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India: Our own Animal Farm

BJP’s new-found food fundamentalism

Monday 5 June 2017, by siawi3


Our own Animal Farm

Cow vigilantism is a tragedy in many parts — a rousing, a lynching, a reflection of change

by Pamela Philipose

May 10, 2017 1.18 am

The concept behind ‘New India’ is that EPI should replace VIP. EPI means Every Person is Important. We should accept the importance of 125 crore Indians.” Thus spoke Prime Minister Narendra Modi. EPI is a compelling formulation and because it sounds like a statement of conviction, not just intent, it needs to be used as an index to measure the importance of every Indian as they go about their normal lives, plying a trade, commuting, cooking, eating.

How important, if we are to go by this index, was Pehlu Khan, pulverised to death on the Alwar road a month ago for transporting legitimately acquired cattle; or Abu Hanifa and Riyazuddin Ali, lynched in a Jorhat village of Assam the other day, on suspicion of being cow thieves? When Ramesh, Ashok, Vashram, Bechar and three others were publicly flogged for skinning dead cattle in Gujarat’s Una block last July, were they important? Should we consider as EPIs cattle trader Mohammed Mazlum Ansari and his 14-year-old nephew, Mohammed Imteyaz Khan, found hanging on a tree in Jharkhand’s Balumath block last July? Or Rizwan and Mukhtiar, forced to eat cow dung cake for “transporting cattle” a few weeks earlier on a Haryana highway?

What of Mohammed Akhlaq of Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, who was killed in September 2015 after being attacked by bricks and staffs because of the meat in his fridge? Or Salma, whose was brutally thrashed for her bag of buffalo meat at Mandsaur railway station in Madhya Pradesh last year? How important is Manish Mandal, beaten so badly that he could lose an eye for daring to honk loudly to clear cattle on a Bihar road?

Names are important in these stories from the primeval wilderness of the religio-political landscape, although there may be thousands of unnamed people who suffered similarly but haven’t figured in a journalist’s report or a police FIR. A timeline of these incidents indicate how closely they follow shifts in political power. Incidents of cow vigilantism in coastal Karnataka, linked directly to local Sangh affiliates, began to get reported shortly after the NDA assumed power in 2014. The years 2015 and 2016 witnessed an escalation of these attacks in number, scale and intensity, but it is in the brief period right after the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh chief minister this March that there seems to have been a conspicuous spurt.

The newly appointed police chief of the state, in his first public statement, had vowed to crack down on “gau rakshaks”. But his words do not matter when his chief minister expresses impatience, not at the deliberately slow pace of the criminal justice machinery in stymieing such random brutality, but at the lethargy of cow protectors. The yogi has just warned: Mouthing slogans is not enough, “honest efforts” are needed for cow protection. What does this statement mean: More honest bludgeons, more honestly plied?

His words indicate why cow protection has emerged as such a profitable enterprise, with the yogi projecting himself as the first gau rakshak of his state through strategic photo-ops. In all the states where the BJP is now in power, there is a smoothly functioning patronage system for cow protection, not just in terms of large outlays for cow shelters and the like, but through a lower bureaucracy and police that extend all possible assistance for such activities, from issuing licences to cow protectees to ensuring that criminal action is largely reserved for the alleged “cow smugglers/thieves” rather than their murderous, extortionist assaulters.

The monetisation of cow protection encourages the emergence of criminalised gau raksha gangs, but it is the spiritual and moral affirmation bringing them together that allows them to perpetrate brutalities that ordinary people would find repugnant. The ensuing bonding that takes place, at least for the duration of the assault, creates a common purpose, an instant imagined community, as it were. This is also probably why there is a performative dimension to such acts. Young gau rakshas delight in uploading videos of their assaults as trophies on their Facebook page, unmindful of the trail they thus leave behind, or perhaps so overwhelmed by a sense of impunity because of their new connectedness with institutions of power and political benefactors.

