"The Cow with 84 deities" by Raja Ravi Varma. Photo:  Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons
"The Cow with 84 deities" by Raja Ravi Varma. Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons

‘Holy’ cow and ‘unholy’ dalit

The bovine becomes divine, the cow becomes 'mother', the untouchables get dehumanised.

There are some protagonists of Hinduism who say that Hinduism is a very adaptable religion, that it can adjust itself to everything and absorb anything. I do not think many people would regard such a capacity in a religion as a virtue to be proud of, just as no one would think highly of a child because it has developed the capacity to eat dung, and digest it. But that is another matter. It is quite true that Hinduism can adjust itself… can absorb many things. The beef-eating Hinduism (or strictly speaking Brahminism which is the proper name of Hinduism in its earlier stage) absorbed the non-violence theory of Buddhism and became a religion of vegetarianism. But there is one thing which Hinduism has never been able to do – namely to adjust itself to absorb the Untouchables or to remove the bar of Untouchability.

– BR Ambedkar

The dalits account for 165 million of India's one billion-plus human population. The population of cows is pegged at 206 million. There are more cows than dalits in India. The cows, therefore, have more rights than dalits. For instance, you can kill dalits before thousands of witnesses and get away with it. But the imagined murder of a cow will not be suffered. The state promotes the drinking of cow urine and dung, while dalits are forced to eat the shit and piss of caste Hindus.

Ambedkar was, perhaps, ironically, aware of the literalness of his metaphor. Hindus have proved that they can not only eat dung and piss but digest it too. However, while he was right about what brahminic Hinduism could not ever absorb, what he perhaps did not reckon with was that latter-day dalits would be forced to eat the shit and piss of caste Hindus.

In Untouchables or The Children of India's Ghetto, published posthumously like many of his other works, Ambedkar devotes two sections to highlight the practice of untouchability in his time through newspaper sources from the 1920s and 1930s. Close to 50 reports, culled from a variety of sources, from The Times of India to Hindi publications such as Jivan, Milap and Pratap, are cited in an effort to convince the reader that various forms of untouchability were indeed in practice.

However, not one of these mentions that the dalit-untouchables were forced to consume human excreta. Not one talks about dalits being lynched by a Hindu mob for skinning a cow.

Brahminic Hinduism has always yoked together practices that are at such odds with each other that the meaning of one is to be found in the meaninglessness of the other. While it is the brahmin who ritualistically excludes himself from the rest of the caste heap and indulgently renders himself untouchable, it is the dalit – whose touch of labour informs perhaps everything that is consumed and used by society – who is condemned to be untouchable.

The brahmin, to protect his untouchableness, has to render others untouchable. Such a play of contradictions that binds the brahminical social order is as historical as it is contemporary. In such a binary, the ridiculous and the unimaginable jostle with each other; the claim to superiority and merit of the one depends on the making inferior of the other. The ridiculous easily invites sarcasm, even critique by rational-scientific voices that unwittingly participate in the ridiculous, but the unimaginable defies words, language – it demands outrage but forces aphasia.

Demonstrative of this dichotomy, we see in New Delhi, India's human resource development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, proudly asserting the legitimacy invested upon the use of cow's urine for therapeutic purposes by the United States patent authorities, while in Thinniam, an obscure village in Lalgudi taluq, Tiruchirapalli district, Tamil Nadu, two dalits are forced to eat dried human shit.

The state and the brahminical social order play equally proactive roles in both cases – promoting cow urine drinking among caste Hindus, and in forcing human shit and piss down dalit throats. The bizarre patenting of cow-urine therapy elicited three kinds of reactions: sniggers from the 'secularists' who were amused, at best; a sense of pride from a mostly-Hindutvaised brahmin-dominated media fraternity, among whom there could be several members who practice cow-urine therapy; and sheer indifference. How-ever, Thinniam went unnoticed, uncommented upon.

On 21 May this year, a caste-Hindu thevar family in Thinniam branded two dalits, Murugesan and Ramasamy, with hot iron rods and forced them to feed dried human excreta to each other. After local activists of the Dalit Panthers Movement heard about the incident on 30 May, they informed a human rights activist-lawyer and sometime in mid-June a press conference was organised where the dalits presented their testimonies. The mainstream media in India, which has almost no dalit members, ignored it.

