Modi government: Of cows, beef and vikas

In the 21st century it does seem odd that a government, any government, should obsess about what people eat or do not eat. Even if we notionally worship cow, mythically treating it gau mata, neither the people nor any government is ready to protect it. Old and abandoned cows need to be somehow disposed of.

In most advanced countries beef is available legally with its hygienic and food quality fully assured. Cow rearing is a huge industry for milk and numerous milk products as well for beef. Even if you are beef agnostic, you should respect the right of those who consider gau mata.

But where you should disagree with them is in their refusal to extend the same freedom of choice to fellow citizens. However, if it hurts religious sensitivities of a large segment of the people in case someone consumes cow meat, even if it may  be the only affordable source of protein,  they should exert their energies to look after the growing bovine population.

Cows are routinely seen wandering around on the roads aimlessly, often causing fatal road accidents, or seen eating plastic and other such waste to ward off starvation. This reflects poorly on those who are pushing for a ban on cow slaughter. As we said, old and abandoned cows need to be disposed of in a proper, scientific manner in modern abattoirs with  proper hygienic  conditions.

For centuries the Hindu society has traditionally left the job to the Dalits who remove the dead animals and ensure that salvageable remains are put to good use. After the recent atrocity on a group of Dalits in Gujarat, who were allegedly seen lugging away a  dead cow, the self-proclaimed protectors of gau mata are hard put to dispose of carcasses of cows lying around in public places.

Tradition and culture might have associated certain essential jobs with a particular segment of the Hindu samaj, but when an ill-considered attempt is made to disturb the societal equilibrium, or an attempt is made to enforce an arbitrary diktat about culinary habits of a section of the people, inevitably it results in disaffection and disturbance.

Paying lip service to gau mata and not doing anything to ensure the upkeep of living animals, and expecting the Dalits to take care of the dead animals, fully exposes the double standards of gau bhakts. It should  therefore be unacceptable that after passing legislation against the consumption of beef, the BJP-led governments in Maharashtra and Haryana have done precious little to ensure real cow protection.

And we are afraid the task is so huge that without the involvement of the people the state governments would not be able to look after cows from birth to death. However, the manner in which free-wheeling cow vigilantes have sought to exploit the public concern of the two governments for cows smacks of sheer lawlessness and thuggery. Prime Minister Modi’s description of these vigilantes as anti-social elements was harsh but apt. Indeed, private greed and revenge seem to be often the real motive of gau  rakshaks.

 Also, cow protection has degenerated into a thinly-disguised anti-Muslim campaign. The Cow Protection and Conservation Act passed by Haryana prescribes five-year jail for anyone found eating beef. This has given a license to some self-styled cow protectors to harass the poor and illiterate Muslims.

Vigilantes have raided suspected sellers and consumers of beef-biryani on the eve of Bakrid, the foremost festival in the Muslim calendar. Roadside hawkers, who mushroom ahead of Eid-ul-Zuha or Bakrid, were forced to abandon their trade. Following reports in the media, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar publicly warned against private intervention in the matter, saying that only the police were competent to enforce the provisions of the cow protection law.

The Haryana Gau Sewa Aayog has asked the police to pick up samples of biryani from private places and hawkers and send the same for testing. This is ridiculous. It is hard to distinguish with the naked eye between cow and buffalo meat or other such meat. But in a country where there is a woeful lack of forensic laboratories for testing serious crime-related matters, including human viscera, to expend money and time on beef labs does seem a case of  wrong priorities.

In Maharashtra too, a lot of time and energy seems to have been diverted to an issue which should never have been front and center of the BJP-led government’s agenda. Such peripheral issues only detract from the first priority of the BJP, namely development. Backwoodsmen of the Sangh Parivar do not advance the BJP cause by harping on such peripheral issues.

However important the defence of Bhartiya, nay, Hindu culture, the truth is that roti, kapda aur makaan must take precedence over them. Even the educated, middle- class Hindus cannot be impressed with the minatory noises and frightening vigilantism dominating the general discourse. This should stop forthwith. As a modern, forward-looking, right-of-the-centre party, BJP owes to those who

only a little over two years ago gave it a clear majority not to take its eye off the single point agenda of sabka saath, sabka vikas. Constant harping on cow and beef means nobody’s vikas but it certainly generates fear and loathing in a large section of the minorities.  In the 21st century, the discourse over cow and beef seeks to relegate India to the dark ages. This must stop.

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