Many of those who participate in such actions may be members of politically powerful outfits, but they are also, for the most part, youth — mostly male — with no real future. A cohort that Craig Jeffrey describes well in his book Timepass as young men left in a void, waiting interminably for the non-existent “decent job” to come their way. Feted momentarily as “Bhagat Singh” by their political handlers, a few ride the blood-speckled tide and assume leadership roles in their respective mafia. For the majority, however, it is oblivion that awaits them, if not terms in jail.

This then is a tragedy in many parts.

The writer is a senior journalist



BJP’s new-found food fundamentalism

by Rahul Singh

May 2017

Extremism or fundamentalism is the bane of all religious creeds. It tarnishes almost all the major religions of the world — Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Zionism, some in deadlier ways than others. But in India of the 21st century where the reformist Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rules at the Centre and in several states of the Union, a new form of hindutva-driven extremism is manifesting itself: food fundamentalism.

The BJP chief minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, has set the food fundamentalism ball rolling by ensuring passage of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill (MAPA) 1995, under which consumption of bullock and ox meat is also banned (slaughter of cows was banned in 1976). Since bullocks and oxen are not regarded as holy by Hindus, Sunil Manohar, advocate-general of Maharashtra (who has since resigned), was obliged to provide logical justification for the ban. MAPA, he argued, was legislated to “prevent cruelty to animals”.

He should have known better than to advance this argument. If that was indeed the justification, then why not ban the slaughter of all animals? What about buffaloes, goats and sheep? Are these creatures more deserving to be taken to the slaughter house than bullocks and oxen? Though chicken and fish are considered by some to be lower forms of life, is there any scale to measure suffering?

Food traditions and habits are a tricky business. What is repulsive to one community is considered a delicacy by another. The French love snails and frogs’ legs; the majority of Indians would throw up if these gastronomic delicacies were served to them at the table. In parts of north-east India, as in some countries in the Far East, dogs, monkeys and snakes are commonly consumed. Pork is taboo for Muslims and some orthodox Brahmins refuse to eat anything that grows underground, such as potatoes and onions.

Although hindutva diehards may go blue in the face denying it, respected historians have conclusively established that beef was commonly consumed by Hindus of ancient India. The well-known historian, Dr. D.N. Jha (a former professor of Delhi University), in his authoritative treatise The Myth of the Holy Cow (2002) writes: “The holiness of the cow is a myth.... its flesh was very much a part of the early Indian non-vegetarian food regimen and dietary tradition.”

Holy cow myths and legends apart, what’s particularly insidious about MAPA is its sly targeting of the country’s 150-million strong Muslim community. With the meat trade dominated by this community, thousands of Muslim butchers have been rendered jobless by the ban. India is also the world’s largest exporter of beef, a position now likely to be undermined by the ban. Obviously, the Islamophobe RSS must be pleased by Fadnavis’ gesture, even if it goes against the economic interests of the country and our secular fabric.

Under MAPA, the slaughter of buffaloes is not banned. This has created another problem. Maharashtra government authorities are unable to tell the difference between buffalo and cow meat. Recently, Akram Quereshi, a Muslim meat vendor was arrested for selling beef, after a right-wing Hindu organisation filed a complaint against him. Tests eventually showed it was buffalo meat. Given the nature of our polity, MAPA is bound to be used by the police and municipal officials to harass and extort money from citizens of the beleaguered Muslim community.

A writ petition has been filed in the Bombay high court contesting the constitutional validity and legality of MAPA. One hopes the high court will reject MAPA, even though Sunil Manohar has argued that there’s no fundamental right to eat beef and that the State is fully justified in enacting this legislation to “prevent cruelty to animals”.

