October 07, 2015

India - Beef politics: Food-Poisoning India (Saba N)aqvi

Economic Times - October 7, 2015

Beef politics: Food-Poisoning India

By Saba Naqvi

The bloodletting over beef that ‘may or may not have been beef ’ has exposed the historical fault-line that runs across India. Our attention has been focused on the Hindi heartland, the cow belt, where the nastiest contemporary mobilisations have taken place. There are consequences elsewhere.

The Hindi heartland has a history of cow agitations. In 1882, Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, began a movement demanding the end of cow slaughter under the British Raj. One of the first recorded riots over cow took place in Mau in Azamgarh in 1893.

But independent India had, by and large, found a balance on this tricky issue, by banning cow slaughter in most northern parts of the country even as buffalo meat became our ‘beef ’, the ambiguity keeping the delicate ‘Indian tapestry’ intact.

With the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, UP, last Monday, rabid groups now riding on a majoritarian tide have ripped apart that weave. To enter the kitchens of fellow Indians and thrash or kill them for what they eat is a serious threat to the sanity that holds our republic together. A new ecosystem is being put into place. Bans imposed by states only legitimises the existence of groups we call ‘the fringe’.

The serious political consequences of the Dadri murder are also being felt in a part of India that is tenuously linked to the rest of the country. In Kashmir last week, I was repeatedly confronted with the argument that the Two-Nation Theory — religion, as opposed to ethnicity or language, is the unifying force for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent — propounded by Mohammad Ali Jinnah was being resurrected.

Despite the creation of Bangladesh and ethnic wars in Pakistan, the Two-Nation Theory is now a sort of emblematic slogan for groups in Kashmir whenever they feel overwhelmed by ‘India’. In other words, when our secularism looks hollow, so do our arguments in Kashmir.


Arecent Jammu court order enforcing an old ban on the sale of beef in the state — where the traditional meat is mutton — had sparked protests. Mercifully, on October 5, the Supreme Court suspended the order for two months. Still, the lynching of Akhlaq has reinforced the ‘Pakistan constituency’ in the Valley.

Even if we put aside humanism and see the events unfolding through the prism of nationalism, they diminish India when the trends in our country are compared to those that have systematically made Pakistan afailed state. The world took note when a young Christian couple was lynched 40 km from Lahore in November 2014 on the unproven charge of blasphemy. The lynching of a Muslim in Dadri on the outskirts of Delhi, too, has not gone unnoticed.

Imanaged my own little conflagration this Eid near my home in Mehrauli, near the Qutub Minar. There is asmall madrasa near my house next to a temple. On Eid day, it was surrounded by police and I saw a truck loaded with cattle. I imagined that the police had stopped the traditional Qurbani and confiscated the animals.

The next morning I learnt that the windshields of 20 cars parked on the main road had been smashed and that “the Muslims have done it”. I visited the madrasa where the boys were in a huddle. The maulana said that they traditionally performed the Eid sacrifice for people in the locality. This year, there were complaints, so they themselves had asked the police to take the livestock to another designated spot.

Could the boys have smashed the cars in anger? The maulana ruled out the possibility since they could not have left the area with the police surrounding the madrasa through Eid. The police verified this version and believed that outside miscreants were behind the cars being damaged.

More than a week later, the police are still guarding the madrasa.

The police have kept the peace and done the right thing. The maulana, too, did the right thing by sending away the animals designated for sacrifice. But he is now worried that the local residents’ welfare association (RWA), with its eye on the land, wants the madrasa gone.

I also learnt that the temple next to the madrasa has no water supply. So, the madrasa provides it a supply line from its borewell. The maulana and the pujari have differences, but they can also be friends. It’s a tenuous peace. But it’s a peace that must be kept.

(For a counterview, read Scroll’s ‘Indian Muslims are living at the mercy of Hindus’ at goo.gl/CVgY9Y)