About a month and a half later, the media splashed the news that the United States Patent and Trade Office had granted Patent No 6410059 to an "Indian innovation which has proved that cow's urine can make antibiotics, anti-fungal agents and also anti-cancer drugs more effective" (The Hindu 4 July 2002). The product, cow-urine distillate (CUD), was the result of a joint enterprise by the centrally funded Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Go-Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra (cow science research centre) in Nagpur.

Seems Murli Manohar Joshi, union minister for science and technology as well, notorious for introducing 'vedic astrology' and reviving Sanskrit courses in universities, had asked the Centre for Science and Industrial Research in 1999 to investigate the chemical properties of cow's urine. According to The Indian Express (4 July 2002), 10 lakh rupees were spent over three years by the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants at Lucknow to establish that "certain compounds in cow urine, when used in combination with certain antibiotics like the commonly used anti-tuberculosis drug rifampicin, can help kill more bacteria than a single application of the antibiotic".

In Tamil Nadu, the Thinniam incident did not make any impression on the government, media, civil society or the mainstream intelligentsia. Most newspapers and television channels did not report it and those that did, like The Hindu, ran shy of seeming scatological and referred to it as simply "a heinous incident".

This neglect led to another Thinniam. On 7 September, Sankan, a dalit, was drinking tea with a friend at a shop in Goundampatti, Nilakottai taluq, Dindigul district when he was attacked by six caste Hindus. He was verbally abused and beaten up, after which an off-duty constable urinated in his mouth. Sankan had earned the wrath of the caste Hindu gounder community because he had aggressively pursued his right to a piece of land of which he had been cheated.

Today in the village, even the dalits appear angry with Sankan because the caste Hindus are threatening the entire community with social boycott. Peace in a village can be maintained as long as the dalits accept oppression and learn to digest urine.

The profanity of the sacred

Before 'discovering' the medicinal values of cow-urine and dung, the brahmins, during the vedic and immediate post-vedic period, ate the meat of all kinds of animals (see Indian Food by KT Achaya, 1998). As evident from brahminic texts such as the Satpathatha Brahmana and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, beef was in fact a favourite food in vedic times.

Following the powerful discourse of spiritual democracy that Buddhism unleashed, brahmins were forced to give up beef and their cults of animal sacrifice. As the dalit-bahujan writer, Kancha Ilaiah, points out in God as Political Philosopher, "Though the use of animal power had been discovered, the killing of animals in the yajnas prevented their practical implementation". With the coming to power of the Buddhist king Asoka in the third century BCE, whose edicts proscribed the killing of animals for sacrifice (however, not necessarily for food), the brahmins not only gave up beef but slowly turned vegetarian and remained so in a post-Buddhist society; in a reversal, those who continued to, and were forced to, consume beef, specifically the meat of the dead cow – not in a grand sacrificial manner, but as ordinary food – were labelled untouchables. They became the 'broken people', literally "dalit", falling outside the pale of the fourfold varna system to which all caste Hindus belong.

According to this theory of the origin of untouchability that Ambedkar formulates, the broken people were the pre-untouchables of the 'primitive society'. To paraphrase him: During the frequent wars between the 'settled tribesmen' and the 'nomadic tribes', those who were separated from their communities came to constitute the 'broken men'; these were then captured and used by the agriculture-bound settled community to protect the villages from the invading nomads. Though there was no ritual untouchability imposed on the broken people, they were to live segregated from the main village. It was a time where there was no taboo on cow's meat and it was consumed by all.

After the brahmins made the cow a sacred animal and made beef-eating a sacrilege, the broken people continued to consume beef. The broken people were not to own any wealth, land or cattle. They could not kill a cow for its meat because they did not own any. But why were they allowed to eat beef when the brahmins and non-brahmins had given it up? Because eating the dead cow's meat was not a crime; killing a cow was. They could also not imitate the savarnas in giving up beef-eating, because they "could not afford it. The flesh of the dead cow was their principal sustenance. Without it they would starve. In the second place, carrying the dead cow had become an obligation though originally it was a privilege. As they could not escape carrying the dead cow they did not mind using the flesh as food in the manner in which they were doing previously". (Ambedkar, Untouchables: Who They Were and Why They Became Untouchables, Volume 7 of Writings and Speeches, 1990)

Having given up the most edible and nutritious part of the cow, and forcing the outcastes to consume the same, the brahminic caste Hindus began sacralising the cow, specifically the humped zebu breed found in the Subcontinent, which finds mention in the Rig veda and is common on Indus Valley Civilisation seals. The black buffalo was not endowed with any such sanctity in spite of its more nutritive milk. They also sacralised and consumed every product and by-product of the cow – milk, ghee, curd, dung and urine – substitutions for the real thing, beef. They mixed these five ingredients to make panchgavya, assigned it therapeutic value, and ascribed a place for it in the purity-pollution binary.

