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Eighth Henry Volken Memorial Lecture
“Cow Vs. Buffalo: The New Nationalism” Back


Indian Social Institute, Bangalore organized the 8th Henry Volken Memorial Lecture in honor of Fr. Henry Volken SJ, the Founder and the first Director of the institute. This is an important annual event of the institute as it assembles hundreds of people from in and around the city to listen to the current trend in Indian social, economic and political situations. Continuing this tradition, Indian Social Institute, Bangalore organized the 8th Volken Memorial Lecture, on 20 January 2017 at Romero Auditorium. The guest speaker was none other than the leading Dalit campaigner, erudite and a political scientist: Professor Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd who heads the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. He spoke on “Cow vs. Buffalo: the New Nationalism” was the topic as proposed by Dr Selvaraj Arulnathan, Director of the institute. The lecture commenced with lighting of the lampas a mark of our tribute to the founder. Dr Terence Farias, the Vice President of the institute welcomed the gathering. The Director, Dr. Selvaraj Arulnathan chronicled the history of Volken Memorial Lecture Series with the important milestones of the life of Fr. Volken.

The strength of the lecture lay in its refusal to be linear. Prof Ilaiah addressed miscellany of topics beginning with an anecdotal reference to the change in his surname. He argued that his surname was a proud demonstration of his lower caste and an attempt to re-define nationalism that is hegemonically held synonymous with Brahmin surnames. Since surnames serve a “classificatory” function and often become alter-ego, to use Foucault’s term, a conscious choice of the community’s occupation as surname is an overt retaliation of the caste order.

His session was confessional and peppered with tales and stories from his life which immediately struck a chord with the audience. Prof Ilaiah further argued that nationalism in contemporary times was premised on food cultures specifically vegetarian food practices symbolically represented by cow. Buffalo, on the contrary, signified a black threateningly ferocious animal tamed mostly by lower castes and, hence, understood as anti-national. Prof Ilaiah’s highly provocative and scientific statement “Go for non-veg for the growth of brain” made the audience breaks into thunderous applause.

The lecture culminated with a brief vote of thanks by Fr. Jeyaseelan tinged with wit and wisdom. As the audience dispersed, students, academicians, administrators and activists thronged to Professor Kancha and poured avalanche of praises and questions to get more clarity on the ideas he sprouted in their minds. The lecture was a great success and witnessed perhaps the largest number of audience.

Ms. Sharda Sharma 
Coordinator of Women’s Unit