From the States

Matter of choice

Print edition : October 30, 2015

Independent lawmaker Abdur Rashid Sheikh being thrashed by BJP legislators in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar on October 8 for hosting a beef party in the legislators' hostel. Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP

In a meat shop in Mumbai. Animal slaughter and sale of meat were banned for four days in September in Maharashtra during a Jain community festival. Photo: Shailesh Andrade/REUTERS

E.V. Ramasamy Periyar. Photo: The Hindu Archives

K. Veeramani, president of the Dravidar Kazhagam. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

A protest organised by Solidarity, the youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, against the demand to ban beef, before the Kerala State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on October 3. Photo: S. Mahinsha


Party spoiler

By Shujaat Bukhari

THE Dadri killing inspired a sequel in Jammu and Kashmir. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Member of the Legislative Assembly from Nowshehra assaulted an independent MLA in the Assembly for allegedly holding a beef party where “cow meat” was served.

Abdur Rashid Sheikh, representing the Langate constituency in Kupwara district, arranged a beef party at the Legislators Hostel in Srinagar on October 7, where MLAs belonging to the BJP also stay. When the Assembly resumed on October 8, the BJP MLA, Ravinder Raina, and his party colleagues attacked Rashid in full view of the House. National Conference (N.C.) and Congress MLAs came to Rashid’s rescue but the incident turned ugly with the House becoming a battlefield. As the Assembly was in session, television viewers got a live relay of the incident. As tempers ran high, Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh of the BJP was forced to apologise for the incident. “I have already condemned it. I feel sorry about it,” he said.

All the political parties were united in expressing their outrage at the assault on Rashid. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said: “The Assembly is a sacred forum, where laws are made and matters of public importance are raised and deliberated upon. What happened today is highly unfortunate. The sanctity of the House should be maintained and it should not be reduced to a wrestling ring where blows are exchanged. The legislators should respect and protect the dignity of the august House.” He said the incident was “unacceptable”. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah accused the ruling combine, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP, of working against Muslims. “In other parts of India, the interests of the majority community are protected. In Jammu and Kashmir, which is a Muslim-majority State, the sentiments of the majority community should be protected,” he said.

Defending his action of hosting the beef party, Rashid said “since the Assembly was scheduled to take up a Bill to amend the law [on beef], I had a feeling that they [the BJP and the PDP) might sabotage it. So I wanted to send a message across that no law and no Assembly can dictate to me what I should eat and what not to eat. It amounts to interference in religious matters.” Rashid staged a protest outside the Assembly on October 9 and was arrested. Rashid maintained that cow meat was not served at the party and no cow was slaughtered for the purpose at the hostel.

The beef controversy erupted in September when a division bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition, filed by BJP leaders in 2014, asked the government to enforce the ban on beef in the State in accordance with the law passed during Dogra rule in 1932. This provoked serious reactions from all political parties, both separatist and mainstream, in the Kashmir Valley, who termed it as interference in religious matters.

The situation seemed to be going out of hand with many separatists openly resorting to cow slaughter. Asiya Andrabi, the chief of Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM), who is known for her radical and pro-Pakistan views, publicly slaughtered a cow, and the video of the act went viral on social media. Asiya Andrabi was later arrested under relevant laws. Since Eid-ul-Adha was approaching, the government sensed more trouble. On Eid-ul-Adha, it is a practice among Muslims to sacrifice animals. This led to a precarious situation. But, the hard-line separatist Syed Ali Geelani virtually came to the government’s rescue by asking the people to show restraint. He asked them not to do anything that would hurt the sentiments of other communities. The government shut down Internet access for two days during Eid to prevent any “saboteur” from making videos and uploading them on social media as, according to a police officer, “it would put the State on fire”.

While the Jammu bench of the High Court issued strict instructions to implement Section 298 of Ranbir Penal Code, another PIL petition was filed in Srinagar where a division bench issued notices to the government but, at the same time, maintained that “this PIL would not come in the way of bringing any amendments in the law”. This put the PDP-BJP coalition in a tight spot as the legislators belonging to the N.C., and other MLAs, including Rashid and M.Y. Tarigami of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had moved an amendment in the Assembly, which began its session on October 3, seeking the revocation of the ban. As a consequence, the State approached the Supreme Court. The apex court, in its order on October 5, put the Jammu bench’s order in abeyance for two months, thus giving a temporary relief to the coalition. The coalition partners were facing a tough time as they held divergent views and positions vis- a-vis the ban. While the PDP is for revoking it, although none of its members brought forth any Bill, the BJP is clear that the ban not only must remain but be enforced strictly.