Hence the Manusmriti, a post-Buddhist text dated around the second century CE, ordains that "a twice-born man so deluded that he has drunk liquor should drink boiling-hot cow's urine, water, milk, clarified butter, or liquid cow dung until he dies"(chapter 11, verses 91-92). Another verse decrees: to make up for the crime of "stealing raw or uncooked food, a carriage, a bed, the cleansing is swallowing the five cow-products" (Chapter 11, verse 166, from the translation by Wendy Doniger, Penguin, 1991).

Several Hindu temples, such as the one at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, serve panchgavya and cow's urine as prasadam (divine offering) for a price. Cow's urine has since remained 'sacred' and Murli Manohar Joshi, while announcing the patent achievement, recalled with pride the contemporaneity of it: "When I was young and went to Chennai on an educational tour, I saw people drinking cow's urine straight from the source. Everybody thought it was dirty. Today, I realise that all traditional practices from ancient Indian medicine have a strong scientific base" (The Indian Express, 4 July 2002).

And today, that a patent on cow-urine therapy is being bestowed by the largest consumer of beef in the world does not bother the rightwing Hindu fundamentalist Sangh Parivar or Joshi.

The brahmins and brahminic Hindus (dwijas – twice born) have been consuming cow's urine and other waste for centuries and continue to do so. The bovine becomes divine – Kamadhenu, gau-maata (the cow as the mother) – but the dalit-untouchables are rendered subhuman.

Ambedkar says, "In Manu, there is also a provision for getting rid of defilement by transmission – namely by touching the cow or looking at the sun after sipping water". Meaning, a dwija, defiled by the sight or touch of a dalit-untouchable, has simply to touch a cow to be cleansed. The pollution caused by touching the wrong human being can be nullified by touching the right animal. Hindus believe that some 330 million gods and goddesses reside in the bowels of the cow. Yet, when a cow dies, caste Hindus would stay away. Touching the dead cow and burying it are jobs assigned to the dalit-untouchables.

And yet, today we witness in India an episode that against this backdrop defies explanation. In Dulina, Jhajjar district, Haryana, two hours from the capital, New Delhi, five dalits were lynched by a mob on 15 October. The dalits were reportedly sighted skinning a cow, but the local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) rumour mill, in collusion with the police, spread the word that the dalits had slaughtered the cow (The Indian Express 17-18 October).

Within three hours, a mob – of four to five thousand according to the police – gathered near the police station where the dalits were sheltered, pulled them out, burnt two of the them alive and lynched the other three with stones and sharp implements. At least 50 police personnel, three sub-divisional magistrates, the deputy superintendent of police of Jhajjar and Bahadurgarh and the block development officer watched the carnage. It was the last day of the Dussehra festivities, and the Sangh Parivar of which the VHP is a member – which has been working overtime to raise the consciousness of Hindus on issues bovine – found it easy to mobilise villagers from the surrounding areas to "avenge the killing of the cow-killers".

A post-mortem report of the cow was ordered by the superintendent of police, Mohammad Akil, and a case filed against the dead dalits under the Cow Slaughter Act 1960. It was reasoned by the SP that if the post-mortem proved that the cow was alive before the dalits skinned it, "it will show how the mob got emotional when they saw an act like this". The priest of the local temple, Mahendra Parmanand, was quoted as saying: "If they can kill our mother then what if we kill our brothers who kill her". The cow, Kamadhenu, is the mother being referred to. And we need to console ourselves: at least in death a brahmin priest was referring to the dalits as brothers. The VHP justified the killings saying, "According to Hindu shastras a cow's life is very important".

