hinduism was like then, is probably incorrect.

Then came the Portuguese to the western coasts of India. Their agenda was God, Gold and Land. This was our first exposure to militant Christianity. The Portuguese initially thought that the Hindu temples in Calicut and thereabouts were Christian churches, though rather dark inside where the garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum was situated. However they were soon disabused of these notions by the local Syrian Christians who saw allies in the Portuguese and wished to improve their social status by alliance with the better armed Portuguese. But the Portuguese saw Syrian Christians as heretics and soon converted a large number to Catholicism — hence the Syrian Catholics of today. They also gave currency to the myth about St Thomas of Cana, who was supposed to have visited India around 52 AD and was then martyred by local Brahmins in Mylapore near Chennai. His grave is supposedly at St Thomas’s Mount there. This story has been debunked by serious historical study but continues to pop up in articles about early Christianity in India. Despite all the Portuguese efforts, a large number of Kerala Christians continued to remain obstinately Syrian Christian.

However the main attention of the Portuguese was on converting higher caste Hindus. For some reason these people remained deaf to the idea of reaching paradise the Christian way. Though many lower caste Hindus converted, the higher caste Hindus were not enthused by the idea of original sin and the intellectually shallow ideas spouted by the all-conquering Portuguese. So the Portuguese changed strategy.

Upper caste men used to be kidnapped, taken to a lower caste or outcaste compound and forced to eat beef. Thus fact would then be broadcast to his relatives. When the man returned, he would be spurned and not allowed to enter his home. He had no choice then but to turn Christian and adopt a beef diet. However he was still conscious of his upper caste origins. Hence the many marriage advertisements you see today in Mangalore reading “Roman Catholic Brahmin boy 6’2, MBA IIM, six figure monthly income, looking for fair, beautiful, highly educated RC Brahmin girl’. Incidentally in conversation they will tell you that they were/are Kamaths or Pais and marry only within this community.

Portuguese supremacy in India lasted for only about fifty years.. By 1550, the Portuguese were done and mainly confined to the area around Goa. With the defeat of kingdom of Vijayanagar at the battle of Talikota in 1565, the Portuguese lost their main trading partners. Relations between the Portuguese and the Deccan sultanates had always been frosty. After all, Goa had once formed part of the Bijapur dominions, until it was seized by the Portuguese. In any case, the Portuguese habit of burning Indian and Arab sailors alive along with their ships, had not endeared them to either Arabs or Indian Muslims. The Portuguese also established the Goa Inquisition, which tried people for apostasy, heresy and various other crimes in the Catholic canon and condemned many to death by burning. Those historically inclined may remember the Spanish Inquisition and the burning of Jeanne de Arc (Joan of Arc) by the English for similar crimes. The Catholic Church has the blood of millions of innocents on its hands, including the wholesale genocide of the native Indians of South America and the destruction of their civilization. Remember that when you are lectured on human rights by Westerners.

With the British came Protestant Christianity. They made some progress in converting the lower castes to Christianity but failed with the upper castes, like the Portuguese had done. With the poorer lower castes, promises of plenty and government jobs had done the trick, but for the upper castes different measures were required. They had to be reasoned with. Some Hindus apparently believed that the earth rested on four elephants, which rested on a giant tortoise floating in a sea of butter. If the British missionaries thought that this is all Hinduism was, I am not surprised that they failed to make any headway. Personally, my mother was a devout non-temple going Hindu, who taught me the Ramayana and Mahabharata stories. We bought our butter at the local grocery store and not from the fabled sea of butter, though the beach was near enough in Trivandrum. With such infantile imaginings cherry picked from the vast corpus of Hindu philosophical speculations on the origin of the universe, the nature of God and man, the theory of karma and rebirth, the British sought to win over educated Hindus to belief in the idea of original sin, that babies required to be saved and that Christ was the only Son of God, who had died to save mankind’s hitherto unborn generations from Hell. He was the Only Way, this to a people who thought that many ways led to God. They failed spectacularly.

Not surprisingly Western intellectuals pondered the peculiar fascination of Indians for their own faiths and their unwillingness to be led to a Christian paradise. Many felt that if Christianity had to make any headway in India, the upper castes, specifically Brahmins, had to be targeted.

