Guest Post By Subhash Gatade
To the question whether the Hindus ever ate beef, every Touchable Hindu, whether he is a Brahmin or a non-Brahmin, will say ‘no, never’. In a certain sense, he is right. From times no Hindu has eaten beef. If this is all that the Touchable Hindu wants to convey by his answer there need be no quarrel over it. But when the learned Brahmins argue that the Hindus not only never ate beef but they always held the cow to be sacred and were always opposed to the killing of the cow, it is impossible to accept their view…
– B. R. Ambedkar1
“Did the Hindus never eat Beef?” Dr Ambedkar has dealt with this specific issue holistically in his various writings and has also tried to link it with emergence of ‘untouchable’ castes.
At a time when the saffrons are keen to appropriate Ambedkar – who had time and again cautioned his followers about the dangers of Hindu Raj2 and appealed to them to fight the twin enemies of Brahminism and Capitalism – and present him as someone who not only endorsed the Hindutva project but also opposed beef eating as cow was sacred to Hinduism, it would be opportune to pose this question afresh before them.
You may encounter either complete silence or sudden eruption supposedly to ‘drown’ the question itself. Either way they would demonstrate that they very well understand that getting into debate over this issue has the possibility and potential of subverting the very edifice built by them which blames ‘outsiders’ especially Islam or Muslim rulers for many of the ills of our society. They very well know that there is a world of difference between the idea of Hindutva promoted by them and what Ambedkar thought.
Taking into consideration this complete dissonance in both viewpoints and keen to lure Dalit masses in their dubious project of Hindu consolidation, the saffrons have devised a clever strategy of carving out a sanitised version of Ambedkar devoid of his revolutionary vision and bracketing him in its pantheon of leaders – comprising of Hedgewar, Savarkar, Golwalkar etc – whom it considers as ‘Pratah Smaraniya‘ (worth remembering in the morning) . And glossing over his direct attacks on Hinduism and his declaration in mid-thirties that ‘he may be born a Hindu but would not die a Hindu’ and implementing it ultimately by accepting Buddhism along with lakhs of his followers few months before his death, they are keen to project him as a Hindu social reformer to befool the Dalit masses.
For a politics which is based on exclusion and hatred of ‘others’ one cannot expect anything better. Selective amnesia vis-a-vis his contributions is an integral part of their project of adopting or assimilating Ambedkar to suit needs of their divisive politics.
Interestingly this approach of selective appropriation or remembrance of leaders who were not quite amenable to the project of Hindu Rashtra is not limited to them only. It is extended even to those personalities/leaders also whose worldview largely converges with the saffrons themselves.
Take the case of Swami Vivekanand, who is much celebrated and glorified in the Hindutva circles as one of their own. Not a day passes when Sangh and the plethora of affiliated organisations forget to lay claim to his legacy. While the RSS shies away from probing the past Vivekanand is more objective in revisiting it and thus one discovers that he is also not on the same page on the issue of beef eating with them.
While speaking to a large gathering at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, USA (2 February 1900) on the theme of “Buddhistic India” he is reported to have said:
“You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.” 3
Ram Puniyani tells us in his write-up “Beef, Pink Revolution and Identity Politics” (http://www.carvaka4india.com/2014/05/beef-pink-revolution-and-identity.html) that this is corroborated by other research works sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission established by Swami Vivekananda himself. One of these reads:
“The Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmanas, ate fish, meat and even beef. A distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. One of the words that designated cow was aghnya (what shall not be killed). But a guest was a goghna (one for whom a cow is killed). It is only bulls, barren cows and calves that were killed.” 4
Savarkar, Pioneer of the concept of ‘Hindutva’ seems more blunt where he emphasises ‘the cow is neither God nor mother but purely a useful animal. We should not worship it but we must breed and nurture the animal because we can reap the best advantages from it’.5 In his Marathi book ‘X kirane’ he also lambasts cow worship by saying that if someone from the animal kingdom is worth worshipping, then why not start worshipping pig also as among the nine lives/avatar of Vishnu , there is one which is Varahvatar (Varah stands for pig) also. He also mentions that there are references even in ‘Vedas when cow was slaughtered’ (..’gomedhhi vedadikat turalakpane ullekhile aahet’ X- kirane,(Savarkar,Marathi book, Page 16) Interestingly he also hints that at its ‘destruction’ when it ‘ceases to be worthy of sustenance’
Animals such as the cow and buffalo and trees such as banyan and peepal are useful to man, hence we are fond of them; to that extent we might even consider them worthy of worship;!.. Does it not follow then that when under certain circumstances, that animal or tree becomes a source of trouble to mankind, it ceases to be worthy of sustenance or protection and as such its destruction is in humanitarian or national interests and becomes a human or national dharma?6 (emphasis mine)
It is an open secret that the saffrons while eulogising Vivekanand, Savarkar etc prefer to keep mum about many such aspects of their ‘explosive’ observations.