After the Supreme Court’s intervention in the matter, the government came under flak for what the N.C. and legal experts called “compromising the autonomy of the legislature”. “By going to the Supreme Court to get a relief, the Mufti government has undermined the authority of the legislature that is supreme in these matters,” said a senior lawyer, Syed Riyaz Khawar. “They cannot stop the legislature from making or amending a law,” he said. Although the PDP-BJP alliance has got a reprieve, differences over critical issues such as the beef ban do not suggest smooth functioning of the coalition in the future. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had said that theirs was an alliance of “North and South poles”, struck mainly to integrate the two regions. But in the past seven months, communal polarisation on certain issues has deepened further. The BJP seems to have lost its ground in Jammu, the region that gave it the largest number of seats to be in a position to enter the power structure. With the beef episode, the PDP lost face in the Kashmir Valley to a large extent.

Issues over which the BJP and the PDP have wide differences are surely going to trouble the coalition in the coming months. It remains to be seen how the two parties will survive in the government and also address their respective constituencies.


Saffron divide

By Lyla Bavadam

Food habits are being drawn into politics and are even polarising the real estate business in Maharashtra. In March, the ban on the sale of beef ordered by the Devendra Fadnavis-headed BJP government drew protests mainly from Muslims and Dalits. In September, when the BJP-led Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation (MBMC) council in Thane district decided to close abattoirs within the corporation and ban the consumption of meat for eight days during “paryushan”, a period of fasting observed by the Jain community, a larger group of people protested. (Of the 8.5 lakh residents of the Mira-Bhayandar municipal area, Jains constitute about 1.2 lakh.) The MBMC proposed a similar ban across the State.

The decision raised the hackles of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), who took it as an affront to their largely non-vegetarian Marathi-speaking vote bank.

Ironically, the Shiv Sena and the MNS now find themselves on the same side as the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Muslim community on the issue and are opposed to fellow Gujarati and Marwari Hindus. Even more paradoxical is the fact that in their argument against the ban, they are now talking of inclusiveness, coexistence and democracy, evoking the cosmopolitan spirit of the Mumbai of yore, which they had ripped apart whenever it suited them.

The MNS, whose political relevance has been fading steadily, saw the MBMC’s ban as a call to arms. Party chief Raj Thackeray has been talking about vegetarian terrorism, referring to pockets of Mumbai where it is no longer possible to purchase non-vegetarian food. The MNS also led a low-key campaign in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) against builders who discriminate against buyers who eat meat. MNS corporators have been insisting that the civic body deny clearance certificates to such builders. With an eye on the BMC elections in 2017, the Shiv Sena, too, registered a protest so as not to lose ground to the MNS, especially since its relationship with its electoral partner, the BJP, is tenuous. The BJP panders to the sentiments of Gujaratis and Jains, who give it a great deal of financial support. Raj Purohit, the BJP MLA, took the ban of meat/beef to an aggressive level when he said abattoirs should be closed on other festive occasions too.

The effects of food polarisation are visible in the real estate demographics. Mumbai’s chawls, buildings with several tenements catering mainly to the lower middle class, are a case in point. The cultural practices and culinary habits of the residents of these chawls, such as the ones in Lalbaug in central Mumbai, were varied. Sociologists have maintained that such proximity engendered tolerance. This culture of tolerance is now dying as the chawls are being demolished and high rise building are taking their place. With the closure of the cotton mills, the chawls of Lalbaug were seen as prime real estate because of the area’s proximity to south Mumbai. Luxury homes, mainly owned by Mumbai’s new rich, who are essentially members of the trading community, have replaced the chawls. The new residents have been objecting to the fish and chicken markets in the neighbourhood, and this has caused a friction between them and the few remaining old residents.

