Letter 40

Acharya Vinoba Bhave

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Cow Protection (Goraksha)


4th November, 1990

My dear Pranav,

In 1970, Vinoba finally settled down at Pavnar. He stopped his Padyatra and started withdrawing himself from active campaigns. His views were always sought by politicians. After the land redistribution, he took up the cause of Goraksha (Cow Protection).

"The cow is a poem of pity" said Gandhiji. The cow occupies a very important place in the religious beliefs of Hindus. Hindus worship the cow as a symbol of God. Vinoba said that Indian socialism does not stop with equality between human beings but extends to all living beings. The cow is a symbol of all non-human beings. Feelings of equality and faternity which were preached by all other religions were limited to human beings. In Vinoba's view, it was a speciality of Hinduism that it included in its compassion the cow as a symbol of other life forms. Hindus worship trees, serpents and cows and other manifestations of life. Ethically, this is a superior position. Vinoba used to say that beginning with cannibalism man progressed towards vegetarianism in stages, and Ahimsa became a higher value system. Many communities and regions in India became vegetarian. This aspect of Indian life was very dear to vinoba.

To talk about cow protection is considered amongst educated Indians as something old, backward and anti-quatedly religious. Vinoba looked at cow-slaughter both as an ethical and an economic menace. He was not a ritualistically religious person. He believed in God, he believed in prayers, but there were no other rituals, no idol worship in his daily life. He was basically a Vedantist. He attached great importance to the cow as a symbol of human compassion for fellow life forms. He used to say that his socialism extended to cows and did not allow him to exploit and kill them.

Being basically turned to village India, Vinoba knew the importance of the cows in village economy. If you give land to a landless person, but if he has no bullocks, what can he cultivate? Cows provide milk, manure and traction power in the form of bullocks. A recent study by the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore has estimated that the energy generated for traction by bullocks in India is equivalent to the energy generated by all other means put together; oil, hydro, nuclear etc. That is the importance of the cow as a giver of Food, and a renewable source of traction power. It is often the only asset a poor man has in India.

Poor farmers cannot resist the temptations of market forces. They sell their cows for slaughtering. In other words, they sell their renewable source of an energy generating asset. The land becomes meaningless without bullocks. The only choice for a poor villager is to become a landless labourer dependent on others, or migrate to city slums. Vinoba could not accept this. He, therefore, started a campaign for Goraksha (Cow Protection).

Realistically speaking, it need not have been necessary to organise a campaign. Cow protection in enshrined in the Constitution of India as a Directive Principle. The Supreme Court has given a judgement that Anti-cow-slaughter laws passed by some states are constitutionally valid. Many States have passed such laws. Beef does not have much market in India, as it is not acceptable to Hindus. Still, very large scale cow-slaughter goes on catering to export markets. Vinoba was pained by all this as a Bhoomiputra, who found it difficult to see that the means of livelihood was snatched away by market forces from the poor villagers, and the Government stood inactive. More in my next letter.

With love,


L. N. Godbole

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