‘Hinduism will live as long as they protect the cow’: Remembering Mahatma Gandhi - the First Gau Rakshak

While the term gau rakshak might render an image in our heads of a cow vigilante, gau raksha is an integral part of the Hindu faith and the Father of the Nation – whose 150th anniversary we are celebrating today – believed it was an important edifice for Hindus.

He believed that cow protection was the ‘gift of Hinduism to the world’ and written: “Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live so long as there are Hindus to protect the cow…… Hindus will be judged not by their TILAKS, not by the correct chanting of MANTRAS, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observances of caste rules, but their ability to protect the cow.”

He also believed that laws weren’t enough to stop cow slaughter. He wrote that knowledge, education and the spirit of kindness was needed to put an end to it.

A deeply religious person, he devoted key text in Hind Swaraj (1909) to the question of cow protection. He had written: “I myself respect the cow, that is, I look upon her with affectionate reverence. The cow is the protector of India because, being an agricultural country, she is dependent on the cow. The cow is a most useful animal in hundreds of ways. Our Mahomedan brethren will admit this.”

He also went to write that killing in the name of the cow was absolutely unreasonable: “But, just as I respect the cow, so do I respect my fellow-men. A man is just as useful as a cow no matter whether he be a Mahomedan or a Hindu. Am I, then, to fight with or kill a Mahomedan in order to save a cow? In doing so, I would become an enemy of the Mahomedan as well as of the cow.

Therefore, the only method I know of protecting the cow is that I should approach my Mahomedan brother and urge him for the sake of the country to join me in protecting her. If he would not listen to me, I should let the cow go for the simple reason that the matter is beyond my ability. If I were overfull of pity for the cow, I should sacrifice my life to save her but not take my brother's. This, I hold, is the law of our religion.”

He wrote in 1921 in his journal Young India: “THE COW is a poem of pity. One reads pity in the gentle animal. She is the mother to millions of Indian mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb creation of God. The ancient seer, whoever he was, began with the cow. The appeal of the lower order of creation is all the more forcible because it is speechless.”

His views on cow slaughter were also very clear, stating that the cow was the purest type of sub-human life. He had written: “The cow is the purest type of sub-human life. She pleads before us on behalf of the whole of the sub-human species for justice to it at the hands of man, the first among all that lives. She seems to speak to us through her eyes: 'you are not appointed over us to kill us and eat our flesh or otherwise ill-treat us, but to be our friend and guardian'.”He had staunchly defended the Hindus’ right to worship the cow and written: “I worship it and I shall defend its worship against the whole world.”

Comparing the sacred cow to one’s mother, he wrote that sometimes she was much better: “Mother cow is in many ways better than the mother who gave us birth. Our mother gives us milk for a couple of years and then expects us to serve her when we grow up. Mother cow expects from us nothing but grass and grain. Our mother often falls ill and expects service from us. Mother cow rarely falls ill. Here is an unbroken record of service which does not end with her death. Our mother, when she dies, means expenses of burial or cremation. Mother cow is as useful dead as when she is alive. We can make use of every part of her body-her flesh, her bones, her intestines, her horns and her skin. Well, I say this not to disparage the mother who gives us birth, but in order to show you the substantial reasons for my worshipping the cow.”

He extolled the importance of cow protection in Hinduism, calling it the central fact.

He wrote in Young India: “The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection. Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond this species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. Why the cow was selected for apotheosis is obvious to me. The cow was in India the best companion. She was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible.”