Here is a country where the imagined murder of a cow can cause more outrage than the death of a human being. Again, the root of such attitudes lies in ancient brahminic injunctions. After the brahmins gave up beef-eating, cow-slaughter was made a punishable crime and equated with the killing of the brahmin, the ultimate crime. According to the scholar of Hinduism, DR Bhandarkar:

We have got the incontrovertible evidence of inscriptions to show that early in the 5th century AD killing a cow was looked upon as an offence of the deepest turpitude, turpitude as deep as that involved in murdering a Brahman. We have thus a copperplate inscription dated 465 AD and referring itself to the reign of Skandagupta of the Imperial Gupta dynasty. It registers a grant and ends with a verse saying: 'Whosoever will transgress this grant that has been assigned (shall become as guilty as) the slayer of a cow, the slayer of a spiritual preceptor (or) the slayer of a Brahman'… A still earlier record [412 AD] placing go-hatya [cow-slaughter] on the same footing as brahma-hatya [brahmin-killing] is that of Chandragupta II, grandfather of Skandagupta… (Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture 1940, quoted in Ambedkar 1948).

Commenting on Bhandarkar, Ambedkar notes: "The law made by the Gupta emperors was intended to prevent those who killed cows. It did not apply to the Broken Men. For they did not kill the cow. They ate only the dead cow". Ambedkar, probably, did not reckon with how the law against cow killing could become an excuse to lynch dalits. He also perhaps did not know that one day cow-urine therapy would make its way to the US patent office, that India would have a law that prohibits cow-slaughter (Cow Slaughter Act 1960), and dalits would be lynched for dealing with the hide of a dead cow, or that dalits would be forced to eat shit and piss. What is unfolding against the dalits in India is something that even the Gupta period, 'the golden age of Hinduism', would not have witnessed or justified.

The Thinniam 'rebellion'

In Thinniam, what was Murugesan and Ramasamy's crime? They beat the thappu – a traditional leather drum used by dalits – and went about the village announcing that Rajalakshmi Subramani and her husband Subramani had cheated their friend Karuppiah of 2000 rupees. About two and a half years ago, Karuppiah had paid 5000 rupees to Rajalakshmi who was then the president of the village panchayat (citizens council) – though her husband Subramani, a former schoolteacher, was the de facto president – for a house under a government scheme for his sister. Karuppiah's sister was never allowed to occupy the house, and despite repeated requests, neither was the house allotted nor the money refunded. Eventually, Subramani returned 3000 rupees but Karuppiah insisted on the whole sum. When Subramani refused to pay up, Karuppiah decided to tell everyone in the village how he had been cheated.

Murugesan and Ramasamy accompanied Karuppiah as he went around the village with his thappu. Inebriated, and thus made bold, they declared that they would no longer render their traditional caste-based service as vettiyans (a dalit sub-community involved in burial ground work) to the caste Hindus if they did not get the money back from Subramani. In the villagers' words, "They got drunk and made some noises they would otherwise not make".

Learning of this, Subramani summoned Karuppiah the next morning on 20 May. The entire family beat up Karuppiah, who then quietly returned home and left the village the same night. He rarely spends time in Thinniam these days.

The following day, a sober and terrified Murugesan and Ramasamy went to Subramani's house to apologise. There, obscenities were hurled at them using their caste name – parayar (dalit) bastards – and Murugesan was kicked. If the temporary lapse of a drink or two could make them go around the village speaking disrespectfully of the thevars, Subramani and Rajalakshmi had methods that would make them acknowledge the realities that are permanent. Rajalakshmi handed a hot iron rod to her husband Subramani, who branded Murugesan on his left hand, above his elbow, on his neck in three Places and below the left ear in two places. Ramasamy was branded above his left knee and on his left wrist. Then Subramani gave them a thappu and ordered them to go around the village, this time to announce that what they had tom-tommed was not true. After making a round of the village, they returned to Subramani's house where they found dried human excreta in a winnow. Subramani reasoned that the parayans would come to their senses only if they ate shit. When they protested, Subramani threatened to brand them again. Murugesan put the dried shit into Ramasamy's mouth and Ramasamy fed it to Murugesan. The hands that beat the drum of rebellion were made to feed shit to the mouths that articulated protest. Subramani then accused them of damaging the thappu and made them pay 50 rupees each as compensation.

