I am a vegetarian. I do not eat beef, or for that matter, chicken, mutton, or pork. It is difficult in the best of circumstances for me to summon up a firm opinion on all things meat. (More so, perhaps, since my dietary preference has little to do with either ideology or faith). Watching the fervent debate rage online, in the media, and in political circles over the beef ban in the past month,I often felt as bemused as I did the first time I watching the Super Bowl at a US college dorm.
That said, there is no doubt, however, about which side I support in this controversy which is now unfolding with the combination of ardour and absurdity that one has come to associate with the religious right in this country. This is so for a number of reasons.
One, it is impossible for any right-thinking person (pun unintended) to side, or even sympathise, with idiocy. The sheer foolishness of the Hindutva campaign to save the cow is illustrated by two recent bits of news.
The Times of India reports today:
“The Malegaon police, who last week registered the first case under Maharashtra’s new law banning beef, have now issued a diktat to all owners of cows and bullocks in the township: submit to the local police station the photograph of each and every cow and bullock, so that police can keep the pictures in their files for reference just in case a criminal case crops up.”
Apparently, the cops plan to conduct “a census” in order to track and protect the cattle. Anyone who fails to “register” their cattle will likely end up like the Malegaon resident whose five cows were recently confiscated without an FIR or evidence of wrongdoing.
Given our Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s support for the Maharashtra initiative, we can expect cows across the nation to soon enjoy the same privileges. A National ID for cattle. Quick, someone get Nandan Nilekani on it.
Two, dietary dictatorship is undemocratic. No democracy can or should impose the dietary beliefs of one group on all of its citizens.
The bottom-line is that a lot of Indians eat beef. And many of them are Hindu. As evidence, I could point to my various relatives and friends (a form of argumentation recently perfected by Jagdish Bhagwati in The Mint), but the religious identity or number of beef-eaters is incidental to the principle at stake. If even a small number of Indians eat beef (just because they like it) in a democracy, it should be legal. Anyone who mistakes freedom for the tyranny of the majority really needs to go back to school.
Besides, someone spare a thought for the rights of our caged tigers and lions who have been caught in the crossfirebetween an overzealous state government and angry traders. One side has deprived them of beef and the other of buffalo, reducing them to a diet of chicken.
And while we are on the subject of animals, villagers who live near the Kanha Tiger Reserve have long been forgiving of big cats who prey on their cattle (and livelihood). But their government shows no such compassion for humans who eat beef. A person can spend up to 7 years in jail in MP for eating the wrong kind of kebab, even as tigers maul gau mata at will. Such are the crimes against logic committed by this kind of cultural policing.
My third and last reason: The beef ban has little to do with compassion or even reverence for cows. Just look around you in any city, and you will see emaciated, half starved cattle wandering the streets, feeding on garbage. The reality is that raising cows is expensive, and most households who own cows cannot afford to do so. As Firstpost senior editor Pramod Kumar points out , the BJP governments — in Maharashtra and elsewhere — has no plans or funding allocated to the care of the cows ‘saved’ by the beef ban.
And, oh, if the Hindu right thinks that driving beef trade underground is any kind of solution, they are dreadfully mistaken. A PETA investigation, confirmed by the Independent, showed that the black market in beef results in the worst kind of animal cruelty, as cattle are beaten, tortured and brutally killed outside the purview of the state.
Besides, if Rajnath Singh really cares about cows, he may want to take a closer look at the practices of the Indian dairy industry which routinely starves calves to death, keeps dairy animals in inhumane conditions, pumping them full of hormones.
Or we could ban milk, as well, and cheese, and dahi. No? In that case, let’s not be picking on beef and see the ban for what it is: the Hindutva right seizing on an excuse to promote its spurious ‘Hindu rashtra’ agenda. If we truly care for animals, let’s push instead for more stringent regulations requiring humane conditions for all animals, be they raised for dairy or slaughter. Surely that is one agenda that all of us — vegetarians, eggitarians, pork, beef or chicken eaters — can all get behind.