For them ‘Maunam sarvatra sadhanam‘ (Silence serves the purpose)
“My brief was to prevent any ban on cow slaughter. It was important for us in the dairy business to keep weeding out the unhealthy cows so that available resources could be utilised for healthy and productive cattle. I was prepared to go as far as to allow that no useful cow should be killed. This was the point on which the Shankaracharya and I invariably locked horns and got into heated arguments. I constantly asked him, ‘Your Holiness, are you going to take all the useless cows which are not producing anything and look after them and feed them till they die? You know that cannot work.’ He never had any answer to my query.”
(V Kurien, ‘Father of White Revolution,’ in his autobiography)
A valid question at this juncture could be why does one wants to ‘rake up’ such uncomfortable questions, which can provoke the band of ‘self-proclaimed defenders of faith and culture’ rather the ‘brigade of hurt sentiments’.
The immediate context to look into this aspect has to do with the Presidential assent to a bill lying with his office for around twenty years which pertained to banning beef. It was mid-nineties when Shiv Sena-BJP government was holding reins of power in the state of Maharashtra for the first time, when it had passed this bill called ‘Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995 which proposed blanket ban on the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves, in addition to cows. With the changed dispensation at the centre and state, the Phadanvis government lost no time in pursuing the bill, which has finally got clearance.
Definitely Maharashtra does not happen to be the first state to issue a ban. Many Indian states have already passed laws which ban or regulate slaughter of cows but the Maharashtra bill has gone one step further than them. It has also banned sale of beef products also. And the punishment suggested for violation of this law is draconian to say the least. Mere possession of beef or beef products will then be punishable by a fine of Rs10,000 ($160) or five years in prison. In other states such meat can be consumed if it is brought in from other states where there is no such ban but there is no such possibility in Maharashtra.
With the passage of the bill Maharashtra has become a state where eating beef is more dangerous than sexually harassing a woman. A perpetrator of sexual harassment would get a maximum sentence of two years whereas if the police spot you holding piece of beef in your hand, then you can be interned for five years. One rather discovers that there seems to be a competition for more stringent punishment especially among BJP ruled states when it comes to banning cow slaughter. Few years back M.P. government had passed Gauvansh Vadh Pratishedh ( Sanshodhit) Act which had duly received Presidential nod where the punishment for ‘slaughtering cow or its progeny, transporting them for slaughter or storing beef was up to seven years in jail.
This move to ‘criminalise food habits of people’ has been rightly criticised for its economic, social and dietary impact. Perhaps the hardest hitting comment about the ban came in from rather unexpected quarters. Famous writer Salman Rushdie tweeted to say:
‘Congratulations Maharashtra: it is now safer to be a cow than a woman, Dalit, Muslim in the state.’
One can easily imagine the economic impact this move may have on the lives of lakhs of people engaged in this work at various levels. According to a report which appeared in ‘Mint’
‘0,000-35,000 animals (buffaloes and bulls) are slaughtered in Maharashtra every day and on average each animal gives 150kg of meat. Around 1.5 million people are directly employed by the industry and are involved in transportation of animals, butchering them, processing meat and transporting beef to either domestic or international markets.7
Looking at the fact that the state plays a pivotal role in supplying hide to tanneries in Kolkata and Chennai it would spell a doom for leather trade in the state as well. e.g. The Deonar slaughterhouse based in Mumbai supplies 450 animal hides a day, mainly buffaloes to these tanneries.
This move would also adversely impact the farmer community as it will have to continue spend water and fodder for bullocks that are useless for farm work. In a country where we are still far away from meeting the basic hunger of people, the upkeep of bullocks, buffaloes that cannot be sent to slaughterhouses will fell on the farmer, which will further impoverish them. As can be envisaged it will have a negative impact on the economies of poor households and would also affect milk production.
