Be Mindful of Food Sensibilities of Indians
What happened recently at Dadri has been an endemic feature in India. The very fact that they recur is a lamentable reflection on our nation-building process. It was essentially a law and order problem arising out of communal passions. These passions had made the divorce of Pakistan from India, a great human tragedy. The villainous themes that are whipped to arouse these passions are invariably — ‘Hindu boy–Muslim girl’ or ‘Muslim boy–Hindu girl’, religious processions, food preferences i.e. beef or pork etc.
Such law and order situations arising out of communal passions have to be dealt at both social and ‘security response’ levels. It is also a sad commentary on our prevailing federal culture that while States tend to exaggerate achievements in—‘development’, they are unabashed about violence or riots and never accept responsibility, even though ‘law and order’ is a State subject. This is despite the fact that over the years all state governments irrespective of their political hues, micromanage the police apparatus directly at the SHO level. The police hierarchy, more or less, has been compromised. The consequence of this de-professionalisation of law and order apparatus is that policing has been reduced to VIP protection.
The response of the police at Dadri was sluggish, which smacked of deliberate procrastination. It is doubtful whether Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) exists to deal with such communal violence in areas that are mapped as ‘communally sensitive’.
The responsibility for bringing about a change in the communal discourse lies with politicians and the civil society. The politicians are deft at gathering crowds but they have no courage in preventing them from turning into mob. It requires great deal of character and force of personality to prevail on a mob.—This author must share that he was witness to the exertion of ‘force of personality’ and display of wisdom—by the Prime Minister (then CM of Gujarat) during the Patna Rally in October 2013. As the bombs exploded in a clockwise direction, every five minutes, the mammoth restive and surcharged crowd was tactfully restrained from descending into a mob, failing which there could have been— stampede and unimaginablecasualties. The parting exhortation of the Prime Minister killed any communal overtones of the under the weight of positivity. The political class, however, in the Dadri incident did not rise to the occasion.
The most villainous part was but played by some publicity seeker, self-promoted celebrities and subverted intellectuals. A retired judge, a so-called writer and a journalist chose the occasion to vitiate the communal environment by insisting that they were ‘beef eaters’. Whether eating beef is a personal choice or not, the trajectory of personal and morallives of these so-called celebrities and intellectuals is unworthy to follow.
Another so-called intellectual, Mr DN Jha, a former professor of Delhi University wrote in Indian Express, dated October 7, 2015, “The ritual killings of cattle was de rigueur among the Vedic people, who routinely sacrificed cattle and ate their flesh. The Rigveda frequently refers to the cooking of the flesh of animals, including that of the ox, as an offering to the gods, especially Indra. In most Vediac yajnas, cattle were killed and their flesh eaten.” Mr Jha therefore also tried to contribute to the ‘beef discourse’ to the communal violence in Dadri. The pattern is very clear. One cannot, but doubt that there were some unseen forces orchestrating the entire incident. It may be mentioned that illegal beef trade from India is critical to the food security of many countries.
As is the wont, Mr Jha does not quote any references from the Indian sacred texts to buttress his argument. This tactic has been quite common with the so-called experts on history, who peddle—being historians.
Mr Arun Shourie, in his book ‘Eminent Historians’ says about the beef controversy: “By late June-early July 1998 the controversy which has begun by the ‘rational’ versus ‘national’ fabrication planted by these eminent historians, had reached quite a pitch. Newspaper after newspaper had taken up the matter… Manoj Raghuvanshi, who runs the popular programme ‘Aap ki Adalat, Aap Ka Faisla, on Zee TV invited one of the eminences (referring to so-called historians) KM Shrimali, and me to discuss the matter… Beef was eaten in ancient India, said Shrimali, and these people suppress this fact. I have never understood this charge.
“Assume that beef was eaten 5,000 years ago, why should anyone want to suppress the fact? And how would the fact that beef was eaten then dilute the fact that today the Hindus hold the cow in reverence? Several tribes the world over were cannibals. Today they are not. Does that mean that their desisting from eating each other is less of a fact? …
“in the passages asking Muslims to sacrifice animals to His glory, Allah in the Quran does not say they should sacrifice cows; that the most feverish efforts of the ulema in India to find some hadis in which the Prophet may have ordered Muslims to sacrifice cows have failed to yield anything; that, therefore, there is not the slightest difficulty in construing the beliefs of the two communities harmoniously…
“And what is the evidence (about Hindus eating beef) for that?, asked Raghuvanshi. In which Veda, in which text, which verse in which text? asked Raghuvanshi. I have not brought the books with me, said Shrimali, but the evidence is all over. But name one text, name one verse, Raghuvanshi persisted.
“Shrimali could not or did not name a single text, to say nothing of any verse or passage from it.
“Someone from the audience interjected. Here are the four Vedas, he said, handing over the books, read us a single passage from any of them which supports what you are saying. Raghuvanshi took the books from the person and took them over to Shrimali. Shrimali refused to look at them. Indeed, he recoiled.
“Raghuvanshi then went to his table and began reading out passage after passage from the Vedas in which there were strongest possible commands to ‘NOT’ eat beef.
