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On Ban on Cow Slaughter in Delhi

By Mr Swapan Dasgupta in Indian Express, May 1, 1994
   "And what shall I say of that weakest of human beings, the half-educated
anglicised and brutalised...babu, who congratulates himself on his capacity
to dine off a plate of beef as if this act of gluttony constituted in itself
unimpeachable evidence of a perfect cultivated intellect?"
                    (Bankim Chandra Chatterjee on Letters on Hinduism)
    The chattering classes of Delhi are in an almighty tizzy thanks to the
pugnacious Chief Minister, Madan Lal Khurana. Not only has this BJP monster
renamed a portion of Ring Road after the dreaded founder of RSS and threatened
to banish the name of Aurangzeb from the Delhi road map, he has effected a
severe meat shortage in the city.
   In an ideal world the disappearance of a high cholestrated commodity should
have India's well-heeled fifth columnists completely unmoved. Just as smokers
have been reduced to social pariahs across the Atlantic, the Gospel according
to Manhattan places red meat many notches below broccoli.
   Unfortunately, there is a monor hiccup here. The reason Maneka Gandhi's
passionate plea for vegetarianism failed to take Lutyens' Delhi by storm has
nothing to do with any inherent disdain for healthy living. Salad bars in the
city are doing very well, thank you. It has more to do with vegetarianism in
India also being a cultural statement.
   That old India hand, Paul Scott, realised this awkward reality many decades
ago. "Hindu" he wrote evocatively, "meant Hindu Mahasabha, Hindu nationalism.
Hindu narrowness. It meant rich banias with little education, landowners who
spoke worse English than the younger subdivisional officer his eager but halt-
ing Hindi. It meant sitting without shoes and with your feet curled up on the
chair, eating only horrible vegetarian dishes and disgusting fruit juice."
   Independence, the Republic and GATT later, the imagery has changed only in
minor detail. Hindu, to India's resident Green Card holders, means BJP, Hindu
nationalism, Hindi narrowness. It means nouveau riche lalas with Maruti 800s
and Punjabi accents combining their natural butter chicken. In short, it also
means Madan Lal Khurana and the great saffron unwashed.
   Of course there is a joker in the pack, and this comes in the form of the
latest symbol of social mobility - secularism. If you thought secularism was
merely about ensuring that statecraft is kept firmly outside the purview of
sundry sants and maulanas, you better think again. In Green Card India, secular
ism, like vegetarianism, is also a cultural statement. It implies a loud aesth-
etic rejection of all the trappings of popular Hinduism. Not for you is a
Bhagawati Jagaran, a puja room at home, a visit to the Kalakaji temple and
bhajans by Anup Jalota - unless, of course, he is performing at Arjun Singh's
Ram Navami bash.
    The "beliefs and practices of popular Hinduism," another old India hand,
Sir Alfred Lyall, had written in his introduction to Sir Valentine Chirol's
Indian Unrest, "are obviously irreconciliable with the principles of modern
civilization;...the incongruity between sacrifices to the Goddess Kali and
high university degree is too manifest."
   Sir Alfred's shrewed understanding of the mindset of the deracinated
Hindu remains unsurpassed. Except that the disavowal of popular Hinduism is
also accompanied by bouts of virulent minorityism. It is always good form to
spout meaningless Urdu couplets at thinly attended Sahmat gatherings, to
pretend that a culinary outing in Jama Masjid is the most satisfying equivalent
of a champagne breakfast, and insist that Khurana's unexpected faith in High
Court judgements is symptomatic of BJP's disregard for Muslim feelings. After
all, they would have us believe, red meat is Constitutionally guaranteed under
Articles 25 and 26.
    Our fifth columnists are being willfully disingenuous. For what really
strikes them as offensive about Khurana's hardline on the Idgah abattoir is
the insistence that buffalo slaughter be done away with. The Delhi Assembly has
already passed a resolution for a complete and unequivocal ban on all cow
slaughter (which, I presume, includes buffalo slaughter) and there is a growing
feeling that India can well earn foreign exchange by methods other than export-
ing beef.
   In a sense, the controversy now raging in Delhi is not really about enforced
vegetariansim and the disappearance of kadai gosht from the menu of Karim's. It
has everything to do with beef, euphemistically called buffalo meat in the
    With only a limited exposure to the capital's secularist circles. I cannot
recall too many occasions when the host(ess) served either a Chateaubriand or
a beef (sorry, buffalo) Stroganoff. Apart from the danger that BL Sharma 'Prem'
the ubiquitous BJP MP fro East Delhi, would turn up uninvited and create a soc-
ial embarrassment, there is a possibility that the smell of the dish would give
the game away. Indeed, I have only heard secularists proclaim the virtues of
beef; no one actually dare serve it socially.
   The squeamishness is understandable. For all the irreverence for 'organised'
Hinduism, most people acknowledged that it is bad form to willfully offend
people. And that is what beef does. I recall Sudhir Kakar, the social psycholo-
gist, telling a seminar on communalism that s survey of Hindu-Muslim perception
of each other in Hydrabad revealed that much of the suspicions arose from the
dread of the bara gosht. In Calcutta, where the tensions are less pulpable,
many Muslim restaurants enjoy phenomenal popularity because of a simple sign
at the entrance: No beef.
    The extent to which a strictly-enforced ban on cow slaughter- as stipulated
in the Directive Principles of the Constittion-can help ease communal tensions
is not yet fully appreciated by our aggressive secularists. In their anxiety
to appear partial towards the underdog and help the Muslims preserve their
social identity, they overlook one key point: beef-eating is not central to
Islam. Unfortunately, it has become central to Indian Islam.
    The reason is very revealing and may be found in a relatively unknown pamph
let of Ali Mian's speech to a congregation of Indian and Pakistani Muslims in
Jeddah on April 3, 1986. The chairman of the Muslim Personal Law Board said:
"Cow slaughter in India is a great Islamic practice- (said) Mujjadid Alf Saani
II. This was his farsightedness that he described cow slaughter in India as a
great Islamic practice. It may not be so in other places. But it is definitely
a great Islamic act in India because the cow is worshipped in India. If the
Muslims give up cow slaughter here then the danger is that in times to come
the coming generations will be convinced of the piety of the cow".
   Ali Mian was being brutally honest. It is our turn to be equally blunt by
telling him that there are some things in India which are just not negotiable.
And if you don't like it, ask Pranab Mukherjee to be more persuasive in insist-
ing on a free flow of labour under GATT.

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