Gau Mata Will Keep Debasing Political Discourse: Historian DN Jha

Gau mata, Bharat mata have vitiated current political discourse, says historian DN Jha in an interview to The Quint

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Dalits hold wooden sticks and shout slogans during a protest in Ahmedabad on 20 July, 2016. (Photo: PTI/ Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

Unconventional, fearless, outspoken - three words aptly describe historian and retired professor, DN Jha. A specialist in ancient Indian history, Jha whose first name Dwijendra means “the holiest of Brahmins” committed cardinal sin by busting the myth that the cow is sacrosanct and inviolable and that Vedic Indians did not eat its flesh.

In his book Holy Cow—Beef in Indian Dietary Conditions, Jha presented irrefutable evidence of beef-eating practices of Hindus of all classes from the Vedic times till the 19th century. The VHP cadres burnt copies of the book, some fundamentalists vandalised Jha’s residence in the Delhi University campus, attacked him and threatened him over the phone. Jha lived under police protection for a little over two years and geared up for a long legal battle as the Jain Seva Sangh obtained a ban on the book from the Hyderabad Civil Court in 2001. Jha’s lawyers won the case in the spring of 2002.

With a new preface and a more provocative title, Jha’s book ‘The Myth of the Holy Cow’ was published by Verso in Britain and the United States. The Indian edition published by Navayana Publishing has a 23-page extract from BR Ambedkar’s  1948 work ‘The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why they Became Untouchables’, the relevance of which cannot be ignored in the current political discourse on cow protection and Dalit atrocities.


Bhartiya Dalit Panther (BDP) members stage a demonstration against Dalit Assault Case at Una, in Ahmedabad on 19 July, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
Bhartiya Dalit Panther (BDP) members stage a demonstration against Dalit Assault Case at Una, in Ahmedabad on 19 July, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Politics of BJP and RSS

Quoting from Ambedkar’s work, Jha said that the fact that Hindus at one time did kill cows and did eat beef is proved abundantly by the description of the Yajnas given in the Buddhist Sutras which relate to periods much later than the Vedas and the Brahmanas. The scale on which the slaughter of cows and animals took place was colossal.

This is politics of the BJP and RSS. Cows became important in the 19th century and the concept of Bharat Mata is also as old as the 19th century because there was no Bharat Mata before the late 19th century. So I would say that this Bharat Mata and Gau Mata will keep vitiating the political discourse in this country and that is what I find very scary and that if these two entities (Bharat Mata and Gau Mata) dominate the politics then there is very little future for this country.
DN Jha, Historian

He added that the two entities were a little older than the popular goddess Satoshi Mata.


Right to Freedom of Expression

For someone who braved constant threat to life and fought for his right to freedom of expression for debunking the myth that the cow has always been holy in this country, Jha, now 77, feels that this ‘cow business’ is very frightening but that something good has come out of the discourse around cow protection as the right wing is opposed to both Dalits and Muslims, thereby uniting these two segments of the society. “If the Dalits and Muslims unite then there is some hope. They must unite and throw this government out in the next election”, said Jha.

Looking back to the time when he had to move around with a police escort at all times, Jha said it was a particularly trying time in his life and that he felt very suffocated and despite the threat he asked that police protection be withdrawn.

“It was a very trying time in the sense that a teacher is a human being who can move around carelessly, talk to people, meet people, meet his students. I was debarred from all those things. I felt very suffocated. This put me under great stress for some years and it took time for me to recover from that stress.” said Jha.

“I am generally not afraid of odds. I face them. There is no point in being afraid of them. Such situations have to be faced squarely. I have tried to do that as best as I can”, said Jha calmly.

Living in the Dark Age

On being asked if honest representation of history is safe under the present dispensation, Jha said that Indians are living in troubled times. If he were to make an academic assessment of two years of Modi’s rule, “then we are a benighted nation, we are living in the dark age where reason is the first casualty.”

What do you say of a country where the prime minister himself goes on propagating the importance of cow protection? What do you say of the prime minister who goes on saying that there was plastic surgery and so on in ancient India? What do you say of a prime minister who says that cows were lined in front of the badshahs and rajas so that they don’t attack them. It’s ridiculous. India doesn’t deserve a prime minister like him.
DN Jha, Historian

Intellectuals Must Respond

Unsparing in his criticism of the recent blooper by the HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar when he said Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were hanged by the British, Jha said “they (BJP minsters) are jokers and don’t know anything.” He felt that instead of doing serious academic research, it is necessary to fight back and the responsibility to do so lies with intellectuals to rise against the ‘gangsterism’ of the BJP, RSS, VHP and other right wing elements.

He expressed fears that till the Modi dispensation exists, history writing will continue to have setbacks. “We historians are in for a major setback and this will reflect in school syllabi. But at the same time, I think ignorance has to be fought and historians have to do it. I don’t see much future for history in the next few years because all kinds of superstition are being propagated. Muslims are demonised, anyone who eats beef should go to Pakistan-that is the kind of statement that a minister makes and then there is haramzyada  and ramzyada and ....this is the kind of dichotomy or binary that is created by these people”, a worried Jha said.

Is the intrepid historian contemplating another book that will shake long-held beliefs in the country? Jha feels that nobody is interested in reading serious academic works anymore. Having recovered from the years of stress and tension and some degree of indifferent health, Jha goes for his morning walks free of fear and closely monitors the news. Always the affable teacher, his students and colleagues constantly seek his counsel and draw strength from his will to preserve freedom to express without fear in this country.

(The writer is a public relations professional. She can be reached at @anabee588)

Also read: In Gujarat, First They Came for Muslims, then Patidars, Now Dalits

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