Roots of the Cow Protection Movement in Sri Lanka

By PKBalachandran / Daily Mirror

The Sri Lankan government will enact a comprehensive law banning the slaughter of cows. The government presents the ban as an economic and development-oriented measure aimed at improving domestic milk production and ensuring better incomes for farmers.

There are strong arguments against the theory that a ban on cow slaughter will produce economic benefits. If there is a ban, what will farmers do with cows that have stopped producing milk? What will they do with unusable bulls? According to Dr Chandre Dharmawardana, Sri Lanka does not have enough pasture and water to have a thriving dairy sector that can avoid milk imports. If the cattle cannot be killed, the beef cannot be exported. To meet the needs of Christian and Muslim minorities, beef will be imported, according to the government. But imported beef is sure to be too expensive for most people.

Either way, the unspoken reasons for the proposed ban appear to be cultural, semi-religious and political. This raises the question of whether the cow is worshiped in Sinhala Buddhism as it is in Hinduism. James Stewart, in his article Protection of cows in Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka (2013), points out that while it will be incorrect to say that Sinhala Buddhists “worship” the cow in the same way as Hindus in India, it cannot be denied that Sinhala Buddhists have a “high opinion” of cattle. They make special efforts to protect the livestock. Many, if not all, renounce the ox.

Stewart points out that strong supporters of the cow slaughter ban refer to the Suttanipata in which the Buddha is said to have condemned the ritual slaughter of cows by kings. “Neither by their feet, nor by their horns, nor by anything else, the cows did not harm (anyone). They were like sheep, gentle, giving buckets of milk. (Nevertheless) the king, seizing them by the horns, had them killed with a knife, ”observed the Buddha.

However, Stewart notes that allusions to the slaughter of cows in the Buddhist canon are “extremely rare.” He is “completely overwhelmed by repeated claims that all sentient beings, everywhere, should be treated with kindness and non-violence.” In other words, Buddhism does not give any special place or show any special favor to the cow. For Hindu Indians, on the other hand, the cow is “the” sacred animal.

However, Sinhala-Buddhist and Indian Hindu attitudes towards the cow have a similar origin. And they’ve had a similar trajectory, too, says Stewart. In both India and Sri Lanka, cow protectionism was not part of their early religions. According to historian Dwijendra Narain Jha (The myth of the sacred cow 2001), there was no injunction against the slaughter of cows in ancient times and this “worship” of the cow with an injunction against its slaughter came later in order to distinguish Hindus from other people. denominations or strangers. Likewise, in Sinhala Buddhism, cow protectionism or ox abjuration has no scriptural sanction (expect them to be taken as part of a moral duty to be kind to people. animals in general).

As in India, Sri Lanka, the sensitivity on the life of a cow arose when distinguishing Sinhala Buddhists from Portuguese, Dutch, British and followers of the Abrahamic religions Christianity and Islam. Moreover, what began as a cultural marker and divider gradually took on a political character when it came to forming groups for the pursuit of political power. It is in this phase that the protectionism of the cow took an aggressive character showing intolerance, marginalization and violence.

The anti-Muslim riots of 1893 in the Indian pilgrimage centers of Benaras and Hardwar began as a protest against the slaughter of cows by Muslims. When Mahatma Gandhi discovered that the problem of cow slaughter was preventing Hindus and Muslims from uniting against the British, he made a fervent appeal to Muslims to voluntarily abandon cow slaughter. Earlier, Mughal Emperor Akbar had banned the slaughter of cows in parts of his empire in the name of peace between his subjects.

In Sri Lanka, too, cow protection has become an issue amid the influx of people from Europe, says Stewart. Robert Knox, who was a prisoner of the King of Kandy in the late 1600s, discovered that many Kandyans looked down on captive Europeans, whom they pejoratively referred to as “beef-eating slaves.” Stewart reports that even today, a pejorative dietary label is applied to non-Sinhalese, especially Muslims.

Writing in one of the Sri Lankan dailies, Aryadasa Ratnasinghe says that when the Portuguese became a power in Sri Lanka in the 16eDuring the century and the decline of Buddhism, beef consumption became acceptable. But opposition arose with the advent of the Sinhalo-Buddhist revival movement in the latter part of the 19th century under the leadership of Anagarika Dharmapala. Dharmapala went from place to place in his vehicle, displaying a banner that read Gawa mas nokanu (Don’t eat beef).

Eventually, the Dharmapala anti-cow slaughter movement fizzled out, but was only revived in the 2000s when radical Buddhist groups like the Bodu Bala Sena and the Sinhala Ravaya took it over as part of their campaign. campaign against “Muslim cultural separatism”. Cow protection has been added to anti-Halal and anti-Burqa certification campaigns. In 2013, a 30-year-old Buddhist monk, Bowatte Indraratna Thera, set himself on fire in front of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy in 2013.

Buddhist monk Bowatte Indraratne immolates himself to call for a ban on the slaughter of cows

Stewart quotes the work of Shriya Rathnakāra, Give us Space to live, say that Buddhist doctrine urges animal non-killing and vegetarianism. Rathnakāra uses the Mettasutta to support his cause. Bhikkhu Hivipāṇo, in his book The question of vegetarianism, promotes the non-slaughter of all animals, not just cows. Yet, the cow ranks first in animal welfare campaigns in Sri Lanka. The “Organization for the Preservation of Life” used cow protectionism to popularize its case. This is because the cow is “worshiped”, if not worshiped, by Sinhala Buddhists. It is for the milk he gives. Milk is regarded as the source of life, and the cow is assimilated to the “mother” who gives life and who loves. In support, Stewart emphasizes the veneration of Kiri amma.

“The Organization for the Preservation of Life carries a piece of advertising that prominently uses an image of Śhiva, Parvātī and Kāma Dhenu – the latter, of course, being a precursor deity of Kiri Ammā. An organization notice board carries a photo of a cow with a caption asking “How can we eat this?” »On the Facebook page of Gawa mas nokanu community, there is a photo of a terrified teary eyed cow in a slaughterhouse with a caption asking “Are we the only ones afraid of death?”

Stewart’s case is that the “key motive behind cow protectionism in the Sinhala animal welfare movement is rather concerned with establishing a Buddhist identity that is constitutive of non-violence and animal protectionism.” This is conveniently represented by the symbol of the cow, a passive, nurturing, harmless creature, etc.

This is also true of cow protectionism in India. And in both countries, he was co-opted for ethnic, religious and political purposes. The cow protection movements in Hindu India and Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka are helping to establish the claim that Hinduism and Buddhism are nonviolent religions that allow cows to thrive unlike others.

But the difference between the Indian and Sri Lankan case is that, unlike the Indian case, cow protection is not isolated in Sri Lanka. It is part of the larger animal welfare movement, although the primacy is given to the protection of cows. And the animal welfare movement, in turn, is seen as synonymous with Sinhala Buddhist nationalism that fuels much of Sri Lankan politics.


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