“At my request he asked Shrimali to read the verses himself. Shrimali refused to do that. Instead, he became more aggressive. So what if I cannot recall a text or recite a verse?, he said. But you are an expert on Ancient India, Raghnuvanshi said.”
Notwithstanding the religious sentiments, the milk yielding and agriculturally productive animals have always been valued and therefore respected. It is in this spirit that the West Bengal Animal Slaughter Central Act 1950 was passed. It purports to “control the slaughter of certain animals with the view to increasing the supply of milk and to avoid wastage of animal power necessary for improvement of agriculture. The schedule to the Act covers bullocks, cows, calves (male and female), buffalos…” During the hearing of this Act, the Supreme Court said: “Mughal emperor Babur said the wisdom of prohibiting slaughter of cows by way of religious sacrifice and directed his son Humayun to follow this. Similarly Akbar, Jahangir and Ahmed Shah, it is said prohibited cows slaughter”.
There is another counsel to these intellectuals and activists, who at least for fashion sake pretend to be sensitive towards their pets and environment. As per Prince Charles of UK, a keen student of environment, “for every pound of beef produced in the industrial system, it takes 2000 gallons of water. That is a lot of water and there is plenty of evidence that the earth cannot keep up with the demand”. It may be mentioned that the ‘water footprint’ per pound of some other food products are: pork—576 gallons, chicken—486 gallons, soybean—286 gallons, wheat—138 gallons and corn—108 gallons.
The other most critical angle that these intellectuals and activists must consider is the food security of the country.
A 2005 SC judgment said cows and bulls could not be slaughtered and gave the following reasons, quoting from reports of the National Commission on Cattle: “It cannot be accepted that bulls and bullocks become useless after the age of 16… [This is] because till the end of their lives they yield excreta in the form of urine and dung, which are both extremely useful for the production of biogas and manure… An old bullock gives five tonnes of dung and 343 pounds of urine in a year, which can help in the manufacture of 20 cartloads of composed manure”. With the growing emphasis on organic farming and food, this aspect assumes increasing importance. The city bred activists and intellectuals are far removed from the symbiosis between nature, agriculture and cattle wealth.
Mahatma Gandhi’s strong commitment towards banning ‘cow slaughter’ found expression in the Constitution. Under Article 48, Part-IV of the Directive Principles of State Policy, states: “The State shalltake steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” In 1982, Indira Gandhi wrote to Chief Ministers of 14 states, asking them to ban cow slaughter in ‘letter and spirit’.
The cow, historically, has remained one of the kernels of Indian nationhood. It, therefore, has religious and emotional overtones, which if not handled with sensitivity leads to law and order problems, or communal riots.
The greatest impact of the ‘cow discourse’ is on the security apparatus, which includes the armed forces. The final provocation for the 1857 War of Independence was the sense of loss of religion because the cartridges supplied by the British, were allegedly greased with cow fat. The Muslims too revolted because they believed that the cartridges contained pig fat as well.
In most regiments of the Indian Army, the religious sanctity of food is a very important issue. There are many battalions who do not consume meat during certain periods and some particular day of the week. Officers are enjoined to abide by the sentiments and preferences of the troops.
It needs to be mentioned that the beef eating in India was actually introduced to satisfy the culinary needs of the British troops of East India Company. Initially no Indian, whether Hindu or Muslim, was willing to slaughter cows. They found it abominable. The British with all their tact and financial inducement prepared some butchers to do the job and located slaughter houses within the cantonments for—their security—Nevertheless, the so-called celebrities and intellectuals must realize that the borrowed English language in which they trivialize majority Indian food sensibilities was given far more deference by the British. Edmund Candler in his book, ‘The Sepoy’ writes: “I know a Rajput class regiment in which it took ten years to introduce the messing system. Company cooking pots were accepted at first, but with no economy of space or time; for the vessels were handed round and each man used them to cook his own food in turn… The Brahmans are even more fastidious. I remember watching a class regiment at their meal in the Essin position; their habit of segregation had spread them over a wide area. Each man had ruled out his own pitch, and a Turk would have taken the battalion for a brigade.” During the World War-II, a Signal Company comprising Jats refused to have their meal because a British Officer had merely touched it.
Eating food for troops of the Indian Army is not only a biological necessity but it is tempered with religious imperatives as well. The same is the case with the police force in most of the states.
Cow slaughter is perpetrating havoc with India’s internal security in large tribal parts of Red Corridor. Christian missionaries—who find tribal areas in the Indian heartland a rich harvest zone for conversions due to cultural destabilisation caused by the Maoists, are also guilty of introducing beef eating amongst the converted. The tribal villages have large courtyards, and there have been several instances when during ceremonial feasts the converted segment is known to have provoked non-converts by throwing cow bones into the common space. This has led to vicious violence with the Maoist being on the side of converts. This discourse plays out in the Maoist infested universities as well in the form of ‘beef festivals.’
And finally, motivated and unbridled discourse on food sensibilities of Indians, with religious and spiritual bias, has the potential to make the security apparatus partisan. Intellectualism in English is a very thin guarantee in this regard.
By RSN Singh