Notwithstanding the various claims that beef eating was prevalent in the vedic society,there is no doubt that cow had acquired a special place in the minds of vedic Aryans.
The cow had become one of the most common vedic symbols for maternity and fertility and its products came to occupy a central place in various vedic yajnas.
Arthashastra mentions that cow slaughter was illegal. Manu Smriti too lists govadha or cow slaughter as a crime.
Mahabharata mentions another cow Nandini whose milk is said to make men immortal.
The doctrine of the cow's sanctity is well elaborated in the Puranas too.
It became a major symbol of Hindu fightback and resistance against Islamic rule.
Many prominent Hindu kings, across geographies and centuries, were seen asserting their credentials as protectors of the cow.
Even for Shivaji, cow protection was an issue of utmost importance.
Akbar, for instance, made cow slaughter an offence punishable by death.
However, they agreed to temporarily continue such a ban when they annexed Punjab.
Before going into specifics of this episode, it'd be useful to take a look at the attitudes and laws regarding cow protection prevailing in Punjab before start of the British rule.
Moved by the widespread cow slaughters by Muslims, the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak had lamented, "why cow and the pundits are suffering?"
Guru Gobind Singh also raised his sword for the protection of the cow.
"to end the cow slaughter from the world."
As Sikhs gained power,cow slaughter was banned in Punjab. As per one writer, by the start of British rule,
"The Muslims in Punjab also had not used cow meat for about three-fourth of a century."
A controversy erupted in Lahore in 1846 when a European artilleryman attacked and injured 3-4 cows from a herd which was passing that way.
2 protesters were executed and 2 others were externed from British territories.
The European soldier who caused the trouble was let off with a warning,
" to be more careful how he used his sword in the future."
To pacify the rising anger of the people, the Governor General of Punjab, in 1847, prohibited slaughter in Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs.
Even this concession was withdrawn as the British completed the annexation of Punjab in 1849.
It was perceived by Hindu- Sikhs as a license for cow slaughter and open sale of cow meat at every place.
Yet another theory is that these measures were part of a deliberate ploy to drive a wedge between Mulsims and non Muslims.
This lead to further resentment among Hindus and Sikhs
“The innocent, illiterate and religious-minded people of the Punjab found a new picture of ugliness and loss in the holy city of Amritsar which completely differed from the picture of those days when Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors ruled Lahore.”
Lt. Governor, Punjab wrote in an 1869 note “Like the meat stricken cartridges, the protest against the cow slaughter can engulf the entire country in violence just in a month."
"These butchers have come from a foreign land (London). They have set up slaughterhouses. I am deeply aggrieved at the killing of the cows. Oh Sikhs of the Lord, time has come to sacrifice our lives."
However, the group lead by Heera Singh and Lehna Singh decided to go ahead with the plan.
However, as they were retreating , they were captured by troops of Patiala state near a village named Rur.
From there, the captured Kukas were shifted to sherpur.
When captured Kukas arrived there from Sherpur, they were blown away by the cannons as thousands of people from Malerkotla watched the spectacle.
This was followed by a series of repressive measures and in a short time the Kuka movement was made ineffective and powerless.
However,the Kuka approach also the displayed the dangers of a violent confrontation with the government.
Probably that's why cow protection agitations of 1880s adopted a different approach.
1. Mobilizing supporters through propaganda activities such as speeches and pamphlets.
2. Formation of voluntary associations to establish an organizational base.
3. Sending signature petitions to govt. demanding ban on cow slaughter.
Swami Dayanand was undoubtedly the most influential figure of the movement who, more than anyone else, was responsible for turning cow protection into an all India campaign.
In 1882, Swami Dayannd along with orthodox Hindus who had been his opponents founded the 1st Gaurakshini sabha in Punjab.
The Arya samaj branches also actively supported these sabhas in their cow protection work.
In his pamphlet Gaukarunanidhi, he argued that cows needed to be saved because shortage of dairy products was causing physical degeneration of the Aryan race.
In Bhojpuri speaking areas, which came under British control at the start of the 19th cent, a ban on cow slaughter had existed for long.
Naturally, this caused a feeling among Hindus that the govt. was siding with the Muslims.
Sriman Swami was the main leader of the Allhabad sabha.
He traveled extensively to spread the message of cow protection and addressed nearly 50 meetings in 1888 in UP alone.
The money was used for maintaining Gaushalas, purchasing cattle headed for slaughter and to pay the traveling preachers who held meetings in the area.
The sabha directed a social and economic boycott of Paure till the time he got back the bullock.
Therefore, killing cow was matricide.
Traditional fairs such as Allahabad's Magh Mela were used for disseminating the message.
"This Patia comes from the world of cow. It brings an entreaty to the brother Hindus.The religion of the cow is being destroyed.....we entreat our Hindu brothers to watch over the cow in every village and every house."
The highest intensity of Sabha activities was witnessed in Azamgarh district where the sabha activites had started much later than in Ballia and Ghazipur.
Many people died and 35 cases of unlawful assembly and rioting were filed in Azamgarh district alone.
What began as a conflict in villages of Piru and Ibrahimpur escalated into a huge conflict that engulfed a vast area.
According to A Macdonell, Lt. governor of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, " Marwaris were the supporters and formentors of the agitation."
This group was also crucial in terms of providing muscle power to the sabhas by mobilizing the men at their disposal.
As per data of 7 cases ( out of total 140) 560 men were sent for trial in Shahbad. In these cases, 127 Ahirs/ gwalas were convicted. This shows how prominent their role was.
However, his version of love for cow did not allow any aggression for the cause of cow protection.
The issue of cow protection was too useful politically to be given up
However, now it had to be raised within the framework of Hindu Muslim unity.
While these attempts had no impact on longstanding Muslim view on cow slaughter, they worked to constrain spectrum of actions available to Hindus.
For instance, in Jodhpur no Muslims were allowed to take out a goat in the bazar during any religious celebration
Even import of beef from British India was not allowed in many states.
However in a few states such as Tonk had banned cow slaughter.
One prominent figure who built a strong cow protection campaign after independence was Swami Karpatri Ji.
The highlight of his work for cow protection was a huge protest in November 1966 for bringing central law
Even where laws are present, in many cases there a lotof loopholes that provide opportunities for cow slaughter.
1. Cow protection was a value accepted almost universally for at least 2000 years before Muslim invaders arrived. We can call it as Gau Mata consensus
In other words to accept Gau mata consensus is to be Indian and to be against it is not being Indian.
If we go back to 19th century and remove cow protection movement, there would be no Hindutva left to see.
If you call yourself Hindutvawaadi, stand with Gau Mata because you owe your existence to Gau mata.
To be defending an animal for that long ?
Is there any other culture that has done this ?
This is definitely Hindu exceptionalism!
Be proud of it.
1. Indian Nationalism and early Congress, John R McLane
2. Religious Nationalism in India: Hindus and Muslims in India, Peter van der veer
3. Kuka movement, Fauja Singh
4. Satguru Ram Singh & Kuka movement, Tara Singh Anjan