What the beef ban is really about?

Just 50 km from Delhi, a man is lynched by a murderous mob for the alleged crime of eating beef. The brutality of the very act shook the entire country. The death of Mohd Ikhlaque cannot be seen in isolation from the strings of bans that BJP governments have been imposing across the country. While bans have been time and again used for political gains, the politics of food and the banning of certain food products have been accentuated after the NDA government came into power.

Md. Ikhlaq - lynched by hindutva fanatic
Md. Ikhlaq – lynched by hindutva fanatic

The government’s policies of banning cow slaughter in Maharashtra and including bulls and buffaloes, its extension of the ban on sale of all kinds of meat during the Jain festival of Paryushan for eight long days, similar imposition of beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir by the court and government imposed in other BJP ruled states, ushered in a new kind of politics of culture. Suddenly politicians turned enthusiasts of vegetarianism and regarded eating meat as an alien practice to Indian culture. Quoting the benefits of vegetarianism, they didn’t see anything wrong in such imposed initiatives!

Coming to the incident in Dadri, an announcement was made by the village priest about a carcass of a calf being found and he alleged Mohd Ikhlaque’s family of slaughtering the calf. This was followed by some inciting images being circulated on social media. It took no time for a 2000 strong mob to come together and march towards Ikhlaque’s house with murder on their minds. After manhandling the women of the family, the mob rained blows on Ikhlaque and his young son Danish. The attack was such that it left Ikhlaque dead and his son severely injured. Danish is still struggling for his life.

Politics of holy cow has always been a favourite of right wing Hindu political outfits. In 2002, five Dalit youths were murdered in Jhajjhar, Haryana in relation to cow slaughter. With the ban on cow slaughter being extended to more and more states, cow slaughter is being equated to murder eligible for strict punishment, the killing of men retaliation to cow slaughter is regarded as just consequences and outbursts of justified anger.

We Love Beef & Riots too - a poster by Thma U Rangli Juki

Beef bans have led to the rise of an intolerant politics that regards India as a Hindu nation. Beef bans, anti-minority rhetoric of the government of the day have led to a subtle endorsement of such heinous crimes. A week ago a man was lynched in Kanpur. He was rumoured to be a Pakistani spy. But does that justify his murder? Mobs indulge in such acts because at the back of their mind, they believe that their work enjoys subtle support of their political bosses and they can get away with it. One must wonder what the police was doing in Kanpur and Dadri when a mob was having its way.

Those who have been following the simmering communal tension in Western Uttar Pradesh since the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, will not find the Dadri lynching shocking. BJP leaders at the local level made communally coded speeches. A number of intolerant groups like Pratap Sena came up at the local level. Yogi Adityanath led Hindu Yuva Vahini have also become very active in western UP. Such groups have accentuated the process of communal polarization along with a spurt in rumours and incidents related to cow slaughter.

Beef Market, Iewduh, Photo: Whitemonk
Beef Market, Iewduh, Photo: Whitemonk

While civil society outrightly condemned this gruesome murder, it met a silent response from the government. There were however certain justifications from the BJP camp. BJP leaders not only called the murderous mob innocent children who were instigated, but even went as far as to make absurd statements that killing someone for slaughtering cow is justified as even Gandhiji opposed cow slaughter! They didn’t care to state that Mahatma Gandhi also opposed imposition of beef ban on non-Hindus.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]But is the ban really about the love and reverence for the cow?[/pullquote]

But is the ban really about the love and reverence for the cow?

If that was the case then why is beef not banned in BJP ruled Goa and the Northeastern states. While the Chief Minister of Goa stated that beef being an essential part of Goan cuisine, it cannot be banned in the state, similar consideration figured in case of the northeastern states where beef is again a part of the staple diet of the people.

India continues to be the largest beef exporter and the government didn’t bother to stop it. The top four meat exporting companies are owned by non-Muslims. Some even hope that the ban on cow slaughter in domestic market will actually help their business. The beef ban has left the beef exporting industry untouched. But it ruined the lives of those small time traders who are engaged in beef trading and leather industry.

As opposed to what the right wing fanatics will have us believe, beef is not even consumed only by Muslims. Rather it is a common food item for Christians, Dalits, tribals and adivasis. The ban have denied these people a cheap source of protein. The agriculture sector of India continues to suffer, this ban has put an additional burden on farmers with regard to how to dispose the old and infirm cattle. If not sell them to slaughter house, who will pay the farmers for the maintenance of these animals when farmers are themselves reeling under debt.

The absence of uniformity with regard to the beef ban points to a sinister politics at play. The ban seems to be used selectively to polarize people hoping it would translate to electoral gains. As such it has left pockets like Goa and the Northeast untouched believing that such policy will not help in garnering votes in these states.

People who have lived together for generations, shared meals during festivities feel threatened with the upsurge in such communal politics. Communal harmony stands shattered in Dadri. A collective attack on an individual seems like an aim to send out a message to the ‘other’ community. In such engineered conflicts, the common people become tools as well as sufferers.

Ban on any kind of food is an imposition of one culture on another. And ironically a secular democratic state is being used to implement such bans. There is a need to bust the myth that eating meat is something alien to our culture. D N Jha’s book The Myth of the Holy Cow proves how our ancestors relished beef. There is also a need to reject this politics which renders an animal’s life much more precious than that of a human being.

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Parvin Sultana Written by:

Parvin Sultana hails from Dhubri and is currently working as an Assistant Professor in P B College in Gauripur, Assam. Her research interests include gender, Muslim politics and migration

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