Wednesday, July 16, 2014



Bullet trains and holy cows

If the first Bharatiya Janata Party Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, loved production of nuclear bombs, the second BJP Prime Minister seems to love bullet trains. Ever since a US visa was denied to him, he’s developed love for China and Japan. Obviously, he imported the idea of bullet trains from there.

But there, particularly in Japan, cows do not graze around rail tracks. In some places of China they do. But in neither country are they considered sacred. They are useful animals which are seen as a source of meat and milk.
Former railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav is also worried about this problem. One of the most efficient railway ministers India has had, he fears that the bullet trains might kill more cows than normal trains. Since the sacredness of the cow has increased in our contemporary times, the worry is greater. The death of this animal has caused several communal riots in post-Independence India. Even dead cows found on rail tracks have sparked riots.
To save our animals from bullet trains, the least the modern Kubers, gods of wealth, can do is build walls along the rail roads, on both sides, of course. The Indian rail tracks serve another purpose which should not be overlooked — they are India’s open latrines. In China and Japan, rail tracks do not multi-task as open toilets.
If walls are built all along the rail lines, people used to defecating while watching trains go by will have a problem. Therefore, the government should first build toilets for people who live all along the rail tracks, and then erect walls.
Is the Prime Minister’s Office sure that all along the Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail line people have toilets? Let them conduct a survey and see. I am sure they will then know how developed Gujarat is on this front. In any case, according to the Prime Minister, Maharashtra is not at all developed as it is still being ruled by the Congress. At least there the building of toilets must start immediately.
How does the tech-savvy Prime Minister handle this major spiritual and social contradiction? Assume that a bullet train kills a cow, his party people start rioting against their imagined enemies. What will happen then?
Japan and China are very rational countries. But India is India. Can the railway minister assure the nation that Hindu sadhus and sanyasis will pay the fare and only then travel in bullet trains? So far all trains have been free for them. Must the nation bear their travel cost in bullet trains?
Where does the technical know-how of bullet trains come from? Though Hindu mythological tells us about the existence of Pushpak Viman in ancient India, nowhere does it talk about bullet trains. Hence, the technical know-how has to come from Japan or China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambition to change Hindutva history must be appreciated. The only problem is that the ownership of these bullet trains is being put in the hands of contemporary Kubers.
In the times of Ramayan and Mahabharat, India was a country of raths (chariots) and horses. The raths were meant only for kings and queens. We do not have any information about how the Hindu saints, sadhus and common people travelled. They must have walked as much as possible.
Only after King Ashoka became the ruler did he introduce bullock carts as a mode of transport for commoners.
Though there was a reference to Pushpak Viman, that reference occurs only once when Ram won the war against Ravan and took the Pushpak Viman from him. He is said to have travelled back to Ayodhya in aerial style. It is said that Pushpak Viman was made by Vishwakarma (carpenter) for Brahma, the Hindu god of unequal creation. Brahma gave it to Kuber, the god of wealth.
In India right from the ancient times, the gods of wealth have enjoyed privileges. They got everything they wanted. As the story goes, Pushpak was taken by Ravan from Kuber as he did not like Kuber owning such an high-speed vehicle. Finally, Ram took Pushpak after killing Ravan. Thereafter it disappeared from the Indian transport system.
Perhaps the Vishwakarmas were later declared as shudras because they could never be respected as they had made a high-speed vehicle that was used by Ravan, an unworthy Dravida ruler. Whatever may have happened, the fact is that knowledge of making Pushpak Vimans disappeared from this land.
Later on, the knowledge of making airplanes landed in the West, in the minds of the Wright bothers — Orville and Wilbur of America in the late 19th century.
Since our Vishwakarmas never regained their social status and were not allowed to use modern knowledge of making our own Pushpak Vimans we import them from other countries. We still import airplanes form Europe and America. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh nationalists, with all their swadeshi slogans, have not invented anything.
I do not know when we will have the ability to make vimans in our country, but we will soon be rolling out bullet trains.
When the first Indian train was put on the rails in 1853, between Bombay and Thane, Hindu spiritual gurus and shankaracharyas were opposed to it because they were likely to kill many sacred cows on the way. They were not worried about people grazing the cows getting killed, but more the cows because they were/are sacred, not the humans — particularly lower castes. Those who were taking care of those cows were mostly mlecchas and shudras hence their death hardly bothered the pundits.
However, imported bullet trains will now run in the land of Ram. According to reports in the media, the cost of constructing such rail lines in India is estimated to be Rs 700-1000 million per km ($15-22 million/km). The Mumbai-Ahmedabad route of 500 km will cost Rs 370 billion ($8.04 billion) to build and to make a profit, passengers will have to be charged Rs 5 per km ($0.11/km). This at a time when we do not have black boards in our government schools.
The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

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