Preaching Gauneeti at Foreign Land

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted 200 cows to poor villagers in Rwanda to mark his visit to the country on July 24. These locally sourced cows will add to the Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s Girinka programme initiated in 2006. Mr Kagame’s dream project of giving cows to poor families that does not have one is intended to provide both nutritional and financial security to the poor. Of course such agrarian projects will alleviate poverty, tackle childhood malnutrition, and improve agricultural productivity.

Mr. Modi who knows the value of cow more than anyone must have carefully chosen this gesture presumably to avail an opportunity to preach gauneeti (cow politics) to Indians from a foreign land. The PM said that India would be pleasantly surprised to see the cow being given great importance in Rwanda as a means of economic empowerment in villages. Mr. Modi might not be as much unaware that beef provides Rwandans with health security as well. But for Rwandan neighbourhoods which were drastically torn by the notorious genocide, gifting cows to neighbours has a different political and spiritual significance: reconciliation of communities.

Rwandan Holocaust

I came to know about Rwanda while reading a book named Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. The book was written by Immaculee Ilibagiza, a young woman who survived the horrific Rwandan holocaust. In 1994 when she was hardly 22 years old her idyllic nation was ripped apart and fell into a bloody genocide. Rwandan genocide is one of the worst modern massacres that even outdid Nazi Holocaust. The world remained mute spectators as the majority government run by Hutu ethnic group cleansed almost a million Tutsi people within three months. That amounted to almost 70% of the Tutsi population.

23. Picture 1 Rwanda Baptismal Record

Baptismal records in Nyarubuye lie in the debris of a Roman Catholic Church where Tutsi refugees and moderate Hutu had sought shelter from the Interahamwe—a militia group armed with machetes, rifles, and grenades. (Picture Credit: Gilles Peress, National Georgraphic)

Though Ilibagiza lost her family during the killing spree, she incredibly survived the slaughter. For 90 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor, while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them. The tonic of her survival was faith in God and the regular praying of rosary. In Left to Tell Ilibagiza describes her personal experience of how walking by Christian faith she could forgive the murderers of her family and those who wiped off Tutsis.

Rwanda is the modern day stain of ethnic clashes instigated by spread of hate and fake information. On 6 April 1994, an airplane carrying the autocratic Hutu president Mr. Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali, the Rwandan capital. The Hutu had spread the false propaganda that the Tutsi have perpetrated the plane tragedy and set to slaughter almost a million people. The ethnic cleansing marooned thousands of widows and orphan children.

Claiming Lives by Casting Hate

The day before Mr. Modi visited the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Centre, the final resting place of over 250,000 victims, back in India a mob attacked Akbar, a young Muslim man, just because he was leading a cow he purchased to his home. Contrary to Akbar’s dream of securing his family by selling milk, the cow caused his own death. He was the sole breadwinner for a large family which includes wife and seven children. The police took more than half-an-hour to reach the spot, but they first ferried the cows to a shelter before taking the victim to the hospital just 4 km away from the spot. Then they picked up Akbar, washed him, stopped to have tea, got his clothes changed at the police station and then took him to the hospital, where he was declared brought dead. The post mortem report suggested that he died of “shock as a result of ante-mortem (before death) injuries sustained over body.” Of course, Akbar who reared a dream around the newly purchased cow, must have dreaded the indifferent spectators and inactive police than the violent mob!


Incidents of violent deaths triggered by hate speech and social exclusion are increasing in India particularly after 2014. Fake news about cow smuggling and child lifting has already claimed many lives and left their families unsettled. An atmosphere of mutual distrust and fear is growing which many people fear as an ill-omen before the 2019 election. Cow politics is resurging with its ugly horns threatening the peace and life of minorities and other social classes.

PM Modi, who showed much concern about Rwandan social security, however does not seem to be interested in soothing the very fragile social situation in his home country. Shashi Tharoor’s accusation of Modi’s deafening silence on mobocracy and extermination of intellectuals and activists unravels the Government’s complacency. The BJP takes a defensive stand on mob lynching while the police is left unbridled whose inaction has claimed lives in most lynching cases. The subsequent comments by politicos vindicates that BJP is least concerned about ending mobocracy.   Yogi Adityanath reportedly said that mob lynching cases are given unnecessary importance and cows are as important as human beings. The Wire reports that the Alwar act was done with the support of VHP and BJP, while The Print claims these mob attacks are the result of manufactured Hindu fury.

Art of Forgiving and Forgetting

It was forgiveness and reconciliation that helped Ilibagiza as well as Rwanda to emerge from grudge and despair to find new horizons of peace and development. After the genocide many programmes were initiated for social harmony and national development. One of the great initiatives is the monthly day of service known as Umuganda. Every able-bodied Rwandan citizen between the ages of 18 and 65 must take part in community service for three hours once a month to tackle some public works problem. This compulsory work is emblematic of a broader culture of reconciliation, development and social control asserted by the government.

Indians cannot leave themselves to be plunged into manufactured destiny of social disharmony. Discipline and patriotism cannot be taught in military style but is learned in atmospheres where people from different sections are allowed to work in congruence and mutual trust. A fragmented nation cannot advance unless they are ready to reconcile themselves and fix its democracy. Government should think of a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission to coordinate peace mission between communities. A peace curriculum shall be followed in schools and universities. Let peace and harmony be discussed at our coffee tables and in training sessions of public and private human resource training. MPs and MLAs shall be educated for peace building. Otherwise India would gradually be digging its own graveyard just as Rwanda did two decades ago.

Read Also: Time to Turn Swords into Ploughshares

This article was published in Indian Currents on 30th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 31