How secular is the cabbage you eat?



Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar ban beef in Maharashtra and Haryana, respectively. Shivraj Chauhan bans egg at anganwadi schools in the tribal areas of Alirajpur, Mandla and Hoshangabad districts of Madhya Pradesh. After land, water and forest, the BJP and its Sangh Parivar affiliates seem to have found in food, non-vegetarian at that, a convenient and combustible weapon to further their narrow political agenda. As it turns out, beef is where religion intersects politics, caste and culture all at once.

Little or no consideration has been given to the fact that beef is widely considered to be a poor man’s protein; it is cheaper and therefore more affordable than chicken or fish for a multitude of Indians cutting across religion and caste. If animal rights, cruelty to animals, health hazard or ecology/environment were an issue, or if a scientific case could be made out for shunning beef or any other edible food item, then the governments in question could have been given the benefit of the doubt but if a certain food is banned arbitrarily, in pursuit of partisan political ends, then it begs the question: Whither tolerance?

Extending an existing ban on the slaughter of cows to bulls and bullocks and the possession of beef is a classic case of the tyranny of the majority; it is an affront to the idea of India; an assault on the syncretic and plural culture that is synonymous with this country; and it militates against its secular ethos; simply put, the ban is offensive and unreasonable as the State must not be allowed to dictate one’s diet. The self-proclaimed secular fundamentalist Mani Shankar Aiyar may not be popular for some of his views but as he quotes Mahatma Gandhi in his book, “The Hindu religion prohibited cow slaughter for Hindus, not for the world. The religious prohibition came from within. Any imposition from without meant compulsion. Such compulsion was repugnant to religion.”

Clearly, conformism is not an option; celebrating diversity is. Telling beef-lovers to go to Pakistan is not a wise way to win friends or influence people. And then again, why not ban cigarettes? Or hate speech?


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