The Washington Times, Shaikh Azizur Rahman, June 22, 2006
CALCUTTA — References to the beef-eating past of ancient Hindus have been deleted from Indian school textbooks after a three-year, high-pitched campaign by Hindu hard-liners.
Hindus revere cows, and slaughter of the animals is banned in most Indian states except the communist-dominated states of Kerala and West Bengal and the smaller northeastern states.
Hindu nationalists have been campaigning for a federal ban on cow slaughter, saying it was Muslim invaders who imported beef consumption into India. But several scholars have argued that ancient Hindus had no inhibitions about eating beef. For almost a century, history books for primary and middle schools said that in ancient India beef was considered a delicacy among Hindus — especially among the highest caste — and veal was offered to Hindu deities during special rituals.
The drive to cleanse the textbooks of beef references began after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed a federal coalition government in 1998. The BJP stayed in power until 2004.
In 2002, "The Holy Cow — Indian Dietary Traditions," a scholarly book that presented historical evidence that Hindus ate beef long before the Muslim invasions in the 10th century, provoked a furor among Hindus and was banned. Its author, Delhi University professor Dwijendra Narayan Jha, received police security because he feared attacks from Hindu fundamentalists.
In 2001, Hindu nationalists started marketing cow's urine as a health cure for anything from skin, kidney and liver ailments to obesity and heart disease. Although the urine continues to be sold in special shops in the country, no professionally qualified doctor has endorsed claims about its health benefits.
In 2003, the BJP-appointed head of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which bears responsibility for the texts, ignored protests from the Congress and the other opposition parties in Parliament and deleted the references to beef in textbooks.
The revised textbooks were delivered to schoolchildren last week. Meanwhile, the BJP has been replaced with the Congress as the ruling party and the new head of NCERT is reported to be unhappy with the changes. The process of deleting the chapters took three years, and any move to reverse the decision could take equally long.
Last year, Hindu nationalists complained that the council was moving too slowly on the deletions, and filed a petition in the Delhi High Court seeking immediate action. The court has not ruled on the petition. Praveen Togadia, general secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council, said at the time that the offending chapters were "poisoning the minds" of Hindu children.
Despite the widespread ban, published statistics show that beef is the most popular form of meat consumed in India. Beef and buffalo meat account for 60 percent of meat consumption in the country.