Ranjona Banerji: When you have a beef with logic

May 31, 2017, 07:08 IST | Ranjona Banerji

It is a striking sentiment that drives someone to commit murder in the name of the cow but allows one to walk past a sick cow eating garbage

Members of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnettra Kalagham party eat and distribute beef in Coimbatore on Monday, during a protest against the Central government for banning cow slaughter and introducing restrictions on the sale of cattle. Pic/PTI
Members of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnettra Kalagham party eat and distribute beef in Coimbatore on Monday, during a protest against the Central government for banning cow slaughter and introducing restrictions on the sale of cattle. Pic/PTI

It seems almost surreal that much of our public discourse over the past three years has had to do with cows and cattle. It started with a ban on cow and progeny slaughter in most parts of India. Now, it has extended to every form of bovine life, including buffaloes. The main 'no cattle slaughter' argument has to do with upholding the sentiments of Hindu religious belief and the reverence in which the cow is held. The main argument against it is Constitutional — the rights of beef eaters, tagged on to that is the rights of farmers, of the leather industry and the many other problems that emerge if you summarily ban something.

The result has been a series of violent incidents, where murderers mas­querading as 'cow protectors' have roamed around the countryside killing and thrashing people at will. In some cases, the police has stood and watched. In other cases, the victims and perpetrators have both had cases filed against them. In all cases, those who have suffered the most have been Dalits and Muslims.

It is true that Directive Principle number 48, on animal husbandry, mentions prohibition of cattle slaughter. Apart from the fact that Directive Principles are advisories that are not enforceable by law, there are Directive Principles on all Indians getting a living wage or improving public health, but do notice how these issues do not lead to virulent protests or public anger or party spokespersons frothing at the mouth on national television to protect the 'sentiments' of their voters.

It is also unfortunate that none of these prohibitions on cattle slaughter have much to do with animal rights or pushing for humane methods of slaughter, which surely is a worthwhile discussion to have. I would applaud the tyranny of the vegetarian if it was not so lopsided and self-serving, and minus any love for animals. Oddly, it is apparently all right for cows to be exploited for milk, when the primary purpose of a cow is not to provide milk, which it makes for its own offspring, to be drunk by adult humans. The rage of the sentimental murderer also does not extend to what is to be done with cows and cattle that are discarded by their owners who can no longer afford to look after them. And this is why there is no discussion on more public money for cow or animal shelters. Indeed, it is often the much reviled 'liberals' and NGOs and other such anti-nationals who spend money on looking after animals in India.

It is a remarkable sentiment that drives one to murder someone in the name of the holy cow, but allows one to walk blithely past an old and sick cow eating garbage. This is what leads people to believe that it is not love for the cow that is necessarily the driving factor behind this great obsession with cattle, as if no other pressing problems exist in India. The ploy seems a direct way to harass and alienate, and dare one say, murder Dalits, Muslims and religious minorities, who do not have religious proscriptions on eating cows, by an emboldened majority given strength by the silence of the ruling party.

I have ignored the 'rights' of the meat-eater so far. But it is interesting that the same political party and its attendant groups that murder people in some parts of India, actually push for the right to eat beef in the North East of India, where the BJP is looking to make greater headway.

Evidently, the cows of the North East are not so holy or it is politically foolish to disturb the diet of people you are trying to woo into your fold.

As almost everyone knows, eating meat, including beef, is common in many parts of India and it is a source of cheap protein for many who cannot afford to eat goat, for instance. And if you do not know, it is worth learning just how much India earns from the export of meat, including beef, and from the leather industry. Losses here would be incalculable, especially if you add the problems caused by demonetisation.

And as almost everyone should know, instead of constantly going back to the cow to gain political mileage, the people of India would be better served by some actual slogan-free development work.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist.You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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