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Gandhi opposed ban on cow slaughter, Ambedkar wrote it was common practice in ancient India

Gandhi with Madan Mohan Malaviya
By Rajiv Shah
At a time when lynching of Mohamad Ashfaq on the “suspicion” of keeping beef in his refrigerator is sought to be justified by powerful politicians of the country, facts have come to light suggesting that two of the most important pillars of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi and Baba Ambedkar, opposed ban on cow slaughter tooth and nail.
Speaking at a prayer meeting in Delhi on July 25, 1947, Gandhi said he would advise thousands of those who had written to Rajendra Prasad demanding a ban on cow-slaughter not to “waste money”, as their postcards, letters and telegrams  had had “no effect” (click HERE to read the full text).
Referring to a telegram he received “which says that a friend has started a fast for this cause”, Gandhi insisted, “In India no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter”, underlining, “I shall suggest that the matter should not be pressed in the Constituent Assembly.” The Constituent Assembly, under Ambedkar’s chairmanship, was then already involved in the onerous task of making of the Indian Constitution.
Gandhi argued, he did not “doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows” and he too has “long pledged to serve the cow.” However, he asked, “How can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.”
Gandhi declared, “How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here. The assumption of the Hindus that India now has become the land of the Hindus is erroneous. India belongs to all who live here.”
Pointing towards the possible consequences of banning cow slaughter, Gandhi said, “If we stop cow-slaughter by law here and the very reverse happens in Pakistan, what will be the result? Supposing they say Hindus would not be allowed to visit temples because it was against Shariat to worship idols? I see God even in a stone but how do I harm others by this belief?”
Pointing out that “some prosperous Hindus themselves encourage cow-slaughter”, Gandhi asked, “Who sends all the cows to Australia and other countries where they are slaughtered and whence shoes manufactured from cow-hide are sent back to India?”
“We really do not stop to think what true religion is and merely go about shouting that cow-slaughter should be banned by law. In villages Hindus make bullocks carry huge burdens which almost crush the animals. Is it not cow-slaughter, albeit slowly carried out?”, he wondered.

Ambedkar on beef eating in ancient India

Ambedkar, in an erudite article, ‘Did the Hindus never eat beef?’ said, “When the learned Brahmins argue that the Hindus not only never ate beef but they always held the cow to be sacred and were always opposed to the killing of the cow, it is impossible to accept their view”.
The article is available in “The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables?” in Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol 7 (Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1990, first edition 1948), and appears on pages 323-28 (click HERE to read full article).
Quoting relevant text, Ambedkar said, those who refer to Rig Veda to support opposition to cow slaughter forget that their “conclusion is based on a misreading and misunderstanding of the texts”, as the “adjective, Aghnya, applied to the cow in the Rig Veda, means a cow that was yielding milk and therefore not fit for being killed.”
Ambedkar underlined, “That the Aryans of the Rig Veda did kill cows for purposes of food and ate beef is abundantly clear from the Rig Veda itself. In Rig Veda (X. 86.14) Indra says: ‘They cook for one 15 plus twenty oxe'. The Rig Veda (X.91.14) says that for Agni were sacrificed horses, bulls, oxen, barren cows and rams. From the Rig Veda (X.72.6) it appears that the cow was killed with a sword or axe.”
Giving more evidence, Ambedkar said, “Among the Kamyashtis set forth in the Taittiriya Bramhana, not only the sacrifice of oxen and cows is laid down, but we are even told what kind and description of oxen and cows are to be offered to what deities. Thus, a dwarf ox is to be chosen for sacrifice to Vishnu; a drooping horned bull with a blaze on the forehead to Indra as the destroyer of Vritra, a black cow to Pushan, a red cow to Rudra, and so on.”
Ambedkar said, “The killing of cow for the guest had grown to such an extent that the guest came to be called ‘Go-ghna’ which means the killer of the cow. To avoid this slaughter of the cows the Ashvateyana Grahya Sutra (1.24.25) suggests that the cow should be let loose when the guest comes so as to escape the rule of etiquette.”
“Such is the state of the evidence on the subject of cow-killing and beef-eating”, Ambedkar commented, though adding, “The testimony of the Satapatha Brahmana and the Apastamba Dharma Sutra insofar as it supports the view that Hindus were against cow-killing and beef-eating, are merely exhortations against the excesses of cow-killing and not prohibitions against cow-killing.”
“Indeed the exhortations prove that cow-killing and eating of beef had become a common practice. That notwithstanding these exhortations cow-killing and beef-eating continued. That most often they fell on deaf ears is proved by the conduct of Yajnavalkya, the great Rishi of the Aryans”, Ambedkar emphasized, adding, “After listening to the exhortation this is what Yajnavalkya said: ‘I, for one, eat it, provided that it is tender’.”
Ambedkar further quoted from the Buddhist Sutras to point towards “the scale on which the slaughter of cows and animals took place.” Insisting that it was “colossal”, he referred to the Kutadanta Sutta “in which Buddha preached against the performance of animal sacrifices to Brahmin Kutadanta. Buddha, though speaking in a tone of sarcastic travesty, gives a good idea of the practices and rituals of the Vedic sacrifices.”
Ambedkar quoted Buddha as saying, “O Brahmin, at that sacrifice neither were any oxen slain, neither goats, nor fowls, nor fatted pigs, nor were any kind of living creatures put to death. No trees were cut down to be used as posts, no Darbha grasses mown to stress around the sacrificial spot. And the slaves and messengers and workmen there employed were driven neither by rods nor fear, nor carried on their work weeping with tears upon their faces.”
Concluded Ambedkar: “With this evidence no one can doubt that there was a time when Hindus, both Brahmins and non-Brahmins, ate not only flesh but also beef.”

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