Thou shall not eat beef


SINCE TIME immemorial, people have been killed for what they believed in. We are all familiar with the stories of how early Christians were thrown before hungry lions by the Romans to the delight of cheering mobs. 

Patriarch Abraham was flung into a raging inferno by Nimrod. The early believers of Arabia had to go through hell and high water for their faith. In India, the followers of Buddha were nearly wiped out even as the faith spread to far corners of the world.

All of them paid a price for their beliefs. So it would be a historic first that in Narendra Modi’s India people are now being killed for what they eat. Or even on the whiff of a rumor, as 50-year old farmer Mohammed Akhlaq was this week, within minutes of his ‘crime’ of eating beef being proclaimed on loudspeakers by the local temple. His 22-year old son is battling for his life. As Siddharth Varadarajan puts it, forget about your right to eat what you want. The fight is now over your right to not be killed for what you eat!

This did not happen in some remote, lawless badlands of the country. Dadri happens to be right in the heart of India, on the outskirts of the national capital Delhi. The killing has understandably sent shockwaves across India and around the world with the incredulous global media reporting the unusual crime in fascinating detail.

The hyperventilating Indian networks are suitably outraged too. Our friend Arnab Goswami from Times Now is worked up over the fact that the older son of Akhlaq, Sartaj, serves in the Indian air force. As if the crime would somehow be more understandable otherwise. In the black and white world of the Arnab Goswamis of the world, these things do matter. A Muslim farmer with a son serving in the armed forces…now that’s what you’d call a good, patriotic Muslim!

Others furiously debated if it was indeed beef or mutton that Akhlaq had in his ransacked refrigerator. A BJP lawmaker praised Akhlaq as a ‘respectable man’ and termed the ‘action by some young boys’ as unfortunate. However, he went to great lengths to cite various law and acts against cow slaughter blaming the killing on the administration’s failure to implement those laws. The ever vigilant Uttar Pradesh police promptly sent the incriminating evidence, the leftover pieces of meat in Akhlaq’s fridge, for forensic tests. As if the killing and violence would be somehow justified if it turned out to be beef.

What, as Akhlaq’s anguished young daughter asked, if the laboratory tests established that it was indeed mutton? Would that bring back her father?

Whoever thought that in the 21st century and in the week Nasa brought us the glad tidings of water and possibly life being found on Mars, in India we would be debating and killing over our choice of meat.

But then as Vir Sanghvi, himself a proud beef and pork-eating member of the vegetarian Jain community, joked, if you vote for the Gujarat model, you get the Gujarat diet too.

And you get the leaders you vote for. Or rather, as the old saying goes, you get the rulers you deserve. But did India really vote for this unadulterated madness, a mass march backwards, eyes wide shut, to the middle ages?

Of course, the majority, like people elsewhere, remains extremely reasonable and tolerant. And it was only a paltry 31 percent who voted for the BJP and its narcissistic with-me-or-against-me leader after he promised them the moon and more.

But then in the strange numbers game that is Westminster democracy, it has not just meant a shift to the right but a total, upside down transformation. The all-embracing diversity of India represented by Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and Ambedkar appears to have already given way to the searing, saffron uniformity dictated by Savarkar, Golwalkar and Deendayal Upadhyay.

It’s fascinating what a single election has been able to achieve in terms of changing the very character and disposition of the republic. Who says you need sweeping and dramatic changes in the constitution to change the direction of the country! With brute majority in parliament and all state institutions, not to mention a pliable media and captive big business, in your pocket, an assertive and ambitious leader could do anything he puts his mind to.

So India hasn’t just lurched rightwards, it has been witnessing a dangerous ratcheting up of communal tensions and atmospherics across the country.

While the prime minister endlessly regales foreign leaders and desi friends of the BJP with pearls of wisdom about India’s fabled rich heritage, tolerance and democratic strength, the Parivar has captured every sphere of public and private activity.

While he wows CEOs of Fortune 500 companies with his tech savvy and slick slogans of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ in between the regulation selfies and made-for-TV emotional bear-hugs with the Silicon Valley whizkids, his comrades in khaki shorts have been going about their business, telling people what to wear, what to eat and what to read and watch.

The disconnect between this India of silicon dreams that Modi projects for foreign audiences and the reality back home is as stark as the gulf between India and Bharat. The country where desperate farmers are killing themselves in their thousands, some of them right in Delhi, while corporates party; where minorities are being reminded day in and day out that India doesn’t belong to them and if they are still keen to live here, they had better learn to live like pariahs in their own land, cowering in their ghettos.

Even then you cannot be too sure of your safety. You could be beaten to death like an animal on the mere suspicion of a crime as Akhlaq has been. Recently in Kanpur, in the heart of Hindi heartland, another Muslim man was lynched after being accused of being a terrorist.

In March, a Muslim merchant was paraded naked in Dimapur in the northeast of India before being hanged and burnt in the town center while police and local administration stood around. He was accused of being a rapist. Down south in Mangalore last month, a Muslim techie was beaten black and blue and paraded naked for talking to Hindu female colleague.

Are these isolated incidents? One would have dismissed them as such if it weren’t for the deliberate hysteria that is being orchestrated against religious minorities, coupled with sharpening attacks targeting churches and mosques across India. From these growing hysterics over cow slaughter to the meat ban ahead of Eid and the scare over supposedly multiplying Muslim ranks and love jihad, there’s a method in the madness.

Many in the media like to think all this cannot be happening with political blessings. They blame the Parivar for ‘stray acts of violence.’ The PM who takes pride in being a ‘strong and assertive leader’ has yet to open his mouth to send out the message that he will not tolerate these attempts to wreck communal peace in the country. Instead he has rewarded characters like Giriraj Singh and men involved in Muzaffarnagar riots with ministerial berths.

Even if Modi doesn’t directly support the bigotry and violence of fellow travelers, he’s certainly guilty of condoning and encouraging it with his deafening silence. And that silence is seen as the licence to kill by the fringe. As they say in Hindi, jaisi raja waisi praja (people follow the leader). So if intolerance is on the march across the land, you know what’s fueling it.

Where is it all going to end, and at what price to India? In Varadarajan’s words, we are not far from the stage when we get to discover that the color of human flesh is the same as the color of what Modi innocently – or not so innocently – calls “mutton”.

The writer is a Middle East based columnist. He can be reached at:

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