An important fallout of this move would be its negative impact on the intake of cheap proteins by a vast majority of people – dalits, adivasis, Muslims, Christians etc – for whom beef happens to be the cheapest source of protein as it costs nearly one-third of mutton or gosht and forms important part of traditional food habits of people. As of now the overall per capita consumption of meat in India is among the lowest in the world. According to a FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) report in in 2007, India logged in last in a total of 177 countries. Its annual consumption of meat per person was just 3.2 kg at a time when Americans were eating as much as 125 kg per head and the world average was 38. 7 kg. 8
If we go for further break-up of the meat consumed, another FAO report titled ‘Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Police branch’9tells us that the ‘largest consumed meat in India is beef. The per capita consumption of beef is 26 lakh tonnes as compared to 6 lakh tonnes mutton and 14 lakh tonnes of pork.
The low consumption of meat has nothing to do with the fact that majority of Indians are vegetarian. In fact, as the well-known ‘People of India project’ undertaken by late Kumar Suresh Singh had demonstrated that nearly 88 per cent of India’s communities count themselves among the meat-eaters, though they are not particular about the type. (1993) This mammoth project involving over 500 sociologists and 3,000 researchers studied more than 4,000 communities over eight years, which produced a report which had exploded the stereotype of every community.
Perhaps a first step to galvanise resistance to this motivated move by the people in power which directly impinges on the food habits of people, impacts the availability of cheap proteins to them, burdens the farmers further with livestock which is practically useless for them, severely attacks livelihoods of lakhs of people, has the possibility of furthering inter-communal divide and is an attempt to force-feed Brahminical ideas about diet to the broad masses of people would be to explain the great hiatus which exists between what the BJP led NDA government seems to preach and practice.
People very well remember when Narendra Modi was leading the campaign of BJP against UPA II government last year he had made speeches that the government was subsidising slaugherhouses and was engaged in promoting meat exports. He had used the word “pink revolution” alluding to beef exports in his speech supposedly to exploit majoritarian sentiments. In one of his meetings in Bihar in April 2014 he had said :
“This country wants a Green Revolution but those at the Centre want a Pink Revolution,” .. “When animals are slaughtered, the colour of their flesh is pink.” (http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/1/06_01_15-metro1c.jpg)
At another pre-parliamentary poll meeting he said :
“The (UPA) government is not willing to provide subsidy to a person who keeps a cow but if a person wants to set up a slaughterhouse, he gets assistance,”(-do-)
One of his blog entry shared his ‘agony’:
“It saddens me, that present UPA Government led by Congress is promoting slaughtering of cows and exporting beef to bring ‘Pink Revolution’”.
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi in her election meetings in September 14 even alleged that illegal slaughter and export of animals in the country was funding terrorist activities.
It is a different matter that once they were in power choosing ‘pragmatism over politics’ was their mantra. It was not for nothing that during the first eight months of this fiscal one witnessed quantum jump in meat exports.
India sold meat and meat products worth $3.3 billion during April-November 2014 compared to $2.8 billion in the same period the previous year, registering a 16.74% jump. Buffalo meat constituted about 97% of the total livestock products exported from the country as the export of cow meat is banned in India. (do)
According to the reporter who filed the above story, neither Nirmala Seetharaman, Cabinet minister in Modi government was available for comment, nor four spokespersons of the BJP bothered to respond to ‘explain’ this quantum jump. And it was left to Congres leader Manish Tewari to ‘expose their duplicity and sanctimoniousness’. He said :
“While in Opposition the Prime Minister is at the forefront of slamming the purported pink revolution and when in government he is at the forefront of promoting it as evidenced by the rise in export figures,”..“This nation needs to know where the PM and his government stand on it. If they were so against it, why has it not been banned? ..
Discussing this issue of how ‘politicians manipulate Hindu sentiments around cow slaughter’ Shoib Daniyal rightly concludes : 10
This contradictory approach to the issue of cow protection shows that it is treated more as a political rather than religious matter. Cow protection sentiments are exploited by the state and politicians to mobilise people and catch votes, targeting poor Muslims and Dalits by accusing them of cow slaughter. Of course, since other factors are clean ignored (as a result of economic considerations), these laws do nothing to actually improve the lot of cattle in the country.
My question is, how can the state impose a certain food culture on people? The state has nothing to do with food. They can give certain food to people depending on the market, but cannot impose that you can or cannot eat certain food items. If beef eating is bad for Brahmins or Baniyas or certain upper castes, then the state is imposing that on the rest of the society. So the state is actually becoming a theocratic state. This is how the RSS ideology is being pushed. 11
This move by Maharashtra government about banning beef evoked strong protest in different universities of Hyderabad – EFLU (English and Foreign Languages University), Central and Osmania Universities of Hyderabad – where a ‘Beef Festival’ was organized as indication of protest. The students marked it as a protest against the attempts of ‘the RSS driven NDA Government to impose its Hindutva cults and the Manu culture’, express ‘their freedom to eat food of their choice’. Terming it a ‘suppression of the food culture by the “fascist forces” of India’, it was emphasised that it is a mode of discrimination against the already marginalized communities and would badly impact the livelihood of communities whose economy is associated with leather and meat.12
One also witnessed protest against the ban on beef in Maharashtra in Chennai also where a group of lawyers held a beef eating protest. There is no law banning cow slaughter in Tamil Nadu, there is fear that Tamil Nadu may also clamp down on beef.
