17 June, 2021

A Brahmin's Cow Tales

Beef—it's the oldest shibboleth in the Indian mind. It is with textual evidence from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain canons that historian D.N. Jha takes on the sacred cow.

A Brahmin's Cow Tales
For over a month, the mild, balding professor of history, Dwijendra Narayan Jha, has been shuffling to his classroom in Delhi University escorted by a police constable. Teaching ancient history does not usually endanger one's health, but ever since Jha went public with the best-kept secret in Indian history—the beef-eating habits of ancient Hindus, Buddhists and even early Jains in a book titled Holy Cow—Beef in Indian Dietary Conditions—his phone hasn't stopped ringing. "The calls are usually abusive," says Jha, "but sometimes they demand to know what evidence I have, and one day late in July it was an anonymous caller threatening dire consequences if I ever brought out my book."

The calls had two effects on the 61-year-old historian: he called the police and braced himself for battle. "There is a cultural war going on and academics have a role to play," Jha says calmly. But it's not the kind of war that he had anticipated. Even before his book could hit the stands, the vhp exhorted its cadre to confiscate and burn copies. The bjp followed suit: one of its MPs, R.S....

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