Many weeks later, the district collector offered the victims 6650 rupees and some rice and kerosene as a 'rehabilitative measure'. The Lalgudi police went through the routine of filing weak cases under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989, known commonly as the Dalit Act. On Karuppiah's complaint, the police registered cases against six caste Hindus under sections 341 ('causing hurt voluntarily'), 323 ('wrongful restraint'), 355 of IPC ('intent to dishonour a person') and 3(1)(x) of the Dalit Act. The IPC sections can lead to a simple imprisonment of up to two years and a fine. Section 3(1)(x) of the Dalit Act is a favourite with the police according to dalit activists and lawyers. Irrespective of the crime – rape, burning down a dalit house, stripping and parading a dalit naked or abusing a dalit in public – the police tends to book everything under 3(1)(x) that deals with "intentional insult or intimidation with intent to humiliate him in any place in full view of the public". Under this section, punishment is minimal and a compensation of 25,000 rupees is to be provided on conviction, which rarely happens.

The police did add charges under Section 3(1)(i) of the Dalit Act and sections 324 and 325 of the IPC when Murugesan and Ramasamy, who were forced to eat human shit, filed a separate complaint. As per Section 3(1)(i), "it is punishable if anyone forces a member of the SC [scheduled castes] or the ST [scheduled tribes] to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance". If it can be proved in a court of law that a dalit was indeed forced to eat an obnoxious substance, the state pays him or her 25,000 rupees or more "depending on the nature of the gravity of the offence". Clearly, the Dalit Act, formulated in 1989, has this clause because such practices were prevalent in India. The law in itself was an acknowledgement of, and a response to, an existing, established reality.

The incidents of Thinniam and Nilakottai are of course not unprecedented. In 2001, at Prichatur, 75 km from Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, caste-Hindu men paraded a dalit youth, Murugesh, in a procession and forced him to drink his own urine for "the crime of relieving himself in the presence of the upper castes" (Deccan Chronicle 30 August 2001). Also in 2001, caste Hindu landlords from Chanaiyan-bandh village in West Champaran, Bihar, tied Dasai Manjhi, a dalit, to a pole, shaved his head and urinated in his mouth. But it was the dalit who landed in jail "for felling the timber of his landlord" (The Times of India 11 July 2001). Lalit Yadav, a minister in the Bihar state government, held a truck driver Deenanath Baitha and cleaner Karoo Ram, dalits both, captive for over a month in June-July 2000. The minister and his cousin removed the fingernails of the driver and made him drink urine. Lalit Yadav was dropped from the ministry but remains a free man today. Again in Bihar, in September 2000, Saraswati Devi, a dalit woman was paraded naked on charges of witchcraft in Pakri-Pakohi, Karja block, Muzaffarpur district. A dozen persons tortured her and forced her to swallow human excreta. After Devi lodged a complaint, police visited the village but failed to 'nab' the accused.

The spirit of rebellion

The forced consumption of dried shit in Thinniam was preceded by a moment of 'rebellion' on the part of three dalits. Some commentators in Tamil Nadu have sought to locate the expression of such protest in the consumption of alcohol. According to them, it was alcohol that enabled the dalits to transgress the social boundaries that they knew would be impossible to break otherwise. It appears that to speak out against oppression and injustice, Karuppiah, Murugesan and Ramaswamy could not be sober. Such a line of argument seeks social-therapeutic values in alcohol.

Murugesan and Ramasamy went to apologise to the thevars, but the message that the thevars sent is that even the excuse of a drink cannot justify resistance. If dalit transgression is seen as arising from 'drunken behaviour' in the night, and is to be forgiven by the oppressor the next day when the dalits go to seek pardon, the assumption informing the episode is that a meaningful rebellion cannot be sustained. A reading that presumes that dalit protest cannot be articulated when the dalits are sober undermines both the potential of dalit agency and the possibilities of any longterm liberation agenda since ventilation of a grievance when drunk need not be seen as resistance. This is not to make a moral argument against drinking, or in this case dalits drinking; if the gandhian position against alcohol is loaded with brahminic morality, so is an argument that seeks to essentialise a drinking culture with dalit lifestyle.

There are other problems with reading too much into the aspect of alcohol-stimulation. In India, when drains filled with human excreta and other wastes get clogged, sanitation workers are required to enter them bodily. Invariably, these workers belong to a particular local community of dalits; in Tamil Nadu, it is the arundhatiyars or sakkiliyars. Exposed to noxious waste clad in nothing but a komanam, a loincloth, for long stretches of time, it is not surprising that the influence of alcohol becomes necessary for the municipality worker. The drinking in the arundhatiyar's case only enables him to continue to do his work; alcohol does not give him rebellious ideas. The same is true for dalits employed in the mortuaries of government hospitals.

