India going vegetarian: Ban on cow slaughter motivated by BJP commitment to upper caste Hindu ideology

The increasingly draconian judicial and extra-judicial means employed by state governments, especially those ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to ram through the vegetarianism are alarming, to say the least. Despite all-round incoherence on the ground, there seems to be a distinct method to the madness; a ploy, and not a subtle one at that, to impose vegetarianism on this largely non-vegetarian country.

Dictating food habits is an aggressive form of cultural imposition which directly contravenes the fundamental right to exercise individual choice and freedom. We are fast hurtling towards a stage when we may find ourselves being subject even to dress or behavioural codes. The government’s assurance that its policies are not directed against any particular community are little more than cold comfort at a time when we are being inundated with a daily barrage of statements advocating vegetarianism and policies driving meat shops out of circulation.

If the Yogi has used legal recourse to strip meat shop and slaughterhouse owners of their livelihood, his Gujarat counterpart, Vijay Rupani, has declared his intention to make Gujarat a "shakahari" (vegetarian) state. Justifying his desire, Rupani has described Gujarat as a “unique state” committed to Mahatma Gandhi’s values of “non-violence and truth.” A report in The Indian Express quotes Rupani saying, "This is Gandhi’s Gujarat, Sardar’s (Vallabhbhai Patel) Gujarat and (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s Gujarat.”

The strategically convenient invocation of Gandhi surely does not add to the stature of the Gujarat Chief Minister.

Amending the state’s Animal Preservation Bill, the Gujarat Assembly last Friday decreed a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a minimum of ten years for cow slaughter. The punishment earlier entailed three to seven years of imprisonment. In addition, the charge of cow slaughter has now been made a non-bailable offence. It may be worth recalling that it was in Gujarat’s Una municipality that seven Dalits were viciously beaten by cow protection vigilantes, popularly known as gaurakshaks, eight months ago.

 India going vegetarian: Ban on cow slaughter motivated by BJP commitment to upper caste Hindu ideology

Image used for representative purpose only. Reuters

Not to be left behind, Chhattisgrah’s Chief Minister Raman Singh, too, has jumped into the commotion. Within days of Rupani's statement, Singh strung out yet another combustive comment. The Chief Minister publicly declared that anyone found committing “gau hatya” (cow slaughter) would be hanged (“latka denge.”)

Rewind to 2015, when Shivraj Singh Chouhan, BJP Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, banned serving eggs in the state’s midday meal programme. That the Chief Minister slapped the no-egg dietary restriction even as more than half the population of children in Madhya Pradesh under six years of age happened to be underweight, did more to shore up his upper-caste, Hindu credentials and less as a head of state, committed to welfare of the poor.

The motivation spurring the BJP’s messianic project of pushing through vegetarianism comes from its intrinsic commitment to upper-caste Hindu ideology, (the latest electoral inclusion of Dalits is only an electoral calculus for the party.)

For ideologues, vegetarianism is a form of cultural purity. Using vegetarianism as an instrument to drive fear among not just Muslims but non-vegetarians as a whole is indeed a form of dictatorship.

Whatever be the modus operandi of turning India into a vegetarian country, whether through backdoor policies or legal changes, it has serious implications for citizenship rights and Indian democracy more generally.

Sometime ago, in an article in The Telegraph in September 2015, historian Mukul Kesavan wrote, "Vegetarianism is intrinsic to Hinduism; it follows that it ought to be promoted as a national virtue.” The author then went on to ask: “Has Hindu patriotism begun to displace a benign pluralism as the republic’s cardinal virtue? It’s too early to say but this much is clear: Modi’s regime has made majoritarian ideas respectable by owning them and taking them seriously.”

Unfortunately, civil society is still to respond with the outrage that this situation demands. The drive towards forced vegetarianism is not just an attack on Muslims or beef eaters. It is a direct challenge to India’s multicultural pluralism, an attack that should concern every citizen, regardless of what he/she might prefer to eat.

Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 10:25:52 IST