Hindutva's Sacred Cows by Vinay Lal

The lynching of five dalits – Virender, Dayanand, Kailash, Raju Gupta and Tota Ram – in Jhajjar (Haryana), reportedly by a frenzied mob, for skinning a dead cow is yet another pointer to the criminality that marks mob behaviour, thanks to the com­munal manipulation of mass religiosity by those who wish to thrive by it. . . . The disturbing truth is that a 5000-strong mob could collect at the drop of a hat to lynch those who skinned a dead cow. But it is doubtful if there would be even five among them willing to mind living cows that need care and protection. . . . We do not know how the cow in the present episode died; whether someone other than the five victims killed it or whether it died of starvation, street accident, old age or sickness. It is almost certain that no one among the murderous mob asked this question. Nor would it have occurred to them that being a friend to cows involves much more than being enemies of the enemies of cows.

Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu (2002)

Among contemporary social reformers in India, the Indian monk Swami Agnivesh is a widely recognised figure. Agnivesh gained prominence three decades ago for his efforts in bringing to attention the problems of bonded and child labour in India.The Bandhua Mukti Morcha, or Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which he founded in 1981 while he was still serving as Minister of Education in the state of Haryana, became known for carrying out daring rescues of labourers bonded for life, for instance many of those working in the quarries around Delhi. Agnivesh became the public face of India in international forums on the abolition of slavery, but he has also intervened over the years on many other social issues, from female feticide and the Hindu rite of widow immolation to corruption and the Indian state’s relation to Maoist revolutionaries. It is Agnivesh’s pronouncements on Hinduism, however, which make him a particularly arresting figure and help illustrate the difficulties in unraveling that strange phenomenon called ‘Hindu Fundamentalism’. Though Agnivesh is what would generally be recognised as a Hindu monk in India, he is a member of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement founded by Day­anand Saraswati in 1875 with the explicit intention of returning Hinduism back to its purportedly Vedic roots. Dayanand held that much of what passed for ‘Hinduism’ was a later and corrupt accretion, and the Arya Samaj came to reject many of the practices associated with Hinduism but held to be without Vedic sanction, such as idol worship, animal sacrifice, and child marriage. Most controversially, leading members of the Arya Samaj became proponents of the distinctly un-Hindu idea of shuddhi, or the conversion of Muslims to Hinduism, arguing that they were only encouraging Muslims to return to the fold (parivartan) from which they had departed. Agnivesh himself has been derided by Hindu nationalists as anti-Hindu, and his dec­laration in 2005 that the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri should be opened to non-Hindus led to his being burnt in effigy. He has been similarly contro­versial on other phenomena which have a centrality in the cultural imagina­tion of Hinduism, such as the annual and rather arduous pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir where an ice stalagmite is worshipped as a form of the deity Lord Shiva, rubbished by Agnivesh as a piece of ice.