The “Meat” Politics
My alma mater Jawaharlal Nehru University is in the news again. And that is because of a violent incident on the day of Ram Navami. In fact, the violence took place in the Kaveri hostel, the hostel where I spent some of my most precious years as a student. In fact, I always considered myself a proud Kaverian, like our External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, my distinguished senior in JNU.
I condemn the incident because violence is not at all the means to solve any problem. In a democratic country or society only Police and Security Personnel are given the power to use violence for public order and national security, no one else. Therefore, all those who caused violence in the Kaveri hostel must be given exemplary punishment.
Secondly, I will not put the blame on any particular section at this moment for the violence as I am not sure of the authenticity of the versions from both sides. And I do not have faith either in the mainstream or the social media to know the authenticity. This much is known that the problem arose as on the auspicious day of the Ram Navami, a section of the students wanted vegetarian food, but the other section, mostly supporters of the JNU Students Union, which is led by the Left, rather radical Left, demanded the non-vegetarian food as a matter of their “Right to Choice of Food”.
Thirdly, I am not sure if Kaveri hostel provides non-vegetarian food everyday and some hostellers cannot manage without non vegetarian food. That was not the situation during my days in the hostel. And I hope that is not the situation even now.
Fourthly, I love non-vegetarian food, but as my wife observed NAVRATRI, there was not even onion and garlic in our food at home. And I did not have any problem with that. The point is respecting someone’s sentiment. And here in Kaveri, it was a matter of just one meal on the night of Ram Navami. Where are our levels of tolerance and spirit of accommodation?
I see friends finding nothing wrong in offering Namaz on public roads or inside class rooms. For them, it is a matter of accommodation and mutual respect. Why is the same thing not advocated here in JNU by the hyperactive activists and their supporters in the national media?
In fact, see the way JNU incident is being magnified because this news sells whereas these very concerned people have not expressed a single word of worry over the people who have died in communal violence over the Ram Navami procession in not one but many states, including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
In fact, the above are the points I had made on my FaceBook wall the other day. It invited many reactions. Let me reproduce some of them.
One friend wrote “Eating meat on Ram Navami is not a fundamental right! Appearing topless in public or in a children’s school is not a fundamental right! I once encountered a group of French tourists in front of the innermost sanctum at the glorious Shiva temple at Darasuram, a Chola masterpiece and UNESCO world heritage site. Many women were wearing shorts and strapless, skimpy tops, and sunglasses. This is a continuously functioning house of worship for the last 1000+ years, until today. I don’t blame the tourists, but I discreetly told the tour guide that they should at least cover their shoulders. The Tamilian guide threatened to beat me up and call the police! He also told me that he knew way more about Hinduism than me! In all European churches, you are required to take off caps and sunglasses. My wife was refused entry into the Sistine Chapel in Rome because her arm was not covered! She was wearing very modest full pants and a top, except that it was sleeveless. Sorry, no exceptions, even on a hot August day!
“What will be the reaction to a row of pork eateries outside a mosque? Or a row of strip joints? Will these be protected by Fundamental Rights?”
Another friend wrote, “Sir, between 1991-97, Ram Navami used to be a holiday for mess workers. They won’t prepare either lunch or dinner. I remember we used to be given a lunch pack containing pudi and aloo sabji right at the breakfast time itself.
“I am confused when Ram Navami food was turned non veg!!!”
Equally thoughtful was the response of a friend that read, “It was an unfortunate incident that could have been avoided. Being a Sunday, it might have been in the menu of that day but taking into consideration the religious sentiments of others especially when a pooja had been organised, this could have been postponed to some other day.
“Unfortunately, we have built a long tradition of insulting indigenous values and beliefs. Even Arab, Turkic and Egyptian friends have been far more receptive & respectful to our sentiments and values of vegetarianism, especially on our festival days, than local converts and their advocates bearing Hindu names.
“Such stupid things never happened when I was there between 91-99!”
Slightly different in tenor was the response of a friend who wrote, “In India, you have to respect their freedom of choice to wear, respect their food habits, freedom to protest anywhere, freedom to scold in name of freedom of speech, freedom to ban anything they don’t like. This freedom is their birth right and absolutely their monopoly.
“When someone, not belonging to their group, asks for such choice or freedom, ultimately, they brand him/her as fascist, obscurantist, intolerant, irrational, bigot, undemocratic, disrespecting the constitution, etc ”.
Given all these responses or comments to my post, I must add something more on the issue.
It so happens that most of the people who are talking of the right of choice of food are essentially advocates of non-vegetarian food. Even if some of them are vegetarian or eggetarian, they support the argument that any stoppage or ban of meat is essentially an attack on Muslims by the government led by Narendra Modi and his supporters. For them, denying meat is nothing but a communal attack.
However, nothing can be farther from the truth. In this country various state governments or municipal bodies at various times, particularly during religious festivals, have temporarily banned the consumption of meat in public places. In my considered opinion, a students’ hostel is not a private home but a public place.
It was 1964 when the practice of banning meat sale during the Jain festival started in Mumbai. 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. Similarly, leading municipalities in many big cities like Bengaluru have imposed a ban on meat for a day or two for the Ganesh festival.
In my considered view, 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 a few contradictions in their approaches.
First, as I have said, I have no problem if the right of one’s choice of food as a 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 Haridwar and Rishikesh? Will they approve of the availability of pork in restaurants near famous mosques? I have heard some overzealot “secularists” like Congress leader 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?
Secondly, 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. They do not realize that whether in Mumbai or in Jaipur or in Jammu, there have been temporary restrictions on meat consumption as per the sensitivities of Jains, a minority too.
That brings in, and this is my third 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 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. And now, these very elements want the Modi government to ban the screening of the Kashmir Files, the movie that boldly displays how Pundits in the Kashmir valley were persecuted by the Islamists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, forcing them to flee and become refugees in their own country.
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