In the Indian state of Maharashtra it is now law that the selling, slaughtering and/or possession of beef is punishable by a fine and up to five years imprisonment. Is this a big move for animal welfare? Are chickens, pigs and sheep next in the line of liberation? Will animals now take inspiration from this and instigate a new world order as foretold by Animal Farm?

Unfortunately a more relevant question would be: is racism worth saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of cows? This is asked because, despite only coming into effect earlier this month, Maharashtra’s new anti-beef law represents a sentiment deep-rooted in both Hindu tradition and the manifesto of the incumbent Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As the leader of the BJP and the current President of India, Narendra Modi stands as a long-term critic of India’s ‘Pink Revolution’, i.e., against the rising levels of beef exports. And whilst the law recently passed in Maharashtra may seem somewhat draconian, in the western state of Gujarat, where Modi has resided as first minister since 2001, ‘consumption of both beef and alcohol are banned, and cow slaughter can result in a seven-year jail term’.(1)

A key detail (in what I’d like to call ‘Slaughtergate’) is that much of the beef which is actually used and circulated by the Indian beef trade is in fact ‘carabeef’, meat sourced from the Water Buffalo as opposed to the cow. The Buffalo, in Hindu teachings, is seen as the ‘vehicle of Yama’ – the Hindu God of death (2), it therefore seems rather inaccurate to be banning its consumption based on the holiness of another animal. On this Al-Jazeera reporter Elizabeth Soumya noted critically that ‘Hindu religious fundamentalists have always associated cow slaughter with Muslims’ (3). While this may of course not be true across the entire demographic, the BJP seems to act fairly in line with this idea.

In a statement that, in terms of gravity, has to be up there with Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’, Mayankeshwar Singh of the BJP’s Cow Development Cell stated the following: ‘We will build “cow hostels” in cities, “cow pension” will keep farmers from selling old animals to slaughterhouses, a “cow protection force” will be mobilised to rescue cows … Our dream is to also build a “cow university” to teach the usefulness of the indigenous cow’. (4)

Treating animals fairly is all good and well, but according to Professor Dwijendra Narayan Jha, author of Myth of the Holy Cow, the Hindu nationalists seem to have conveniently forgotten the Hindu tradition that, ‘[a] cow was often killed in honour of guests. It is totally baseless [therefore] to argue that Hindus never ate the flesh of the cow’. (5)

With intellectuals like Jha revealing that ‘eating beef was common in Vedic and subsequent times among Brahmins long before the advent of Islam in India’(6), it is quite significant that the incumbent Hindu nationalists have been honing in on this one issue since 1995 when a ban on beef in Maharashtra was first propositioned. The reality is that most beef is sourced from Buffalo, consumed by many Hindus, and it seems that the Hindu nationalists are being fairly selective regarding their faith’s literal stance on beef consumption. Yet these Hindu nationalists have continued to attack slaughterhouses across Maharashtra, where lies Deonar (one of the largest abattoirs in Asia).

In an interview with the Indian Express, Mohammed Qureshi, President of the Mumbai Suburban Beef Dealer Association, said that where such attacks were beforehand limited to ‘the run-up to Eid-ul-Adha … since the new government has come to power, we have been facing tremendous hardship in running this business. We are being hounded, our animals confiscated and men attacked. We have now decided to go on an indefinite strike to make people and the government understand our problem’. (7)

This fits in with the analysis and commentary of Kavitha Rajagopalan, writer of Muslims of Metropolis, on the rise of the BJP. Rajagopalan claims ‘many Hindus still consider Muslims as outsiders, as the enemy within. Increasingly, membership in the Hindu ranks means tacit adherence to this narrow and destructive view’. (8)

As we saw with the prohibition of alcohol in the States in the 1920s, and as we are currently seeing with the legalisation of cannabis in the states of Washington and Colorado (as well as Uruguay and of course the Netherlands), there are certain products that people will use regardless of their legal status. The prohibition of a product creates a black market where workers are not under the protection of the law, with the quality and safety of the product also coming into question due to an absence of government regulation. Behind Brazil, India is the world’s second largest exporter of beef, meaning this is in no way a move towards economic progression. Beef is also considered by many to be the ‘poor man’s protein’, eaten by India’s poor, a class consisting of Hindus, Christians and Muslims. So it must be asked, does beef represent some inherent threat to the order? Surely the slaughter of animals would only be, and only ever has been, justified by a profit motive?

