Beast of a nation: What Shaktiman’s death says about India

  • CP Surendran, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 22, 2016 21:00 IST
Shaktiman, the Uttarakhand police horse that was attacked during a BJP rally in March, died in Dehradun on Wednesday. (Vinay Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times)

On Wednesday, a few things were explained when the horse Shaktiman died. And none of it had to do with the gangrene the animal died of.

No matter how much one swears by the Vedas, and how long one holds forth on nationalism, the point of respect for life, animal or human, is missing from the grand narrative of this country.

Shaktiman was a horse on duty — it was from the Uttarakhand mounted police. The Opposition in the state, BJP, had staged a “rally in protest against corruption” of the Congress-government in power on March 14.

Under the leadership of MLA Ganesh Joshi, party men beat the horse, which backed away till one of its hind legs got caught in the gap in between a railing. The beating continued. The leg was broken. They had to amputate the limb, and replace it with a prosthetic prop. The horse never recovered. Ganesh Joshi expressed regret, but his party blamed the Congress government for the animal’s death as it was not given adequate care.

Read more | Cut my leg if found guilty, says BJP MLA Joshi after Shaktiman dies

You will note that already the debate has deteriorated. What’s being scored are brownies, that abiding passion of a whole noise-loving people.

What does it say of India?

It explains the hadal depth of our political discourse. In any civilised country, say, Norway or Finland, the man responsible for abusing an animal would not continue to hold a public office. Joshi is still a MLA.

Ironically, the sacrifice of the horse is in keeping with the Vedic tradition. So in that respect, Hindu India has been faithful to its customs.

Read more | Police horse Shaktiman shows sign of slow recovery

The first horse – mythical to some, historical to many, depending on how we see myth as history or vice versa – rose from the bottom of the sea. Its colour was white, just as Shaktiman’s. Its name was Uchchaihshravas.

Indra took it with him to his abode in the heavens, and later gave it to man after cutting off its wings to ensure it does not fly away. Indra probably had a rough idea of the nature of the people to whom he gave the animal to.

Indra clips the horse’s wings; down the ages, we graduate into breaking its legs. Both acts mean the same thing: You take from the animal the quality it is purposed for – speed and freedom.

It’s not just Shaktiman.

As a people we must ask ourselves when will we move up to a society that respects life. Worshipping the cow is a selective measure. A horse is as sacred as a cow. Or a pig. Or a dog. Or a human. This writer is against killing of animals.

The real reason for raising questions on beef consumption is not the Vedas, it is that large mammals have a well-developed central nervous system and the pain they suffer is comparable to that of humans. But cow worshippers are unable to articulate this argument because it hasn’t struck them. It’s a measure of their sensitivity. Or the lack of it.

Shaktiman’s death reduces the livestock population of Indian by just one. But according to the census figures, there has been a 24% drop (6.25 lakh) in India’s livestock population from 1992, recorded at 8.17 lakh. The large number of cattle left to die of starvation in the drought stricken hinterlands is a partial explanation for this state of affairs.

The real explanation perhaps lies closer to the bone. We are just a cruel people. For instance, the state of our orphanages and the homes of the poor run both by the government and private individuals represent horrid tales of callousness. According to one study, close to 18 million children wander the Indian streets, in a state not much better than unclaimed cattle. It would be revealing to know how many related questions – and actionable answers – have been raised in Parliament over the years.

“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse,” says Richard the Third in the battlefield. That line from Shakespeare might well be written as an epitaph for Shaktiman, and the country that clipped first its wings, and then broke its legs.

The writer is a senior journalist and author. The views expressed here are personal.

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