Beef: A savoury or a political tool

 beef art

The media’s attention has now been focused on a new political issue: beef. Nowadays beef has featured more in India’s politics than its cuisine. The Hindu right has always found meat in the demand to ban beef. The obsession with beef is a leftover of the communal politics of the last two centuries, when food was a marker of the religious divide and served as a pretext to mobilise communities.

The bloodletting over beef that ‘may or may not have been beef’ has exposed the historical fault-line that runs across India. Our attention has been focused on the Hindi heartland, the cow belt, where the nastiest contemporary mobilisations have taken place.

The Hindi heartland has a history of cow agitations. In 1882, Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, began a movement demanding the end of cow slaughter under the British Raj. One of the first recorded riots over cow took place in Mau in Azamgarh in 1893.

But independent India had, by and large, found a balance on this tricky issue, by banning cow slaughter in most northern parts of the country even as buffalo meat became our ‘beef ’, the ambiguity keeping the delicate ‘Indian tapestry’ intact.

With the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, UP, on 29 September, rabid groups now riding on a majoritarian tide have ripped apart that weave. To enter the kitchens of fellow Indians and thrash or kill them for what they eat is a serious threat to the sanity that holds our republic together. A new ecosystem is being put into place. Bans imposed by states only legitimises the existence of groups we call ‘the fringe’.

Cows are now not just animals rather have evolved into political animals .They have become a tool of political parties, an electioneering code word and a rallying cry for both Hindu nationalists and their opponents.

BJP legislators thrashed independent MLA Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid inside the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for holding a beef protest in Srinagar onWednesday.Rashid’s protest was a part of a series of such beef parties organised across the country following the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri area last week. In south India, six members of a leftist student political party were suspended after their attempt to serve beef curry on campus to protest the farmer’s killing set off a melee.Recently, violenc swept another northern village amid rumors that a cow had been slaughtered, with a crowd, who had chased down two Muslim men they suspected of cow-killing, clashing with police and burning several cars. Some villagers and police were injured, but no major injuries were reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence on the late September mob killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, saying religious and ethnic bigotry threatened the country’s economic growth.


“We should decide if Hindus want to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims must decide if they want to fight Hindus or poverty,” Modi said at a campaign rally in Bihar state, where elections start next week. “It is unity, communal harmony, brotherhood and peace that will take the nation forward.”


But Modi also rose to power as Hindu nationalist, and since his election last year hard-line Hindus have been demanding that India ban the sale of beef — a key industry within India’s poor, minority Muslim community. In many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef are already either restricted or banned.

A direct outcome of the act is that it would now become economically unviable for farmers to rear cows. Milch cows that augment a farmer’s income could become a burden if he can’t sell bulls and bullocks, which are unproductive assets in the age of merchandised agriculture so, the law, enacted sensibility to protect cows, could force a decline in their population, a trend visible in states that have banned slaughter of bulls and bullocks.


Cows have long been sacred to Hindus, worshipped as a mother figure and associated since ancient times with the god Krishna. But Historians have emphatically demolished the cultural religious arguements that beef eating was alien to Hindus and was the import to Muslim rule.

Moreover, migration and urbanization have transformed the eating habits of Indians. Mumbai, a melting pot of cultures and communities, best symbolizes this transformation. Maharashtra cuisine has revived a regressive legislation that negates its multi-religious character and distorts its agrarian economy.

Culturally, what is being attempted is to use the state – that too, a democratic state – to destroy their food culture, their protein availability and food choice. “Their” stands for Dalits, Muslims, Christians and all those whose food habit included beef or who want to eat it. Choice is very important in a modern democracy.

What do you think will happen if tomorrow a dictator thinks that even plants have life and concludes that killing plants is worse than slaughtering one animal? After all, to feed a family you need to kill several lady’s fingers, several brinjals, several tomatoes. But if you kill a bull, an entire family can survive on it for a week.

In the past, Modi has spoken out angrily against India’s beef industry.

“Brothers and sisters, I don’t know whether this saddens you, but my heart screams out” at the rise of Indian beef exports, Modi said in a 2012 speech. “I am unable to understand why you are silent, why you are taking this lying down.”

But after Modi came to powerIndia has become world’s top beef exporter surpassing Brazil.

GauRakshaks don’t have problems if the same beef is exported and is eaten by non-Indians. No Gaurakshak has ever agitated against beef exports

So the problem is not GauMaata..The problem is not Beef… but the problem is with the selfish politicians who want to destroy the communal harmony between the citizens of India and invoke visceral hatred amongst each other. Beef is just a pretext.


“The writer (Shamaila Fatima) is a student of Geology at Aligarh Muslim University. She can be reached at”

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