My mother, or a burger for the other?

By Kunal Chaturvedi, IInd B.A. Programme.

The proposed beef ban is an agenda that is being debated hotly at the present time. While being insignificant in itself, this agenda has larger implications on Indian society, because it raises the question of a minority’s voice being trampled over by the swaying majority in a democracy ? Along with this uncomfortable, but unavoidable, question, this agenda is also concerned with the foundations of Hinduism, and what it really is. On this note, I’ll try to put forward my arguments against the proposed beef ban on two frontiers, the historical-religious aspects and the politico-sociological aspects of the agenda.

It has been oft quoted that Hinduism is not a religion, it is a ‘way of life’. However, what is surprising is that this statement has strong historical basis, and is not just glorifying propaganda. The first appearance of the word Hinduism on the scene is a fairly late occurrence, somewhere in the 18th century.

What we know today as Hinduism emerged as a collection of various tribal sects and cults that persisted in the subcontinent since the Harappan times. Unlike the Christians, who have The Bible, or the Muslims, who have The Quran, we don’t have any one single text that lays down strict rules of conduct for every Hindu, and neither do we have a founder-prophet that is a characteristic feature of almost all major world religions. And due to this style of origin and the flexibility in the form of absence of a fixed canon, we have always been an accommodating religion, as is evident from immense contradictory aspects present in the modern day Hinduism.

On the one hand, the Vaishnavas consider the concept of ahimsa as supreme, and on the other, the Shaivites such as Aghori and Kalamukhi indulge in cannibalism and necrophilia. In Hinduism comes together the worship of the ascetic celibate Brahma as well as creative energy in the form of phallic symbols of Shiva Linga and Yoni. In fact, we have very conveniently accommodated Buddha, whose entire doctrine was based on a criticism of Brahmanical religion, within our pantheon, as an avatar. Its because of this reason that I believe that not being accommodating to people’s personal beliefs will be a disgrace to our Sanatan Dharma. It must also be noted here that despite having no fixed canon, the source of authority of all religious scriptures are the Vedas. Therefore, it should be kept in mind that the original Vedic religion was based purely on sacrifice, and that included the bovine family as well. Another fact that is of importance here is that the Vedas never mention the cow as being sacred to Hindus. The first such mention comes from later parts of the Mahabharata, dated to the 1st-2nd century AD at the earliest (The Vedas are estimated as being composed around 1000 BC). If we can justify killing of animals for sacrificial purposes, I believe feeding a stomach is a much more noble cause. Also interesting is the legend of Mahishasur Mardini, which  is based on the killing of a buffalo-demon, a close cousin of the cow.

However, what I am unable to understand is, that why was there a need for me to provide arguments on the religious front, despite living in India (Or is that the reason why I had to provide these arguments ?). The constitution of the country mandates that the Indian state will be a secular, democratic republic, and that means that the state can not promote one religion over others. I don’t believe that the guiding principles of democracy allow the state to intervene in the private life of an individual, and I believe that food preferences fall under the category of private life. While it is true that we live in a country that is equally governed by communitarian laws as democratic ones, still, this ban would result in a large segment of population not being able to get their favourite food, which is not acceptable at all. I would also like to point out that there has been such a ban on killing animals in the history of the subcontinent, and that was implemented b y King Ashoka. However, his dynasty came to an end soon after him because of a coup by the commander of the army, who was a Brahman. Historians claim that that coup was a result of Ashoka’s patronage of the heterodox religions and his policy of banning the killing of certain animals did not sit well with the Brahamans, whose livelihood depended on the sacrifices. While there are many other reasons for the decline of the Mauryan empire, this fact clearly proves that intervention in the private life of an individual is not tolerated in a monarchy as well, let alone a democracy.

If the present government bans beef, it will easily lose the votes of the minorities and a large amount of the Hindu youth in the next elections. And I believe that the top leadership of the government is recognising this fact, therefore they are solely focusing on developmental agendas and distancing themselves from the statements of the parent right wing organisations.And even if such a ban is implemented in India, we can never stop beef eating in remaining parts of the world. Let alone remaining parts, no ban can stop this from happening in India itself, as clear from the (illegal ?) availability of beef in Maharashtra and liquor in Gujarat. I’d also like to point out that most of the beef that is produced in the country comes from cows that farmers sell to the butchers, and these cows are generally decrepit and have outlived their utility.

A ban on beef would also result in taking away this chance from the farmer of earning a little more from an animal that is otherwise useless. Supporters of the ban claim that they are not concerned with what people eat, rather their concern is the violence and cruelty against animals. But if the problem is only with cruelty and violence, why not extend the ban to all non-vegetarian food, and not only cows ? I still don’t understand how killing a cow is more cruel than killing any other animal, after all, the same life given to us by nature lives in each and every living being. Hindus might claim that cow is emotionally close to them, and you don’t kill your mother, but we have to keep in mind that these sentiments are only of the Hindus, and that too only to the devout ones, and not the remaining communities. I personally, am a big animal lover and a vegetarian (My family, friends and earlier notes can testify) and am completely against any kind of cruelty against any animal. But I believe that I have no right to impose my views on anyone, just like a Muslim can’t force me to eat the mutton on Eid, or a Christian can’t force me to have wine on Holy Communion (both of which I believe to be an absolute delight to the appreciators).

If tomorrow the Jainas argue that hurting plants is against their religious sentiments, will we stop having delicious vegetables and daal as well ?

While it may be claimed that beef consumption is against the sentiments of more than 80% of the population of the country, but being Hindus, I think our sensitivities should be a little more accommodating, and wouldn’t it be much better if our sensitivities were hurt more due to crimes against women and the sub-standard living conditions of a large number of our countrymen, who are forced to survive on rats, rather than what the other person’s tastes are ?


(Strictly vegetarian)