South Mumbai’s Malabar Hill is quite another story. It has been so completely colonised by vegetarians that there is not a single non-vegetarian restaurant in the area. The big grocery stores do not sell eggs and the bakeries in the area offer “Jain varieties” of cakes and pastries, that is eggless products.

Cultural differences in food have always been in the peripheral vision of politicians, but their exploitative potential is only now being realised. In 1964, the Bombay Municipal Corporation passed a resolution to close abattoirs for one day during the eight-day “paryushan”. In 2004, the Congress-NCP government endorsed the ban and ordered that there would be no animal slaughter for two days in the State and for four days in Mumbai. In 2014, this ban was amended to allow the sale of meat privately and in municipal markets. When the MBMC decided on an eight-day ban on meat and proposed its enforcement throughout the State, the Shiv Sena-led BMC launched a successful protest against the ban. The absurdity of the ban on meat was clearly brought out when the matter was heard in the Bombay High Court. Trying to understand the principle of ahimsa as embodied by paryushan, the court questioned why fish and eggs were exempt from the ban. The gist of the argument put forward by the government was that there was a difference between mutton and fish.

The government lawyer told the court: “Fish die the moment they are out of the water so there is no slaughter involved.” He meant to explain that ahimsa was based solely on the active act of slaughter. The mockery of the principle ended in a bargain: it was agreed that abattoirs would be shut for two days instead of eight and fish and eggs would be sold. So much for religious conviction!


Dulina revisited

By T.K. Rajalakshmi

THIRTEEN years have passed since five Dalits were beaten to death by a 5,000-strong mob on October 15, 2002, at Dulina village in Jhajjar district of Haryana on the suspicion of having slaughtered a cow. The mob, an inquiry into the incident revealed, shouted gau mata ki jai (glory to mother cow) as they attacked the five men, aged between 17 and 35, in the vicinity of a police station and in the presence of several police officials ranging from the Station House Officer to the Deputy Superintendent of Police. The police did not fire a single shot to disperse the mob. It was as if they had handed over the five Dalits to be killed by a communally charged mob. (Frontline, January 31, 2003)

As in the recent Dadri incident, the police remained a mute spectator to the lynching. What was shocking about the Dulina incident is that the five young men—Daya Chand, Virender, Tota Ram, Raju and Kailash—were mistaken for Muslims. They were reportedly caught skinning a cow and handed over to the Dulina police station. The truth, as verified by the police, was that they had bought a dead cow for Rs.200 from a contractor in nearby Farookhnagar and were skinning the animal. Three of them were involved in the animal skin business and used that route regularly to ply their trade. The police even verified that no cow had been slaughtered and that there was indeed a purchase of the carcass of a cow from a contractor earlier that day. The drain where witnesses reportedly caught them in the act bore no evidence of any cow slaughter. Had it not been for the complete ineptness of the police and their failure to anticipate and control a mob charged with bloodlust, the incident could have been avoided.

The incident took place between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and by 10 p.m., the police station was strewn with five bodies, two of them badly charred. The police post and the policemen on duty were not harmed. The families of the deceased youth sought in vain a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry. Haryana was ruled by a coalition of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the BJP. The politics around the cow has only intensified since then.

An inquiry report by R.R. Banswal, Commissioner of Rohtak Range, said: “It seems that the exaggerated number of the mob has been given by the police officers/officials in order to cover up lapses on their part…..The act of the mob lynching the five persons was ghastly and crossed all limits of humanity. The police personnel failed to save the precious lives of five innocent persons from the cruel hands of the mob… the police officers… did not take stern action against the violent mob. There was sufficient time to control the situation as the time of lynching of the persons was between 9:45 and 10:15 p.m. whereas the trouble started at 6;15 p.m. The Duty Magistrates also did not act properly in the discharge of their duties; the Inspector General of Police, Rohtak range, was present at the headquarters, but was not informed about the incident and neither was a requisition for Rapid Action Force made.” The report, as pointed out by Frontline in 2007, did not explore the role of communal organisations, although the victims’ families and the people in the vicinity of Dulina believed that vigilantism on the pretext of “cow protection” was a feature even in 2002. And such vigilantism had gone up in recent years, leading to clashes and systematic attacks on property and vehicles of members of the minority community. The sensitive areas include parts of Gurgaon and the adjoining Mewat district.

