Fifty Years Ago, Hindutva Groups Led the First Attack on the Indian Parliament

07 November 2016
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Nearly 35 years before the attack orchestrated by the Laskhar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed took place in 2001, on 7 November 1966, a massive protest comprising nearly 125,000 people charged the Indian parliament. The protest was part of a movement for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, led by various Hindutva groups. In his September 2016 story, In the Name of the Mother, Ishan Marvel reported on how the state is nurturing the gau rakshaks, or cow-protection vigilantes, of Haryana. In the following excerpt from the story, Marvel recounts the first-ever attack, and how it was a “a day of violence and vandalism.”

In ancient times, according to many historians, such as DN Jha and Romila Thapar, beef was a part of the diet of most communities living on the subcontinent, including Brahmins. Cows, among other animals, were also sacrificed for many Brahminical rituals. The popular sentiment against cow slaughter began to reify in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the emergence of Hindu nationalism. By the early twentieth century, organisations such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS had started using the cow as a political tool to mobilise Hindus.

In late 1948, during the constituent assembly debates, a few members of the assembly demanded that cow protection be made a fundamental right. However, among others, BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the drafting committee, opposed the idea, preventing India from becoming the first country to provide a fundamental right to an animal. Eventually, a compromise was reached, as a ban on cattle slaughter was declared one of the Directive Principles of State Policy—guidelines to be kept in mind by central and state governments while framing laws. The resulting Article 48 of the Constitution reads, “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the cow mother motif was used by Hindutva groups to rouse religious sentiments among the Hindus.

On 7 November 1966, a movement for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, led by these organisations, culminated in a massive demonstration, when a crowd of nearly 125,000 descended upon Delhi. It was an unprecedented attack on the Indian parliament. (It would be 35 years before the next one, orchestrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in 2001.) The procession started from Roshanara Garden, Red Fort and Ajmal Khan Park. According to archival news reports from The Tribune, around midday, as the mobs neared the legislative centre—with “saffron-robed sadhus” carrying swords, spears and trishuls in the vanguard—“a day of violence and vandalism” began to unfold as the demonstrators laid siege to the surrounding areas of Connaught Place and central Delhi, attacking two electrical substations, Irwin Hospital, the Government of India Press, Delite and Odeon cinemas, and other establishments.

Ishan Marvel is a reporter at Vantage, The Caravan.