September 14, 2015

India: The meat of the matter is governments should not dictate citizens’ personal choices (Edit, The Times of India, 14 sept 2015)

Editorial, The Times of India - September 14, 2015

Ban the bans: The meat of the matter is governments should not dictate citizens’ personal choices

Prohibition is a terrible idea. That it doesn’t work is demonstrated by the experience of states which have implemented it. They are unable to stop drinking but only push the practice underground — leading to crime syndicates and deaths from illicit hooch. Driven by religious fundamentalism, there is now a move to extend the idea of prohibition to food products as well — where it has the additional consequence of triggering religious strife and placing us in the same international bracket as Pakistan as an almost pre-modern polity. Food taboos are fast becoming India’s equivalent of blasphemy in Pakistan.

It’s true that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. There is a case that can be made for not eating meat on health, ethical or environmental grounds. But that can only be through voluntary persuasion and rational discourse; it cannot be pushed down people’s throats citing religious taboos. Eating meat or fish is, if anything, an even more fundamental human propensity than drinking liquor. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi warning a week back that conflict arises when religious intolerance is given free rein, BJP-ruled states are competing among themselves to extend bans on meat and even, in some cases, fish.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, therefore, that conflict is arising. Kashmir shut down against the beef ban last Saturday after separatists successfully called a strike. Instead of, literally, beefing up the dying separatist cause common sense dictates that the law banning beef should be struck off the statute books in Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir. In cosmopolitan Mumbai the extremist MNS had been isolated before. But it is moving back to centre-stage protesting attempts by BJP-controlled municipalities to extend the duration of meat bans on the pretext of the Jain festival of Paryushan, even as BJP ally Shiv Sena spouts communal venom against Jains.

No modern state attempts to dictate what its citizens eat, what they wear, or who they might take as lovers. India, however, is seeing a creeping invasion of private lives and personal choices as authorities attempt to thrust themselves into kitchens and bedrooms. The slogan of “minimum government, maximum governance” symbolised Modi’s 2014 campaign promise. However, at a time when citizens are increasingly aspirational and aware what many BJP-ruled states are offering, through the medium of petty prohibitions and bans, may more aptly be summarised as “maximum government, minimum sense”. This is a self-defeating political campaign. Call off the bans.