Thoughts on economics and liberty

Gandhi on voluntary cow protection (he disliked coercion or laws)

I’m extracting here a few of Gandhi’s comments recorded in his Complete Works – (these are available from my server)

Vol. 10 : 5 August, 1909 – 9 April, 1910

From Hind Swaraj, 22-11-1909

READER: Now I would like to know your views about cow-protection.

EDITOR: I myself respect the cow, that is, I look upon her with affectionate reverence. The cow is the protector of India because, being an agricultural country, she is dependent on the cow. The cow is a most useful animal in hundreds of ways. Our Mahomedan brethren will admit this.

But, just as I respect the cow, so do I respect my fellow-men. A man is just as useful as a cow no matter whether he be a Mahomedan or a Hindu. Am I, then, to fight with or kill a Mahomedan in order to save a cow? In doing so, I would become an enemy of the Mahomedan as well as of the cow. Therefore, the only method I know of protecting the cow is that I should approach my Mahomedan brother and urge him for the sake of the country to join me in protecting her. If he would not listen to me I should let the cow go for the simple reason that the matter is beyond my ability. If I were overfull of pity for the cow, I should sacrifice my life to save her but not take my brother’s. This, I hold, is the law of our religion.

When men become obstinate, it is a difficult thing. If I pull one way, my Moslem brother will pull another. If I put on superior airs, he will return the compliment. If I bow to him gently, he will do it much more so; and if he does not, I shall not be considered to have done wrong in having bowed. When the Hindus became insistent, the killing of cows increased. In my opinion, cow-protection societies may be considered cow-killing societies. It is a disgrace to us that we should need such societies. When we forgot how to protect cows, I suppose we needed such societies.

What am I to do when a blood-brother is on the point of killing a cow? Am I to kill him, or to fall down at his feet and implore him? If you admit that I should adopt the latter course, I must do the same to my Moslem brother.

Who protects the cow from destruction by Hindus when they cruelly ill-treat her? Whoever reasons with the Hindus when they mercilessly belabour the progeny of the cow with their sticks? But this has not prevented us from remaining one nation.

Lastly, if it be true that the Hindus believe in the doctrine of non-killing and the Mahomedans do not, what, pray, is the duty of the former? It is not written that a follower of the religion of Ahimsa (nonkilling) may kill a fellow-man. For him the way is straight. In order to save one being, he may not kill another. He can only plead— therein lies his sole duty.

But does every Hindu believe in Ahimsa? Going to the root of the matter, not one man really practises such a religion because we do destroy life. We are said to follow that religion because we want to obtain freedom from liability to kill any kind of life. Generally speaking, we may observe that many Hindus partake of meat and are not, therefore, followers of Ahimsa. It is, therefore, preposterous to suggest that the two cannot live together amicably because the Hindus believe in Ahimsa and the Mahomedans do not.

Those who do not wish to misunderstand things may read up the Koran, and they will find therein hundreds of passages acceptable to the Hindus; and the Bhagavad-gita contains passages to which not a Mahomedan can take exception. Am I to dislike a Mahomedan because there are passages in the Koran I do not understand or like? It takes two to make a quarrel. If I do not want to quarrel with a Mahomedan, the latter will be powerless to foist a quarrel on me; and, similarly, I should be powerless if a Mahomedan refuses his assistance to quarrel with me. An arm striking the air will become disjointed. If everyone will try to understand the core of his own religion and adhere to it, and will not allow false teachers to dictate to him, there will be no room left for quarrelling.


In calling the cow-protection societies cow-killing societies, I have but stated the truth; for their object is to rescue the cow or protect her by bringing pressure on Mussalmans.

To rescue the cow by paying money is no protection of the cow; it is a way to teach the butcher to be deceitful. If we try to coerce the Mussalmans they will slaughter more cows. But if we persuade them or offer satyagraha against them they will protect her. No cow-protection society is necessary for doing this. That body should be for teaching Hinduism to the Hindus. It is better to kill an ox by a single blow of the sword than to kill it by starving it, by pricking it, by over-working it and thus torturing it.

Vol. 16: 1 September, 1917 – 23 April, 1918

Speech on Cow Protection, Bettiah (About October 9, 1917)

I am thankful to the Gaurakshini Sabha and to you all for inviting me to lay the foundation-stone of the gaushala4 in this town. For the Hindus, this is sacred work. Protection of the cow is a primary duty for every Indian. It has been my experience, however, that the way we set about this important work leaves much to be desired. I have given some thought to this serious problem and wish to place before you the conclusions I have formed.

These days cow protection has come to mean only two things: first, to save cows from the hands of our Muslim brethren on occasions like the Bakr-i-Id and, secondly, to put up gaushalas for decrepit cows.

We do not go the right way to work for protecting the cows against our Muslim brethren. The result has been that these two great communities of India are always at odds with each other and cherish mutual distrust. Occasionally, they even fight. The riot at Shahabad a few days ago bears out my statement. The problem calls for some serious thinking on the part of both the communities. Hundreds of Hindu friends indulged in rioting and looted the property of innocent Muslims. What virtue could there be in this? In fact, it was a very sinful thing to do.