The families of the five deceased victims discontinued the business of skinning and transporting cattle skins. Daya Chand belonged to Badshahpur in Gurgaon district. Today, the village is unrecognisable. High-rise residential buildings and offices of multinationals dot its landscape, but the Dalit homes remain as they were.

Daya Chand is survived by his wife and four children. His brother Dhan Chand never married. His father, Budh Ram, never got over the shock of his son’s death. He died in 2012. His brother, Rattan Singh, whose son was also killed along with Daya Chand, died a few years after the incident. Saroj Devi, widow of Daya Chand, was given a government job after a lot of pressure from the Left and other groups. “The family situation grew worse in the beginning as the only source of income stopped. The compensation came much later and we were mocked at for taking it,” she said. After the lynching incident, the family faced a lot of hostility as people believed that they had indeed slaughtered a cow. Dhan Chand said even though they had been involved in the skin trade for generations primarily because it was predetermined by the caste they belonged to and with little opportunity existing outside it, they had to give up the vocation because of the changed circumstances. The family had a contract to pick up carcasses from at least 28 villages. “There are no animals any more. No grazing lands left in this concrete jungle. The trade had to stop. Besides, we did not want to take that risk again. When we restarted the business, people asked us if we planned to kill cows again,” said Dhan Chand, whose main source of income was supplying labour for catering. He said even in catering money was hard to come as clients refused to pay after utilising the services. “Lives were lost, business was lost and money too was lost,” he said, referring to the money that the family had deposited with the government for the contract. “I am not embarrassed to say but for some years we washed utensils at dinner parties in order to survive. There was no option. We were paid Rs.5 per plate,” Dhan Chand said. When his comments were sought on the Dadri incident, he said it should never have happened. He recalled seeing a television report which showed a Muslim boy leaving his prayers midway to rescue a cow that had fallen into a well. “He need not have done that. But he did despite suffering injuries himself,” he said.

Satbir Singh, State president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, who has been in touch with the families of the Dulina victims, said tensions over the cow were regular in the area. There were a series of incidents from 2013, especially during elections, in areas where the minorities were concentrated. With amendments to the Cow Protection Act, the hysteria over the cow has gone up. This was one of the first things that the BJP government in the State headed by Manohar Lal Khattar did after assuming the reins of power. The discussion in the State Assembly over the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gau Samvardhan (Cow Protection and Conservation) Bill, 2015, lasted about an hour and was passed with a voice vote. The Animal Husbandry and Dairy Minister, Om Parkash Dhankar, made a fervent plea for support on the grounds of “strong socio-religious sentiments of the general public”. The Bill and its advocates never debated the issue of menace caused by stray and abandoned cattle.

Inderjit Singh, former secretary of the State unit of the CPI(M), told Frontline that people in the State were fed up with stray cattle that were causing accidents and ruining standing crops. He said: “Desi [indigenous] cows have been replaced by cross-bred varieties. So the desi cows have got marginalised and continue to be bred by indigenous bulls. Desi cattle form the bulk of the stray animals that have become a big menace in villages and urban areas. Interestingly, it is this cow, which is the most neglected, that is most worshipped. These cows are camped in a large number of gaushalas [shelters for cows], which has become a flourishing business as people donate generously to the gaushala committees. Even State governments have started giving liberal grants to them. The managers receive stray cows only if handsome amounts are offered in lieu of the animal. If the cow offered is a milch cow, it is retained, but if it is dry it is sure to be let loose by the gaushala.”

The problem is that no one dare articulate the real concerns of people for fear of losing out on majority community support, and the Congress is complicit in this. The Bill on cow protection with its stringent provisions was hailed by the Congress and the INLD. Dulina was a blot on the State’s landscape but cow politics continues to reign supreme.


Meat politics

By T.K. Rajalakshmi

THE death on May 31 of Abdul Ghafoor, 65, in Nagaur district in western Rajasthan, did not make national headlines. Political delegations did not make a beeline to the village. And the ruling BJP was not made to feel accountable for letting mobs run amok. After all, five Dalits had been beaten to death by an upper-caste mob in Dangawas, another village in the district, on May 14 over a land dispute ( Frontline, June 26).

