It has been long since we met. I blame Delhi: This city of netas and smoke and wide avenues doesn’t have enough space to let you amble in grace like our small home town in Andhra Pradesh.
I hear you’ve become quite a celebrity now, surprising for a country that has been content to let you eat waste for centuries. Ministers are asking for you to be made the national animal and the police is invoking the National Security Act for you – as if security was ever your concern, sitting unconcerned at busy intersections for years now.
All this makes my heart swell with joy, but have you heard about the man who was lynched by a mob, which was apparently enraged by some beef rumours but possibly had done little to make your life comfortable or think about your welfare?
Did you also hear about many hundreds of really violent men who have suddenly take up your cause and are beating up people on mere suspicion, leaders who think people should die in order to save you?
They are all doing this because you’re apparently our mother.
Now you know how much I adore you, your graceful cud chewing, your dignified don’t-give-a-damn attitude when you cross busy roads and motorists honk. The inner racist in me even admires your white coat. I have never said anything when you’ve chased me innumerable times, and often moo to regale friends.
But even I am baffled by your new-found maternal status and don’t think its happy news. You know how we treat mothers in this country, moo? We first shame them if they become mothers out of any society-sanctioned ritual. Even if they marry and if it is not within the same sub-caste, religion, region, sexuality etc, only God can save them.
We take away their choice to become mothers by making abortions either impossible to access or incredibly hostile.
We deny them education in the hope of turning them into baby-making machines for whatever crazy demographic project has caught our fancy – the same leaders who are now chanting your name like it’s the new Honey Singh song exhorted women to multiply like cartoon characters not so long ago.
We shame and ostracise divorced or single or older mothers, we boycott breastfeeding, we pay no attention to health services for women or to ensuring they have access to jobs after becoming mothers – indeed our incredible, Swachh, Digital India is extremely unfriendly to mothers in the workplace and ensures they have no realistic chance of financial independence.
The story is not unfamiliar to you, moo, left to eating garbage off city dustbins as we encroach every last park and green space to build our giant flyovers to get investment from foreigners who, incidentally, eat beef.
We have no problems unleashing the exploitative dairy industry on you; we do little to ensure you have food or any habitat. But we will avenge your killing.
Are you seeing the patterns moo? The valourising after death, the neglect in life and sudden ascension to motherhood, only as an excuse to maim and kill, has been used before – with women. They were suddenly elevated as goddesses after a lifetime of crime, hostility and oppression to serve as an excuse to the country’s men.
Believe me, becoming the national animal will mean little, looking at how we’ve killed and maimed and destroyed the habitat of the last national animal.
You’re just a pawn in the hands of those who have probably never laid a comforting hand on you. You’re being used by the powerful who exploit you against the very people who take care of you, who spend their lives with you, who comfort you – the Dalit-Bahujan people, tribals, Muslims and others whose lives are centred around you.
It must feel powerful to be you right now but trust me, this power is not going to last long. Hate has a longer life than this fleeting upper-caste love for the cow and before you can finish chewing that delicious cud, they’d have moved on to the next weapon.
You’ve been my friend for a long time now, so I thought I should warn you. These people aren’t my friends, they aren’t yours and this charade of motherhood isn’t going to last. A peace-loving animal like you won’t support the hate, I’m sure. And I’m sorry, I love you but you’re not my mother, and you shouldn’t trust any fanatic who says so.