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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 44 New Delhi October 24, 2015

Debate on Beef

Saturday 24 October 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

India has been pushed into an unnecessary debate whether beef should be banned or not. This is a wrong question to ask in a country where the emotions of Hindus are linked with the cow, which they revere. The real question is whether a person should have been lynched on the ground that he had consumed beef. Even this allegation was based on false rumours. It looks as if the Hindu extremists have come to dictate their view of the religion.

It is a blessing that the debate on beef did not last long. The discussion had begun to polarise the society. Maybe, this realisation made Prime Minister Narendra Modi say that Hindus and Muslims should come together to fight poverty, not each other. He kept quiet for a week and would have probably taken an equivocal position but for the public pressure. Even what he ultimately said is so tepid that it looks as if he was merely going over an exercise.

It seems as if the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has come to feel that the BJP Government under Narendra Modi would be exposed to unforeseen dangers if the extremist fringe went on harping on beef. The Muslims would have felt more insecure. This made the RSS to pipe down. Not long ago, its stalwart L.K. Advani candidly admitted that it was possible for the BJP to have an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha with the support of Hindus but it would be difficult to administer the country without the Muslims’ cooperation. Yet this has remained on paper. If the Sangh Parivar had felt so strongly about garnering the Muslim support, it would have taken appropriate steps for the participation of Muslims. For it, the Muslims do not really count in affairs of the country. Take the Central Cabinet: only one seat has been given to the Muslims and that too of minor importance.

Still worse is the distance which is increasing between the two communities. There is hardly any interaction between them. Both seem to live in the world of their own. This is primarily because of polarisation which is deepening and which the Sangh Parivar is purposely cultivating.

This point has been brought to the fore by the return of the academy awards by some six eminent literary figures, including Nayantara Sehgal, Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece. In their letter they have contended that the space for free expression is shrinking day by day. Indeed, they represent the country’s ethos. The saffronisation that the BJP is imposing cannot be acceptable to a society which has been nurtured in the values of free expression and pluralism. It is unfortunate that the RSS and BJP leaders have not realised this basic fact so far.

Modi, once the RSS pracharak, should draw a lesson from the communal rioting at Dadri, near Delhi. A Muslim was lynched on the basis of rumour that he had consumed beef. Even if he had, there is no law to forbid his eating it. True, all the States except two or three have banned cow slaughter but none has banned beef-eating.

Modi should realise, if he has not so far, that pluralism is the whiff and whoop of the society. Even if some extremists in the Sangh Parivar do not like this, there is a preponderant majority which believes in the idea of India: democracy, secularism and egalitarianism. No doubt, there are pockets in the country where the majority has an unbridled say and denounce pluralism. But this is not true about the nation as a whole. It has full faith in the free say of minorities and will defend that freedom.

Those who declare on the TV screens that they eat beef are not serving the cause. In their efforts to register their secular credentials, they are doing it harm through their chest-beating.

The country’s focus should have been on the lynching of Akhlaq Hussain who was dragged from his house on the rumour that he had consumed beef. Even if it is a fact, the question arises: should a person who ate beef be put to an end? Nearly, all States in the country have banned cow slaughter. The Directive Principles of the Constitution also says: “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”

The matter of beef has gone in a case to the Supreme Court of India. It has said in a judgment that it was up to a person whether he wanted to eat beef or not and it was no crime in law if he did so.

The real fact is that a fringe of Hindu extre-mists has made beef an issue to polarise the society for electoral purposes. In the same way, the Shiv Sena, a Hindu extremist organisation confined to Maharashtra, has also given the State a bad name. Not only has the Shiv Sena sullied the reputation of the democratic structure of India but has besmirched its face. Shiv Sena’s founder, Bal Thackerey, had realised the futility of violence and had come to condemn it. This helped the Shiv Sena to gain acceptability and have its nominee in the chair of the Chief Minister.

Still the democratic functioning is not to the liking of Shiv Sena’s new breed. Blackening the fate of Sudheendra Kulkarni, a respected journalist who has pro-BJP leanings, is the way in which the Shiv Sena functions now. The uproar over this incident should make the Sangh Parivar realise that India’s soul is secular. So it will stay.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com