In this context one needs to mention Roberto de Nobili. Born in 1577 to an Italian family of aristocratic origin (his father was a count and his mother a niece of Pope Julius II), Roberto quickly realised his vocation for the priesthood and despite family opposition became a Jesuit monk. He sailed for India and eventually spent most of his time preaching Christianity in present day Tamil Nadu. He realised soon that to make upper caste converts, one had to behave like a sanyasi, since he had seen that these Hindu and Jain ascetics of whatever caste were universally respected for their austere and abstemious lives. So he dressed up as a sanyasi in saffron, stopped eating beef, and learnt Sanskrit in order to explore what Hindus really believed in. Armed with this knowledge and with behaviour similar to a Hindu sanyasi, he convinced many Hindus to convert to Christianity. People actually converted because of his personality and not because of their attachment to the Christian faith. Eventually his style of dressing and behaviour caused complaints to be made to higher ups in the church and he was recalled, but not before he had become the most successful at converting higher caste Hindus. In fact he was known as the White Brahmin. Today the Catholic Church is once again studying his techniques in its attempts to proselytise Hindus.

We started with beef. To continue, when the British took over, they brought their beef eating habits to India. Since they ate beef, wherever the British settled, in town and cantonments, even in areas ruled by Hindu rajas, beef was soon made available. With beef eating being made respectable, many Christians and Muslims in these areas started eating beef, hitherto not available in Hindu ruled areas, Travancore being one such. The kings were staunch Hindus and cow protectors. Cows were not killed despite a substantial Christian and Muslim population. Killing a cow got you killed. One remembers that one of the promises the Parsis who landed in Sanjan in Gujarat made to the local Hindu ruler when they sought sanctuary, was not to eat beef. However, with the kings having ceded all real authority to the local British resident, they were now mere figureheads. If the British wanted a cow, you gave them a herd. Once beef was available, the local Christians and Muslims took to eating beef. After independence, many Hindus too in the relaxed religious and dietary atmosphere that prevailed, soon started eating beef.

But Kerala is an exception, even in South India. In the cow worshipping north of the Vindhyas, cow slaughter is a strict no-no. And cow jihadis abound as we have seen lately.

So why should you not eat beef? Frankly I can see no good argument against it, if you eat other dead animals, mutton, venison, partridge, chicken rabbit etc. One form of life is as sacred as another.

But then many Hindus strongly hold the cow to be sacred and abhor the idea that it can be killed for meat. They hold these beliefs as strongly as the Muslims believe that eating pork is sinful. Should we disrespect these beliefs?

Many Muslims eat beef. We are told that it is cheaper than mutton and that by banning beef, we are affecting Muslim dietary choices and restricting their protein intake. This could even lead to a stunted next generation of Muslims. Would we want that crime on our heads?

But cows are sacred to Hindus and some view killing a cow as a capital crime. And Muslims and Christians need to eat beef. I would not want a generation of Muslim and Christian dwarves, having denied them a diet of healthy nutritious beef. My my, that would be genocide, worthy of trial at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

So what is a good tradeoff which would permit Hindus to accept Muslims eating beef? Could it be making Muslims eat pork products? If they feel so strongly about it, we cannot force Muslims to eat pork. Actually there is no equivalence between cows and pigs. Cows are sacred to Hindus. Pigs are not sacred to Muslims.

But Muslims love beef, or so we are told. This despite the fact that the prophet probably never ate any beef in his lifetime. He probably ate sheep, goat or camel.

So what is the way out? I have an idea.

Muslims strongly resent any depiction of the prophet. Depiction of the prophet in any form is a crime worthy of death.

Hindus love the cow. To them killing a cow is a crime worthy of death.

Here is my solution. Hindus will allow Muslims to eat beef, provided every Muslim butcher shop displays a cartoon of the prophet.

That should be an acceptable exchange. You want to eat beef. OK, I don’t exactly love it, but its alright as long as you eat it in front of a cartoon of the prophet. Of course, if you choose not to eat it in the shadow of the portrait of the prophet, and instead decide that a diet of mutton or chicken is adequate enough, that’s OK too.

Cows are sacred in India, whether dead or alive, as cows or as beef. Beef is as sacred to the Muslims as cows are to Hindus. Voila! Problem solved. Do I or don’t I deserve the Nobel Prize for Peace for having solved such a knotty problem?

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Ex Indian Air Force fighter pilot and retired civil aviation captain, interested in history science and literature avtion

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Ramesh Sukumaran

Ramesh Sukumaran

Ex Indian Air Force fighter pilot and retired civil aviation captain, interested in history science and literature avtion

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