Post-Bihar, Budshah’s beef lesson for India

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What is identical between a sixteenth century Kashmiri king and the BJP governments of Maharashtra and Haryana? All banned beef. Only difference is that king was Sultan Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin and he had banned the cow slaughter in the state in deference to the religious sentiment of his Hindu subjects.  

As beef ban takes centre stage in India’s politics, with BJP even losing the Bihar election over the cow issue, Zain-ul-Abidin, also known as Budhshah shows the way.

According to Jonaraja, a Kashmir Pandit historian of the era,  Budshah, the great monarch   stopped the killing of cows, restricted the eating of beef and catching  of fish in the sacred springs of the Hindus, a practice which continues till this day.  The king also abstained from eating meat on Hindu festivals.

Budshah ruled for fifty years from 1420-70 and his period is known for religious tolerance and social harmony. Ironically, he was the son of Sikander the Butshiken (idol-breaker) who was responsible for the migration of many Kashmiri Pandit families from the state. But  soon after he took over, Zain-ul-Abidin, according to historical accounts, not only brought them back, he also rebuilt the demolished temples and constructed new ones, two of which were at Ishbar, Nishat on the outskirts of Srinagar. He also abolished Jazia for non-Muslims. 

But Budshah’s ban on beef was the way to go. No Muslim will have a problem with it. And it is a model to emulate not only for the state but also for India. Here was a Muslim king who banned cow slaughter to respect the sentiments of Hindus. But more than the king’s gesture is the spirit of the ban. It was about choice and tolerance, not a compulsion or imposition.

Ever since High Court upheld the ban on beef following a petition filed by the Government’s own Deputy Advocate General Parimukh Seth, the issue  has gotten contentious and complicated  by the day. On Eid-ul-Azha, the state government imposed 81 hour ban on internet fearing mass slaughter of cows  in defiance of the ban and uploading of videos on social sites.

However, the beef issue has taken on much more grave dimensions in India. It has so far led to the lynchings of five Muslims. It has become the most conspicuous trigger for the hate directed against Muslims. What is more, if the election campaign in Bihar is any guide, it has also become a potent mass mobilization issue for BJP. The cow has become a critical factor in winning or losing an election. And now that the cow has entered the political discourse in the country, it will be impossible to take it out. In fact, the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar even said that Muslims can live in India if they don’t eat beef.

The fringe sections among the majority community backed by the political, ideological and the institutional support are imposing their own narrow cultural ethic on the country. And if there was any doubt that the intimidation and the lumpenism on display lacked an active encouragement from the governing structures of the country, it was removed by the election in Bihar. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi on down to Amit Shah, senior Bihar BJP leadership and the rank and file of the party have actively abetted the rising intolerance through their speeches and brazen communal election strategies. 

Zain-ul-Abidin certainly has a lesson or two for the rulers of today’s India. He had also imposed a prohibition on beef eating in his kingdom, more than four centuries ago. But it was a ban by the ruler from the majority community in deference to the religious sentiments of the minority community, not a crude display of state power to force the minority to do the bidding of the majority.

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