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13 October, 2015

The ironies of cow politics

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Two weeks after a man was lynched in a village near Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, no more than 56 km from the national capital, New Delhi, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s role in the duplicitous beef war stands exposed.

A mob attacked Mohammad Akhlaq’s house after a priest of the local temple announced over the loudspeaker that he had killed a calf which had been missing. Some Hindu neighbours went to the family’s rescue but not before Ashlaq was killed and his younger son was seriously injured. The women were unharmed. The older son, who works with the Indian Air Force, was away at Chennai, where he is posted.

The police arrested a few persons, including a local BJP leader’s son and the priest who made the loudspeaker announcement, in connection with the crime. BJP leaders claimed UP’s Samajwadi Party government had picked up innocent persons to placate the Muslims. Forensic examination of meat collected from Ashlaq’s house revealed it was mutton, not beef.

The lynching invited widespread condemnation. BJP leaders played it down and called for a Central law prohibiting cow slaughter in deference to the sentiments of Hindus who consider it a sacred animal.

Last week Ashlaq’s family moved to a house in Delhi for its own safety. The IAF arranged to shift his injured younger son to a military hospital.

A committee of academicians from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University, which conducted a fact-finding study, said the lynching did not happen on the spur of the moment but was pre-planned. It demanded investigation of the role of Hindutva groups in the incident. It also deplored justification of the event by several BJP leaders, including Union Minister Mahesh Sharma, and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his “shameful” silence on the subject.

Modi finally spoke at an election meeting in Bihar state but there was no condemnation of the lynching or the violent speeches of his partymen.

He merely appealed to Hindus and Muslims to stop fighting each other and join hands in the war on poverty. The seemingly statesmanlike appeal reinforced the BJP’s electoral objective of consolidation of Hindu votes by setting the event firmly in a religious context.

The demand for a central law banning cow slaughter was disingenuous since it is already banned under local laws all over the country except Kerala, West Bengal and the tribal northeastern states.

Cow politics abounds in ironies. Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir has the oldest law banning cow slaughter. It was promulgated by a governor of the Sikh empire in 1819 at the request of the Pandit community.

The Pandits, who are Brahmins, cook and serve meat, chicken and fish on Shivratri, the most important festival on their calendar.

Some state laws prohibit killing of all cattle and some others ban only killing of cows and calves. The jail term for cow slaughter varies from six months in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana to 10 years in Jammu and Kashmir.

Hindus constitute an overwhelming 78.35 per cent of India’s population but vegetarians are a minority. Surveys have put the number of vegetarians at 31 to 40 per cent. A 2006 survey, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, found that all-vegetarian families constituted only 21 per cent.

The CSDS found that even among Brahmins, legatees of the Vedic tradition, only 55 per cent were vegetarians. The Lingayats, a Hindu sect which rejects the authority of the Vedas, and the Jains had a higher percentage of vegetarians. At the bottom of the vegetarian table were the Adivasis (12%), Christians (8%) and Muslims (3%).

Incidentally, the Vedas testify to ritual sacrifice of cows and consumption of beef by early Aryans.

While non-vegetarians constitute a majority, frequency of meat consumption is low. Many non-vegetarians avoid beef for religious or sentimental reasons.

Last year India became the world’s leading exporter of beef, accounting for 23.5 per cent of the global trade, pushing Brazil (19.7%) down to the second place. Carabeef (buffalo meat) makes up the bulk of the exports under this head. To make sure that exporters do not ship beef labelled as carabeef the BJP government plans to set up a lab in Mumbai.

India earned $4,781.18 million from beef exports last year. The export business is mostly in the hands of Hindus. Documents published by the media show that Sangeet Som, BJP member of the UP Assembly, who stoutly defended the Dadri lynching, was a founder director of an Aligarh firm which describes itself as a leading producer and exporter of halal meat. -- Gulf Today, October 13, 2015.

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