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The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India

Review: The British Origin of Cow-Slaughter in India
With Some British Documents on the Anti-Kine-Killing Movement 1880-1894, 
Dharampal & T. M. Mukundan, Published by SIDH, Price Rs. 495 (PB)

Dharampal’s works have consistently challenged the prevalent mainstream understanding and belief about the nature and functioning of Indian society and polity before the arrival of the British. His work has stimulated a radically fresh perspective on the nature, design, functioning and organisation of Indian society. It shows that the system bequeathed by the British must be seen as an alien imposition and India cannot revive and renew herself unless she rediscovers her own genius, talents and traditions. Some of his well-known works include: The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth CenturyIndian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth CenturyCivil Disobedience and Indian Tradition, etc.

This latest book by Dharampal is about one of the most significant movements in India, against kine-killing by the British, during the nineteenth century. The enormity of this movement and the threat it posed to the British may be gauged by the statement of Viceroy Lansdowne when he said that: “I doubt whether, since the Mutiny, any movement containing in it a greater amount of potential mischief has engaged the attention of the Government of India.”

While it may be generally known that a very large number of the cow and its progeny were daily slaughtered by the British for their army and civilian personnel in India from about 1750 onwards, very little is known, even to most scholars and historical researchers on India, about this India-wide anti-kine-killing movement against the British during 1880-1894. Even those among the few scholars who have taken some note of this movement have treated it as a Hindu-Muslim conflict. But such was not the case, as the documents presented in this book show that many prominent Muslims as well as the Parsis and Sikhs actively participated in the movement. The fact that the movement was directed against the British and not against the Muslims, as commonly believed, was very clear to Queen Victoria and her high-ranking officers. Queen Victoria says in a letter to Viceroy Lord Lansdowne, “Though the Muhammadan’s cow killing is made the pretext for the agitation, it is, in fact, directed against us, who kill far more cows for our army, etc., than the Muhammadans.”

This book counters the general impression that Muslims in India eat the flesh of cow, which is perhaps a myth perpetuated by the British. Though the Muslim community was encouraged to take up the slaughter of cattle, as the large number slaughterhouses set up by the British required professional butchers, but a majority of the immigrant Muslims, as well as the converted, seldom did take to eating of cow flesh. This is borne out by many clippings from the Urdu press as well as from the correspondence between British officials of that period, as documented in this book. The British tried their best, and largely succeeded in projecting this movement, which was in the words of Lansdowne himself ‘political’ in nature, to one which now appears to the educated Indian as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims.

This book, based on British documents, unfolds the story of this momentous movement.