The Meat of the Matter
The ban on the consumption of meat in this season of Jain festivals and Ganesh Puja in various parts of the country by the respective state governments/municipalities has turned out to be a huge political issue, with all the anti-Modi forces (they include politicians, academicians and media persons) projecting how the “fascist” Modi government is imposing restrictions on the dietary habits in the country. These opponents of Modi have gone to the court and are jubilant over the latest opinion (not judgment) of the Supreme Court that “meat bans cannot be forced down citizens’ throats”.
Let me reveal that I am a non-vegetarian and love mutton (though I have reduced its consumption drastically of late on doctor’s advice in favour of fish). But in this country if a substantial section of the people is sensitive to the consumption of meat for a limited period of its religious festival, I will not mind being vegetarian for a day or two. After all, this is the true meaning of co-existence in a society. And if there are not enough people who think my way, then it is high time there should be uniformity of rules on such dietary matters all over the country. But alas, that is not going to be the case. Those who are opposing the ban on meat today will not like such uniformity and will selectively support or oppose policies. Let me point out few contradictions in their approaches.
First, it is to be noted that this politics of ban on meat consumption during festivals did not start with the Modi regime. As it is, technically the critics are wrong when they abuse Modi on the matter as the bans are imposed by the state governments or municipal corporations, not the central government, which, at the moment, is being led by Modi. But let it pass. It was 1964 when the practice of banning meat sale during the Jain festival started in Mumbai, the city, which is at the centre of the present controversies. That time, there was no BJP, or for that matter, even no Shiv Sena. It was the golden period of the Congress party, which ruled almost all over India. Since then it has been issued and reissued many a time. Interestingly the ban order was reissued both in 2003 and 2005 when the state of Maharashtra (thus Mumbai) was under the rule of the Congress-NCP coalition. These contradictory approaches have been true in other states as well in some form or the other. And since these states have been ruled by various parties from time to time, there are no merits in blaming the BJP or for that matter Modi for the present controversy. It is instructive to point out here how the Bengaluru municipality has imposed ban on meat for a day or two for the Ganesh festival in the city (interestingly though the Congress lost the polls to the municipality badly last month, it has been able to have its Mayor by resorting to not so fair and honest means).
Secondly, there are serious inconsistencies in taking recourse to the logic that there cannot be any restrictions on the food habits of the people. As I have said, I have no problem if this principle is uniformly implemented. But the reality is different. I know for sure that some institutions which are leading the anti-Modi movement today on the subject themselves are very strict that only vegetarian food is available in their premises. Why are they silent on the laws that prohibit the consumption of meat in towns like Hardwar and Rishikesh? Will they approve of the availability of pork in restaurants near famous mosques? I have heard some overzealot “secularists” like Mani Shankar Aiyar not wearing “the sacred thread” of a Brahmin and eating beef as symbolic demonstration of his secular credentials, but can he ask a Muslim to share the dining table with someone eating pork?
Thirdly, it may not be politically correct to say so, but the fact remains that the present uproars against Modi for the temporary or brief bans on meat in certain places has less to do with meat consumption but more to highlight the theory that under the Modi rule, the Muslims in India are being harassed. In a sense, the anti-ban campaign gives an impression that it is only the Muslims who consume meat and by denying them their staple food and curtailing their meat business, the Modi government has shown its true communal colour. But this is not the case. In fact, I will not be wrong with my guess that the overall meat-trade (including exports, both legally and illegally) is dominated by the Hindus. The problem with those secularists, who shout from their rooftops about their secularism, is that they have reduced the subject of secularism to a farce. For them secularism is essentially equated with being pro-Muslim. They shout about minorities and their rights, but in essence minorities for them happen to be only Muslims. In the present case, they will like all of us to forget that whether in Mumbai or in Jaipur or in Jammu, the temporary restrictions on meat consumption are as per the sensitivities of Jains, a minority too in India.
That brings in, and this is my fourth point, the factor of politics behind the inconsistencies. No government in India, including that of Modi, would dare to annoy religious sentiments, even those based on flimsy grounds and unreasonable matters, as doing otherwise could adversely affect the so-called vote banks or “identity politics” of political parties. It is this “identity politics” that erodes liberty in India in reality. And when one talks of the religious identity, the vote banks have been the keys. Fearing the loss of Muslim support, the West Bengal government led by Communists that were supposedly most secular and rational banned all of Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen’s books and refused her permission to live in the state.
Worried over a backlash from Christians, who are extremely important in the politics of Kerala and the northeastern states, the government banned the screening of the religious thriller The Da Vinci Code, which was a highly successful film in the United States and Europe. In India, it is common to succumb to threats by protestors against creative persons, whether they are writers, artists or filmmakers. Books and plays questioning some of the thoughts and actions of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar have evoked passionate enquiry, while some others have been proscribed. Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” and Arun Shourie’s “Worshipping False Gods” have been banned. A few years ago, the government decided to stop the BBC from filming Rushdie’s epic, “Midnight’s Children,” because somebody in power feared that the sentiments of Muslims might be hurt.
It is therefore no wonder that there are double standards in political and intellectual circles over matters pertaining to freedoms of expression and choice. However, it so happens that the secularists and leftists who dominate India’s educational and cultural infrastructure have tolerated more incidents of banning and restrictions on ideas than anyone else. In fact, they are more intolerant of others’ views. They can rewrite and reinterpret history books, as they did under the Congress Party regimes, particularly under education ministers like Nurul Hasan and Arjun Singh, but deny the same right to rightists as they did under the former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime and do now under that of Narendra Modi.
In sum, I will argue for a thing called consistency. When one talks of food habits, I will love to see the options of having all sorts of food, whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian, everywhere and all the time, be it at home or in an office establishment or in a street. Unfortunately, our “secularists” will not agree with me.
By Prakash Nanda