Brahminising the shudra

The brahmins might have been the progenitors of the caste ideology and the group that invested sacrality on cow dung, urine etc but today this ideology has percolated to the dalit. It is a fact that the 'most-backward' shudras (members of the lowest tier of the four-tier Hindu varna system) such as vanniars or thevars, and even the dalits, in a Tamil Nadu village have imbibed the practice of cleansing one's home using gomayam (cow urine) after a death or ahead of a religious ceremony. It is on this 'common sense' that the Hindutva lobby cashes in while seeking a patent.

Such brahminisation of the shudras has a telling effect on the dalits. Much of the physical violence on dalits in rural India is perpetrated by the shudra castes. Though this does not absolve the brahmin of a role in such violence – the brahmin historically has never had to get physical to defend his rights or others' rights, but has had the privilege of letting others slug it out and watching the fun from a safe distance – we need to be alive to how it is on the basis of assumed caste superiority that the thevar in Thinniam or the gounder in Nilakottai makes a dalit eat shit or drink piss. The shudra-thevar does not act in the name of Hinduism or as a Hindu; he acts as a thevar, or more specifically invoking his subcaste identity as a piramalai kallar. It is the 'social nausea' – to use Ambedkar's phrase – of the dalit that makes the shudra react with such intolerance to any dalit assertion. This nausea is expressed in the form of caste.

While the mainstream media and the 'secularists' run shy of such instances of castebased aggressions, they find it much easier to focus on episodes of violence where the obvious faces of Hindutva – Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Janata Party – are involved. These outfits are seen as representatives of a militant form of pan-Indian Hinduism from which the secular brigade – that otherwise indulges in caste – seeks to distance itself, not realising its own role in creating and sustaining these social monsters. In Thinniam, where no such Hindutva outfit was involved, and where Subramani and his family had no significant affiliation to any political party, the aggression was simply a result of a thevar-supremacism. Subramani and his family do not identify themselves as 'Hindu' nor do they act in the name of 'Hinduism'. If they did, the RSS-type Hindus would distance themselves from such 'caste Hinduism' more forcefully than the secularist Hindus would. For instance, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch chief, S Gurumurthy, viewed the VHP-Narendra Modi actions in Gujarat as un-Hindu and even 'Islamic'. In his perverse understanding of the carnage in Gujarat, 'Hinduism is getting Islamised' (Outlook 23 September 2002).

Ezhavas in Kerala, gounders in Tamil Nadu or jats in Haryana do not victimise dalits to defend 'Hinduism' as much as they do to secure their caste supremacy. And when the dalits of Meenakshipuram (in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu) famously embraced Islam in 1981, they did it not to escape Hinduism, to which they anyway did not belong, but to liberate themselves from the oppression of the thevars. The Hindutva groups descended on the area, and on Tamil Nadu in general, only after the Meenakshipuram conversion. The assertion of caste supremacy by the shudra groups is today being increasingly expressed through Hindutva outlets like the VHP and Bajrang Dal – as seen from the experience that the targets of Hindutva are invariably the dalits and Muslims. In fact, Hindutva, as we have seen it since the 1990s, is basically an organised, pan-Indian expression of casteism to which even 'Dravidian' parties like the DMK and shudra outfits like the Telugu Desam Party lend legitimacy. A casteism backed by brahmins and other upper castes but acted out by the shudras.

Research and Analysis Wing If the harassment of dalits has a pattern, so does the effort to formalise the practice of caste Hindus drinking cow-urine and dung. There was much groundwork done before Joshi could make his announcement about the patent. Already 200 cow urine therapy centres have been established in 18 Indian states, most of them in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The target is 10,000 such centres. The Cow Urine Therapy and Research Institute set up in Indore claims that cow's urine can cure diabetes, blood pressure, acidity, asthma, psoriasis, eczema, AIDS, piles, prostate problems, arthritis and migraine. This gau-mutra (cow urine) distillate is already being sold across the counter as 'Kamadhenu Ark'. There is even a 'Gaumutra Hospital' in Lucknow.

