India, a country that proudly calls itself “the world’s largest democracy” needs to worry. At what seems to be a turning point in its history, with a landslide victory in a presidential-esque election, it appears to be losing its rights to make some very fundamental, basic choices. After attacks on churches, the controversial and deplorable “re-conversions” (ghar wapasi) in parts of the country and most recently a Hindu right-wing call to boycott films starring the popular Khans in the industry, the province of Maharashtra has, in its infinite wisdom, decided to ban the sale of beef punishable by five years in jail.
Now, to make it completely clear from the outset, I am not either encouraging or condemning eating beef or any other meat. If you’re a vegetarian, religious or humanitarian, good for you. And if you’re a non-vegetarian better enjoy the chicken- while it lasts – because the next announcement we here might declare the sale of all forms of meat illegal. Call me cynical but it seems questionable that banning the consumption of the meat of an animal (a cow, for the uninitiated), sacred in Hinduism (which explicitly bans its consumption, again for the uninitiated), is one of the first “acts” a newly elected, conservative political party passes in its province. Connect the dots and it seems like an overt attempt to establish a national Hindu identity, something which falls in line with the BJP’s ideology of “In India, do as the Hindus do” which they have expressed on occasion. The last time anyone checked, we were a secular nation (S-E-C-U-L-A-R, for all the extreme Hindu trolls online) and being Indian was certainly not equated with being Hindu. The subtle implication behind banning beef seems to suggest otherwise and this, among other things, is worrying. Any votes arguing they will ban the sale of pork next? All for the sake of animal rights, presumably?
The BJP, the ruling party in Maharashtra which is the lucky province where this happy event occurred, is unapologetic about its endorsement of fairly conservative (I’ve deliberately avoided the word “traditional” here) Hindu values and its association with organizations who think the same. And in an open, functional democracy that isn’t and should be a problem: the BJP is entitled to think as it wishes but so is everybody else. Banning a popular food item prevents that, simply because you’re taking away an individual’s right to eat as he or she pleases. You’re indirectly imposing arbitrary rules on everybody, regardless of whether they believe in the Cause of the Cow. Furthermore, banning a foodstuff isn’t going to solve any of the other problems the BJP was presumably elected to solve (read: water, electricity, public transit, public health and safety…..the list could go on forever). In the light of major problems like farmer suicides and droughts, is the question of pork the most pressing? Lastly, I’m going to answer the widely used refutation to my claims that in even in countries oversees, religious beliefs ( arguably the most dominant religion in the country in question) do dictate traditions and customs so why not in India? They do, but not to the extent of forcefully restricting an individual’s dietary choices and even if they do, is that the kind of model the Constituent Assembly had in mind when they adopted the Constitution sixty five years ago?
Note: The Writer is aware of the unfortunate but undeniable existence of Internet Trolls and thanks readers who don’t viciously (borderline lawlessly) attack this opinion, and proceed to agree or disagree civilly. Excuse the arguably amusing Roman Hindi usage.