The activities of the Gaurakshini Sabha result in a far larger number of cows being killed than are saved. Hinduism attaches special importance to non-violence. It is the very opposite of religious conduct to kill a Muslim in order to save a cow. If we wish the Muslims not to kill cows, we should bring about a change of heart in them. We shall not succeed by force. We should reach their hearts with prayer and entreaty and achieve our purpose by awakening their sense of compassion. In adopting this course, we should take a pledge that, while seeking to protect the cows, we shall bear no ill-will or malice towards Muslims or be angry with them or fight with them. It is when we have taken up such a reassuring attitude that we shall be qualified to raise the matter with them. It should be remembered that what we regard as sin is not seen in the same light by our Muslim brethren. On the contrary, for them it is a meritorious act to kill cows on certain occasions. Every person should follow his own religion. If it were true that killing of cows was enjoined by Islam, India would have had no genuine peace any time; as I understand the matter, however, killing of cows on occasions like Bakr-i-Id is not obligatory, but Muslim friends imagine it their duty to do so when we seek to prevent them by force. Be this as it may, I have no doubt in my mind that this problem can be solved only by tapascharya. The height of tapascharya on such occasions is to lay down one’s life for the sake of cows.

However, all Hindus are not qualified for such supreme tapascharya. Those who want to stop others from sinning must be free from sin themselves. Hindu society has been inflicting terrible cruelty on the cow and her progeny. The present condition of our cows is a direct proof of this. My heart bleeds when I see thousands of bullocks with no blood and flesh on them, their bones plainly visible beneath their skin, ill-nourished and made to carry excessive burdens, while the driver twists their tails and goads them on. I shudder when I see all this and ask myself how we can say anything to our Muslim friends so long as we do not refrain from such terrible violence. We are so intensely selfish that we feel no shame in milking the cow to the last drop. If you go to dairies in Calcutta, you will find that the calves there are forced to go without the mother’s milk and that all the milk is extracted with the help of a process known as blowing. The proprietors and managers of these dairies are none other than Hindus and most of those who consume the milk are also Hindus. So long as such dairies flourish and we consume the milk supplied by them, what right have we to argue with our Muslim brethren? It should be borne in mind, besides, that there are slaughter-houses. in all the big cities of India. Thousands of cows and bullocks are slaughtered in these. It is mostly from them that beef is supplied to the British. Hindu society keeps silent about this slaughter, thinking that it is helpless in the matter.

As long as we do not get this terrible slaughter stopped, I think it is impossible that we can produce any effect on the hearts of Muslims or protect the cows against them. Our second task, therefore, is to carry on agitation among our British friends. We are in no position to use brute strength against them. They also should be won over by tapascharya and gentleness. For them eating of beef is no religious act. It should be easier to that extent to persuade them. It is only after we have rid ourselves of the taint of violence which I mentioned earlier and have succeeded in persuading our British friends not to eat beef and kill cows and bullocks, it is only then that we shall be entitled to say something to our Muslim friends. I can assure you that, when we have won over the British, our Muslim brethren will also have more sympathy for us and perform their religious rites with some other kind of offering. Once we admit that we are also guilty of violence, the working of our gaushalas will change. We shall not reserve them merely for decrepit cows but maintain there well-nourished cows and bullocks as well. We shall endeavour to improve the breed of cattle and will also be able to produce pure milk, ghee, etc. This is not merely a religious issue. It is an issue on which hinges the economic progress of India. Economists have furnished irrefutable figures to prove that the quality of cattle in India is so poor that the income from their milk is much less than the cost of their maintenance. We can turn our gaushalas into centres for the study of economics and for the solution of this big problem. Gaushalas cost a great deal and at present we have to provide the expenses. The gaushalas of my conception will become self-supporting in future. They will not be located in the midst of cities. We may buy land in the neighbourhood of a city to the tune of hundreds of acres and locate these gaushalas there. We can raise on this land crops to serve as fodder for the cows and every variety of grass. We shall find good use for the valuable manure they yield by way of excrement and urine. I hope you will all give the utmost thought to what I have said. The Gaurakshini Sabha in Motihari has accepted this suggestion. It is my request, in the end, that both these institutions come together and undertake this big task.



I have a feeling that you are saddened after I have taken up my work for Bhangis. I could not, and I cannot, give up my work for Bhangis. But your being unhappy makes me sad and so, when I received your letter, I knew that, though you disapprove of my work for Bhangis, on the whole you don’t disapprove of all my activities. This came to me as a blessing. But I hope for more. In the name of Vaishnava dharma that most sacred dharma is being destroyed; in the name of cow-protection, destruction of cows is brought about; in the name of religion, the most irreligious practices are prevalent; posing to be men of religion, irreligious people lay down the law on religious matters. If I can see these things, how is it that you, who cherish Vaishnava dharma, should not see them? I find myself constantly asking this question. Contact with a Bhangi can never be sinful; killing a Muslim for [saving] cows can never be a righteous act; the holy books can never have enjoined untruth; men who give free rein to their desires ought not to rule in matters of religion; all this is axiomatic. How can there be any difference of opinion about this? Would you not like to use the influence you have acquired over the Vaishnava community towards this end? Can you not help men like me at least with your verbal support? What tapascharya can I go through to make you see things as I see them? I keep asking these questions. Please think [of them] inwardly again.