According to newspaper reports The Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the Communist Party of India Marxist, has decided to hold a nationwide ‘Beef Festival’ to protest the ban in Maharashtra, DYFI national president, M.B. Rajesh said in Kozhikode. He called the decision a “fascist move” and also resolved to join hands with all pro-democracy forces to hold protest programmes against the ban on beef.
Few years back when then the BJP led government in Karnataka had enacted similar law the state had witnessed widespread protests which saw coming together of different groups including Rajya Raitha Sangha (state farmer organisation), Komu Souharda Vedike (Communal Amity Forum), the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti, which fights for the rights of Dalits, and the Beef Merchants Association and many civil liberty activists and intellectuals. One rally in Bengaluru drew more than 20,000 people where the late U R Ananthmurthy, well known Kannad author and professor, tore up a copy of the bill and lambasted the then state government for a communally motivated bill. In his brief speech he emphasised how this move would make criminals out of ordinary dalits, Muslims and Christians, and would put farmers in distress because they would not be able to sell off their cattle.
One can foresee that we may witness similar ‘criminalisation’ on the streets of Maharashtra in the days to come with the Hindutva zealots aiding the police in their attempts to discipline people. Interested people can refer to an earlier piece of mine which describes impact of any such majoritarian move on innocents.13
There are reports that the association of meat traders is planning to move the courts to challenge the ban, but one does not know whether people, formations, organisations who are working for the betterment of different sections of society or political parties are coming together to challenge this ‘communally motivated’ move on streets or not. Looking at the fact that an ally of the ruling dispensation in the state – Swambhimaani Shetkari Sangathana – which has base among peasants and farmers has expressed apprehensions over this law, it would not be out of place to plan some intervention and slowly gather voices of opposition. It should be kept in mind that other BJP ruled states – which have not yet passed similar laws e.g. Haryana- are also contemplating similar moves and it is of key importance that Maharashtra which wears its ‘progressive’ tag on its sleeves should break new grounds in resisting this move and create such an ambience that the people in power in the state are compelled to revisit the decision.
We should bear in mind that it is not a question of those thousands of traders and their associates who are engaged in meat trade, it is a question which touches every cross-section of society. It is therefore high time that right from nutrition experts, right to food activists, civil liberty activists and intellectuals to dalit, farmer as well as anti-communal organisations everybody should join hands to oppose this move which is essentially a very organised albeit concealed attack on people’s right to food under the specious argument that their choice of food supposedly hurts sentiments of a privileged few.
It is high time that India, which yearns to become an economic superpower in the 21st century, should take a radical rupture from all such remnants of ‘jurassic park’ mentality centering around the logic of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ which have proved to be its bane all these years.
Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010) Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI) Email : [email protected]
- ‘Did the Hindus never eat beef?’ in The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol. 7, (Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1990, first edition 1948) pp. 323-328.) http://www.countercurrents.org/ambedkar050315.htm
- “If Hindu Raj does becomes a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy.
Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”
Ambedkar B. R., Pakistan or the Partition of India, in Vasant Moon (compiled), Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar : Writings and Speeches, Vol 8, Education Deptt, Govt of Maharashtra, Mumbai, 1990 p. 358
- Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 3, Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997, p. 536.
- C. Kunhan Raja, ‘Vedic Culture’, cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol 1 (Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission, 1993), 217.
- Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar. Samagra Savarkar Vangmaya, Vol. VI, p. 107. 37 Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar. Samagra Savarkar Vangmaya, Vol. VI, p. 37
- Veer Savarkar (Samaj Chitreor portraits of society, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 2, p.678, http://www.savarkar.org/en/rationalism/cow-protection-and-cow-worship)
- quoted in ‘Cow on Indian Political Chessboard’ Ed. Ram Puniyani, Page 93, Black Pepper, Jan 2014
- ‘Maharashtra’s beef ban is not merely communal, it is theocratic’ : Kancha Ilaiah, DNA, Wednesday, 4 March 2015 – 9:55pm IST | Agency: dna