Opinions

Another boost to food fascism

It was Mahatma Gandhi’s advocacy of ahimsa (non-violence) in general and his concern for cow protection in particular that is reflected in the Directive Principles of the Constitution making it incumbent on the state to work for cow protection.

Nobody knows how well it rhymes with the Constitution’s commitment to secularism. What is intended in the Directive Principle is a gradual move towards full cow protection. However, from the beginning of the Republic there have been people who wanted a ban on cow slaughter (which includes a similar ban on oxen and calf slaughter as well) right away.

One such person was Rajendra Prasad, independent India’s first president. Knowing Mahatma Gandhi’s mind on the issue, President Prasad told him that he had got one lakh post cards demanding a ban on cow slaughter. Gandhiji, who also wanted the same in the long run, opposed any action in a hurry. He told Prasad that the only reason for such ban was Hindu opposition to beef eating on religious grounds.

Gandhiji argued that for Muslims idol worship was taboo. Going by the analogy of the proposed ban on beaf eating because it was taboo to many Hindus, Pakistan could easily argue in favour of a ban on idol worship because it was a taboo in their religion. The idea was dropped then, but the fact remains that what Prasad wanted in a hurry Gandhiji wanted slowly and in the long term. Once the ideal of an India without cow and bullock slaughter was enshrined in the Directive Principles of the Constitution it became difficult to oppose it.

Consequently, we have today a comprehensive ban in Maharashtra on not just cow slaughter but on bullock and calf as well. This is the result of an amendment to an already existing law in the state. With this Maharshtra becomes the 14th state to do so, which means half of India has already gone that way.

What could be the ramifications of this law? First, it will be a boost to food fascism in India. People who do not eat meat or beef have in effect ordered those who eat it to abstain from it for their own good. Those who have been eating it have been denied an affordable source of nutrition. Food being a cultural habit, they have been denied, undemocratically, without their consent, the food of their choice.

It is not just Muslims, Christians, most Dalits and tribals, but many mainstream Hindus also who have been deprived of a food of their choice. Such bans also destroy the trade, dramatically increase unemployment among already poor sections. The rate at which it is coming means we will soon have to go without an indigenous leather industry, which means we will have to import leather from the West for our leather goods —for shoes, bags and belts to coats and other goods. This will only increase our dependence on others.

Even the religious argument on which such action is based is deeply flawed as shown by Prof. D. N. Jha. Reviewing Prof. Jha’s book for Times Literary Supplement, Wendy Doniger writes: “In ancient India, from the time of the oldest sacred text, the Rig Veda (c. 1000 BC), cows were eaten regularly both ritually and for many of the same reasons that people now a days eat Big Macs “I eat beaf as long as it is juicy’, said a great Vedic sage, Yajnavalkya, in about 900 BC)”.

Doniger continues: “But who will listen? Who cares?” Nobody, of course. Nobody who matters.
 
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