Letter to the Statesman, 16 January 1918

I said at the meeting that the Hindus had no warrant for resenting the slaughter of cows by their Mahomedan brethren, who kill them from religious conviction, so long as they themselves were a party to the killing by inches of thousands of cattle who were horribly ill-treated by their Hindu owners, to the drinking of milk drawn from cows in the inhuman dairies of Calcutta, and so long as they calmly contemplated the slaughter of thousands of cattle in the slaughterhouses of India for providing beef for the European and Christian residents of India. I suggested that the first step towards procuring full protection for cows was to put their own house in order by securing absolute immunity from ill-treatment of their cattle by Hindus themselves, and then to appeal to the Europeans to abstain from beef-eating whilst resident in India, or at least to procure beef from outside India. I added that in no case could the cow-protection propaganda, if it was to be based upon religious conviction, tolerate a sacrifice of Mahomedans for the sake of saving cows, that the religious method of securing protection from Christians and Mahomedans alike was for Hindus to offer themselves a willing sacrifice of sufficient magnitude to draw out the merciful nature of Christians and Mahomedans. Rightly or wrongly, worship of the cow is ingrained in the Hindu nature and I see no escape from a most bigoted and sanguinary strife over this question between Christians and Mahomedans on the one hand and Hindus on the other except in the fullest recognition and practice by the Hindus of the religion of ahimsa, which it is my self-imposed and humble mission in life to preach. Let the truth be faced. It must not be supposed that Hindus feel nothing about the cow slaughter going on for the European. I know that their wrath is today being buried under the awe inspired by the English rule. But there is not a Hindu throughout the length and breadth of India who does not expect one day to free his land from cow slaughter. But contrary to the genius of Hinduism as I know it, he would not mind forcing, even at the point of the sword, either the Christian or the Mahomedan to abandon cow slaughter. I wish to play my humble part in preventing such a catastrophe and I thank Mr. Irwin for having provided me with an opportunity of inviting him and your readers to help me in my onerous mission. The mission may fail to prevent cow slaughter. But there is no reason why by patient plodding and consistent practice it should not succeed in showing the folly, the stupidity and the inhumanity of committing the crime of killing a fellow human being for the sake of saving a fellow animal.

Vol.17 : 26 April, 1918 – April, 1919

THE VOW OF HINDU-MUSLIM UNITY – April 8, 1919, a leaflet on Hindu-Muslim unity:

The standing complaint of the Hindus against the Mussulmans is that the latter are beef-eaters and that they purposely sacrifice cows on the Bakr-i-ld day. Now it is impossible to unite the Hindus and Mahomedans so long as the Hindus do not hesitate to kill their Mahomedan brethren in order to protect a cow. For I think it is futile to expect that our violence will ever compel the Mahomedans to refrain from cow-slaughter. I do not believe the efforts of our cow-protection societies have availed in the least to lessen the number of cows killed every day. I have had no reason to believe so. I believe myself to be an orthodox Hindu and it is my conviction that no one who scrupulously practises the Hindu religion may kill a cow-killer to protect a cow. There is one and only one means open to a Hindu to protect a cow and that is that he should offer himself a sacrifice if he cannot stand its slaughter. Even if a very few enlightened Hindus thus sacrificed themselves, I have no doubt that our Mussulman brethren would abandon cow-slaughter. But this is satyagraha; this is equity; even as, if I want my brother to redress a grievance, I must do so by taking upon my head a certain amount of sacrifice and not by inflicting injury on him. I may not demand it as of right. My only right against my brother is that I can offer myself a sacrifice.

Vol. 21 : 1 July, 1920 – 21 November, 1920

COW PROTECTION, Young India, 4-8-1920

Cow protection is an article of faith in Hinduism. Apart from its religious sanctity, it is an ennobling creed. But we, Hindus, have today little regard for the cow and her progeny. In no country in the world are cattle so ill-fed and ill-kept as in India. In beef-eating England it would be difficult to find cattle with bones sticking out of their flesh. Most of our pinjrapoles are ill-managed and ill-kept. Instead of being a real blessing to the animal world, they are perhaps simply receiving-depots for dying animals. We say nothing to the English in India for whose sake hundreds of cows are slaughtered daily. Our rajas do not hesitate to provide beef for their English guests. Our protection of the cow, therefore, extends to rescuing her from Mussulman hands.

This reverse method of cow protection has led to endless feuds and bad blood between Hindus and Mussulmans. It has probably caused greater slaughter of cows than otherwise would have been the case if we had begun the propaganda in the right order.

We should have commenced, as we ought now to commence, with ourselves and cover the land with useful propaganda leading to kindness in the treatment of cattle and scientific knowledge in the management of cattle farms, dairies and pinjrapoles. We should devote our attention to propaganda among Englishmen in the shape of inducing them voluntarily to abandon beef, or, if they will not do so, at least be satisfied with imported beef.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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