By Shambu Jayachandran
In September 2015, when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by his neighbors on the mere suspicion of possessing beef, it became clear that the era of cow vigilantism had begun in India. This was the first of the spate of such incidents and thrashing and lynching have become the norm of the day. While we kept on hoping that Narendra Modi would soon break his silence and criticise the vigilantes, the Centre, on May 26, 2017, announced a ban on purchase of cattle from animal markets. The government includes cows, bulls, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels within the blanket term of cattle.
Harsh Vardhan, the minister in charge of environment portfolio, has made it clear that the ban is very specific and seeks to regulate cattle trade and prevent illegal transportation of livestock under the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act. It, however, doesn’t extend to goats and sheep.
The hullaballoo over ban on cow slaughter began soon after the BJP came to power in 2014. In the recent UP elections the party had mentioned in its election manifesto the intention to crackdown on ‘illegal abattoirs’ and with Yogi Adityanath at the helm, the move has hurt the livelihood of many, most of them Muslims, and led to a drop in production of buffalo meat by 40% as was reported by The Times of India on March 26.
The ban being extended to the entire country was not welcomed by all with West Bengal and Kerala chief ministers vowing to move court against the central government. While the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan has called the move an intrusion on federal powers, Mamata Banerjee has expressed concern over the fate of the tannery industry.
The move, which seeks to satisfy the 80% of the Hindu population of India, proves clearly that the BJP government is now hand in gloves with the RSS to pursue the Hindu agenda. Amidst growing rift across cross sections of our society, the ban pushes for a vegetarian image of Hinduism completely overlooking the large percentage who are non-vegetarian. The move deals the maximum blow to cattle traders, butchers, tannery workers most of whom are lower caste Muslims, Christians and Dalits, thereby championing Brahmanical dominance. The move also refuses to acknowledge Hindus from the North East and the East for whom consumption of beef is not considered blasphemous. The attempt to extend the hegemony of the Hindi heartland is being pursued through ‘food fascism’.
According to a report by The Hindu on August 10, 2015, India was the leading exporter of beef and exported 2.4 million tons of beef in 2015. Exporters are, however, worried that the new rule will hit them the hardest. “The new rules of buffalo trade on which we were not consulted has come as a surprise and shock for the industry,” said Fauzan Alavi, spokesperson for the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, the trade lobby of buffalo meat exporters, as was reported by Livemint on May 27.
While the environment ministry pushes for the ban, many feel that the ban will lead to a boom in the number of crippled, ageing and ill cattle and put a financial strain on the farmers, most of whom are already heavily in debt. The increased number of animals will put an additional pressure on the depleting pastures and upset the ecological balance, many fear.
The ban on cattle slaughter goes against the secular credentials of the Indian constitution. By including camel in the list which is slaughtered by Muslims across the globe as part of Qurbani or sacrifice during Eid-al-Adha, the Centre has made clear its anti-Muslim stand. It will be interesting to note in this context that last year the Arab country of Bahrain had rejected a proposal to ban pork (considered unholy in Islam) keeping in mind the non-Muslims working there.
There have been sporadic protests in different parts of the country, especially in the South with political parties in Kerala organizing beef fests. Students of IIT Madras also organized a protest and one of the students was severely beaten up by alleged ABVP goons. A BJP leader in Meghalaya quit protesting the cultural imposition.
The ban on cow slaughter underlines boldly the majoritarian politics of the incumbent and undermines the law of the land. The vigilantes often post videos of their lynching which exposes their absolute lack of fear of authorities. India is no more a land for the minorities and the marginalized and a good Indian is one who sacrifices his freedom at the altar of majority appeasement.