In essence, the ban on beef is racism masquerading as a supposedly moral religious teaching. If you’re going to ban the slaughter of beef, at least be consistent and ban the slaughter of all other animals too. All this has achieved is a rise in the prices of other meats and alienated the poor communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, who can’t afford much else. Although I can’t support, and I don’t think anyone can justifiably support, the mass slaughter of any animal, Modi and the BJP administration need to avoid isolating those at the bottom of society. The party needs to use some of the money from India’s sensationally rich to subsidise local farms and sustainable non-meat options so that the lower castes don’t starve.

By doing the opposite Modi is making more problems, when India’s real issue is the disparity of wealth. According to Forbes, India’s richest 100 citizens hold a combined wealth of $346billion (US). Trickle that down and you will see a more connected, healthier and richer India where the banning of beef won’t hold such large implications for the nation’s starving minorities.

Recent reports in the UK show how many young Muslim males are becoming victims of Islamophobia, but the Indian beef situation is evidence of a worldwide trend. The superstardom of ISIS, hostage-taking in downtown Sydney and the Charlie Hebdo murders are three of the stories that have dominated much of the news in the Western sphere these past few months. Until watching VICE’s documentary on ISIS I’d never actually been taken in by the sensational headlines, but forty minutes of footage from the frontline and I was morphed into a speechless wreck. I discuss this because I feel that, when talking or thinking about the West’s relationship with Islam and the Middle East, we should spin the scenario on its head.

Diasporas of Muslims exist  all over the world not just because of greater connectivity, but because of the resource-driven conflict in their homelands. Imagine instead that the UK was the country rich in oil, had a Syrian or Iraqi army posted all over major cities, up-and-down the M1 and outside our schools, hospitals and churches and had foreign powers playing around with our politics when it suited their interests for a good few decades. Would you not expect for there to be an extremely radical response?

UKIP and Britain First are radical enough, and that’s without any of that. So what does this have to do with the Indian beef trade? And what does being jailed for the possession of beef in the state of Maharashtra truly represent in a time when the materialism championed by the US is glazed all over the world?

As we’ve seen in the news, Modi (at least in front of the cameras) gives the impression of getting on well with US President Barack Obama. Due to the nature of India’s place as a developing economy which holds strong links with the US and UK, this move on the beef trade can in many ways be seen as an extension of Western-sourced Islamophobia. The banning of beef does not stem from any desire to improve animal welfare, it will only heighten social tensions and marginalise India’s poor ethnic communities. And this is at the core of many of our problems.

When poorer members of society are blamed for the nation’s misfortunes, and then bullied through constitutional means, there will ultimately be a backlash. Sure, ban the slaughter of animals. But banning beef alone simply fuels the fires of division, drives business underground and makes it underregulated while perpetuating a divisive mentality that there is an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. In spite of being all for the idea of banning animal slaughter in principle, the isolation of beef and its obvious associations with racial and class-related oppression in India makes this a move that serves to maintain order in a nation-state boasting the greatest wealth gap on the planet.

Although intended for Stalinist Russia, Orwell’s timeless line that ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others’, is rather apt for capitalist India. Shall we all just become godless or maybe meatless to avoid the hassle?

 

Sources:

(1) http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/04/india-bjp-piggybacks-cow-milk-votes-2014417142154567121.html

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) http://munchies.vice.com/articles/indias-hindu-majority-government-is-taking-its-islamophobia-out-on-beef-slaughterhouses

(8) Ibid.

Further sources:

http://munchies.vice.com/articles/india-just-made-eating-burgers-illegal

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/04/india-bjp-piggybacks-cow-milk-votes-2014417142154567121.html

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Banning-beef-goes-beyond-religious-connotations/articleshow/46497242.cms

http://www.policyinnovations.org/ideas/commentary/data/000279

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-31712369