Nor is the BJP leadership’s newly discovered food fundamentalism restricted to Maharashtra. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has gone a step further and banned the serving of eggs in anganwadis — nutrition centres for infant children and lactating mothers. This is a particularly ridiculous decision given that in Madhya Pradesh, 52 percent of children are malnourished and only 35 percent of the population is vegetarian. Madhya Pradesh also has the largest number of tribals of any state and 72 percent of their children are malnourished. Since tribals have no inhibitions against eating eggs, Chouhan’s diktat is highly discriminatory against them, and a clear manifestation of caste and communal bias.

India’s myriad castes and communities have differing gastronomic traditions and food habits. Therefore any dietary restrictions imposed upon them abridge the fundamental rights of religious and cultural freedoms of one or other community, and also their right to follow trades and occupations of their choice.

Consequently, every government at the Centre and in the states has a constitutional duty to protect fundamental rights. There may be strong arguments in favour of the benefits of vegetarianism and the ill-effects of consuming red meat. But there’s no case for legally proscribing inherited gastronomic traditions and food habits in a nation which hosts a unique diversity of castes and communities.

Rahul Singh is a former editor of the Reader’s Digest and Indian Express



Virulent vegetarians - Food is central to culture, community and identity

by Manini Chatterjee

3 April 2017

First they went after slaughterhouses. Then they turned to meat shops. Next they will invade our kitchens. That is not all. Yesterday beef was taboo. Today it is mutton. Tomorrow it will be fish and fowl, and eggs too. Let us be warned. The vigilantes are on the rampage and Uttar Pradesh is only their latest stomping ground.

Within 24 hours of being sworn in as chief minister of India’s most populous state, Yogi Adityanath ordered a state-wide crackdown on slaughterhouses. Officially, the drive is targeting “illegal” abattoirs and meat shops, but hundreds of legal slaughterhouses too have been sealed by the administration for violating some rule or other. Since slaughterhouses have to comply with a complex maze of over two dozen rules, it is easy to find some minor infraction to justify a shut down.

As for the plethora of unlicensed operations, ground reports from UP indicate that one key reason for these is that no new licences were issued for the last 15 years, thanks largely to the aggressive movement launched by Adityanath and his Hindu Yuva Vahini musclemen. Afraid to frontally take on the Hindutva brigades, and yet mindful that a significant section of the state’s Muslim populace was directly dependent on the meat trade, the previous state governments allowed the businesses to continue without any official licence.

In any case, abattoirs and meat shops are certainly not the only businesses that operate without a licence. Thousands of small and micro enterprises in India’s teeming informal sector - from vegetable vendors to pan sellers, barber shops to roadside dhabas - thrive in a grey zone that is not strictly legal but far from being criminal.

But then the Adityanath government’s drive has little to do with what is legal or illegal. It stems, on the surface, from a deep-seated hatred towards the Muslim minority and is aimed at crippling them both economically and culturally. In this, Adityanath is not alone. In state after Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state, the drive against meat shops and abattoirs is gaining ground: authorities in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh have also been instructed to ’lay down the law’ and shut down enterprises that have been quietly doing business for years.

And where the law is not on their side, ’persuasion’ in the name of ’sentiment’ is the new tactic. Last week, for instance, a vigilante outfit by the name of Shiv Sena (which Uddhav Thackeray has since disowned) went around shutting hundreds of meat and chicken shops in Gurgaon on the outskirts of the national capital since “Navratri” was on. The group issued notices warning the owners not to open their shops on Tuesdays and during the nine-day festival. A spokesman of the outfit told reporters, “A number of Hindus keep fast during Navratri and every Tuesday. It does not feel good to see meat being sold and served on this day...” Most of the shopkeepers - belonging largely to the minority community - complied with the ’request’, he added.

Hindu Yuva Vahini, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Gau Raksha Dal - these groups go by many names, their activities seemingly uncoordinated, their organizations apparently autonomous. That is just a façade. In truth, they have all been spawned and nurtured by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideology that its practitioners proudly label “cultural nationalism”.