The Gujarat government has in place a 'Gau Seva Ayog' that hopes to improve cow reverence and promote the benefits of its various excretions. Last year, it talked about a "cow dung and urine revolution". Gujarat truly is a laboratory for Hindutva. According to a- news report, cow urine is already being sold in 200 outlets in Indore. In Jaipur, Rajasthan, the rightwing Hindu fundamentalist RSS runs the Gau Seva Sangh, which claims to have at hand the one element that will guarantee protection against the horrors of nuclear radiation: cow dung. Cover the roof of your house or better still, lather yourself with cow dung as a protective shield. At the Krishi Expo 2002, an agricultural fair held in June in New Delhi, there was a stall where every product – tea, toothpaste, hair oil, porridge, tonics, fertilisers, insecticides, 'beauty' soap, shampoo, incense sticks – was manufactured from panchgavya. The producer was the Kanpur Gaushala Society.

In December 2000, a 'National Workshop on Scientific Dimensions of Gauseva' was held in Indore. According to the official report on the seminar, "Cow was given the status of mother and worshipped and honoured by celebrating festivals and religious functions. The present society is based on science. Now people need information and data based on research. Most of the tested practices of cow therapy, Panchgavya, Agnihotra and milk miracles are rejected as myth or mythological adventures". It concludes, "It is therefore necessary to blend science, spiritually [sic] and wisdom". Such a blending has resulted in the patent for CUD.

More recently, the National Commission for Cattle, constituted in September 2001 when Jayendra Saraswati of the Kanchi Sankara Math threatened a fast unto death over the "neglect of the country's cow population", in its report running into 1500 pages and four volumes, suggested the constitution of a Central Rapid Protection Force to control cow slaughter; the amendment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to detain gangs who smuggle cows; the prohibition of crossbreeding with imported cattle; demanded the scrapping of the subsidy on tractors and mechanical appliances for agriculture and encouraging instead the use of bullocks, the constitution of a permanent National Development Commission on Cows, and the introduction of the "panchgavya therapy" (Milli Gazette 15 August 2002).

Almost in anticipation of the NCC's recommendations, the patent for CUD and other related developments, the RSS launched a 'Rashtriya Jagran Abhiyan' in 2001 to awaken 'national consciousness'. One of the pamphlets that was issued for the exercise was The Protection of Cow Clan, which contained these ideas: ghee made from cow's milk saves the environment from atomic radiation; the sound of a cow's lowing automatically cures many mental disabilities and diseases; cow's urine contains copper which turns to gold on entering the human body; cow dung and urine are the best cures for stomach diseases, heart diseases, kidney ailments and tuberculosis; the urine of a virgin cow is the best; foreign cows lack the properties which Indian cows have; the Hindu gotra system applies to the cow-clan too.

It is not as if only the Sangh Privar is a proponent of the sacred and therapeutic values of cow urine and dung. In Upleta, Rajkot district, Gujarat, 700 woman workers of the Congress protested the Bharatiya Janata Party's 'Gaurav Yatra' (tour of pride) by 'cleansing' the 1.5-km stretch traversed by the BJP chief minister Narendra Modi's chariot with cow urine.

Jhajjar was merely the culmination of all these events in the 'cow-belt', as the plains of north India are somewhat derisively called.

For every Saraswati Devi who is branded a witch and forced to consume shit, there is an Ulpeta-like celebration of the 'properties' of the cow's excreta. India is equally the land where a prime minister (Morarji Desai) boasted of drinking eight ounces of his own urine every morning and where Sankan of Nilakottai is forced to drink the urine of caste Hindus for asking for a piece of a land that he has a right to. A land where state-sponsored consumption of cow urine and dung complements the state's indifference to force-feeding of dalits with shit and piss.

Responding to the Thinniam incident, Monica Vincent, a Chennai-based lawyer, recalls Nelson Mandela's words in 1ong Walk to Freedom, "At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire." But how does one react to shit 1ike this? In the context of legalised and state-sponsored racism – apartheid in South Africa – Mandela talked of fighting fire with fire; but can the dalits of India fight shit with shit?

(Author's note: I thank Sivapriya comments and suggestions on an earlier draft, and Ravikumar for discussing various points in the essay. Editorial note: Capitalisation style reflects author's preferences.)

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