The goal of “cultural nationalism” is the creation of a Hindu rashtra whose primary enemies, on the face of it, are the beef-eating Muslims and Christians. But the real intent of cultural nationalism goes much deeper: it aims at creating a monolithic “Hindu” identity and abhors the bewildering diversity of cultural practices that make up the tapestry of Hinduism.

Food is central to culture, to identity, to community and is not just something we put into our mouths for bodily sustenance. Whether consciously or subliminally, the Hindu Right is deeply aware of this subversive power of taste and tradition and that explains its obsession with the eating habits of people, its aggressive efforts to impose a ’Hindu’ diet that goes well beyond the taboo against cow meat - which itself is far from universal even among practising Hindus in India.

Although individuals in the BJP or even the RSS may be non-vegetarian, the dominant impulse of the sangh parivar is a virulent vegetarianism - signs of which have become much more evident in recent years. BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh have doggedly refused to supply eggs under the school mid-day meal scheme in spite of its proven nutritional value for growing children; vegetarian fare - particularly Gujarati snacks - has become de rigueur at official functions in Delhi; and bans on the selling of mutton, chicken, eggs and fish on Hindu festival days is becoming more frequent.

While vegetarianism is a growing fad in the West too, in India it has a much longer and complex history - deeply entwined with the notions of ’purity’ and ’pollution’ that underlie the caste system. Ages before the famous French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, produced his path-breaking work, The Raw and the Cooked, to explore culture in culinary terms and offered the raw-cooked-rotten food triad, ayurveda divided foods as tamasic (stale or rotten), rajasic (stimulating) and sattvic (pure and calming). Tamasic foods that include all meats were regarded the most inferior and fostered tamas (darkness, sloth, lethargy) while rajasic evoked excitement and passion. A sattvic diet - strictly vegetarian that eschews garlic, onion and spices too - was considered the best, and said to promote calmness and equanimity, the prescribed diet of sages and priests.

Over the centuries, the subtler essence of this classification got vulgarized and food rigidities came to mirror social inequities. The upper castes, in particular the Brahmins, used their vegetarian diet to buttress claims of sattvic superiority over flesh-eating lower castes. Movements like the Arya Samaj also added to the cult of vegetarianism. With Nagpur Brahmins dominating the RSS leadership, the orthodox upper caste Hindu’s visceral revulsion to meat - coupled with fear and loathing for the meat-eating Muslim - became embedded in the sangh’s psyche; as did the myth of the spiritually elevated vegetarian Hindu. Never mind that serenity and equanimity are the last qualities that come to mind when we witness the vitriolic outpourings of the saffron-robed political “yogis” and “sadhvis” in our midst.

What the RSS-inspired vigilantes deliberately overlook is that a vast majority of Hindus are non-vegetarian. According to the Baseline Survey of 2014 by the Census of India, 71.6 per cent of Indian males and 70.6 per cent of Indian females are non-vegetarian. In Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Bengal, the figure crosses 98 per cent. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Odisha closely follow, with over 97 per cent non-vegetarians, while the figure is 93 per cent in Bihar. And, as is well known, Brahmins, too, are traditionally and determinedly non-vegetarian in states such as Kashmir, Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Odisha and along the western coast.

Yet, there is a concerted effort to push vegetarianism as quintessentially Hindu - and imposing this stealthily through a combination of coercion and persuasion, fear and shaming. Non-vegetarians, rarely, if ever, force anyone to eat meat - respecting the tenets of dietary freedom that militant vegetarians increasingly refuse to reciprocate. Sadly, meat-eating Hindus have not come out in protest against “Navratri” fiats that are slowly becoming the norm. Nor have they shown any solidarity so far with the hapless butchers and cooks who dish out delicious kababs and biryanis that millions of Hindus consume with gusto. The saffron mobs, backed by State power, may be targeting the visible “Other” today. Tomorrow it will be the rest of us, our choice of cuisine, our way of life...