Ghafoor, like Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri, was beaten to death in Birloka village. Dadri and Birloka are separated by 500 kilometres. Ghafoor’s fault was that he was a meat seller and a Muslim. This was the first communal incident of this nature reported in Birloka, which has 22 Muslim households along with around 520 households of Hindus, predominantly Jats. Ghafoor had plied his trade for over three decades and his customers included people from all communities.

The incident that led to the lynching of Ghafoor, who succumbed to his injuries in hospital, was similar to the attack on Akhlaq. It was based on a rumour on May 30 that cows had been slaughtered for a grand feast at Kumhari village in Khinwsar tehsil, 60 km from Birloka. The rumour was spread on social media sites showing uploaded photographs of carcasses and a cooking pot. A mob, mobilised by fringe elements, turned the place into a riot zone, throwing stones and setting vehicles on fire. The police could hardly control the situation. No casualties were, however, reported from Kumhari, the epicentre of the rumours and the violence.

Oblivious to these tensions in the neighbourhood, Ghafoor set up his meat shop as usual on May 30. A report by a fact-finding team of the Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity and the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind revealed that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the other groups organised a rally at Birloka where communal slogans were raised. Ghafoor’s meat shop was at one end of the village. It was set upon, vandalised and set afire. Ghafoor was dragged out and beaten. After the mob left, villagers Raju Nayak and his wife Jassu took Ghafoor to the nearest hospital and informed his family.

The incident did not get the kind of media and political attention it deserved. The fact-finding team found out that some influential members of the majority community pressured Ghafoor to close his shop, saying that the village was dominated by Hindus and that there was no need for a meat shop. The targeting of Ghafoor and his shop was not incidental. Eight persons were apprehended in connection with the attack and sent to judicial custody. But certain outfits mobilised public support and protested in front of the Nagaur Collectorate to get the “innocents” released.

In September, the Rajasthan Cabinet approved changes to the Rajasthan Bovine Animals (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995, which now allows the seizure of any vehicle illegally carrying or smuggling the cow and its progeny and the arrest of individuals involved in this. It is the only State that has a department devoted to cows; a Minister from the Rebari (cowherd) community is in charge of it. This is in addition to a Cow Sewa Commission and a Cow Conservation Directorate.

Salim Engineer, secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, told Frontline: “Fear is spread in the name of the cow. There have been several incidents in the State where vehicles carrying animals are routinely stopped, rumours spread that cattle are being smuggled for slaughter, and people are randomly picked up and beaten. No action is taken against such vigilantism.”

In parts of Alwar district that fall in the Mewat region, the Meo community is targeted. “Any dispute between a Meo and a non-Meo is given a communal colour and Meos are often threatened that they will be accused of cow slaughter. Even the police threaten to slap cases of cattle smuggling and slaughter if Meos do not comply with their demands,” said Engineer, on the basis of reports. “There are laws already. The whole idea of bringing a separate law is to mainly target Muslims,” he said.

The growing insecurity among the minorities is palpable given the communal mobilisation over the cow.


Beef-feast pioneers

By Ilangovan Rajasekaran

IN Tamil Nadu, beef-eating is not a culture that is confined to the dining table. It is also a sociocultural instrument that secularists and rationalists use to counter the Hindutva elements that have been trying hard to build their strength in the State since the days of the Jana Sangh.

The rationalist movement of E.V. Ramasamy “Periyar” supported the eating of beef and even organised feasts where it was served. In fact, this year on April 14, the 125th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar, the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.), which Periyar founded, attempted to organise a beef feast at the end of its “removal of ‘thaali’” (mangalsutra in Hindi) function. The Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government approached the Madras High Court and obtained a stay citing its potential for creating a law and order situation. The State government managed to get an order in its favour on appeal to a two-member bench, which set aside a single judge order that had favoured the D.K.

But before the police could move into the event venue, the sprawling campus of “Periyar Thidal”, located opposite the office of the Chennai Police Commissionarate, 21 couples had removed their “thaalis”. The beef feast was not allowed. (The event was meant to be a protest against the ban on beef by the Maharashtra government.)

The function, D.K. leader K. Veeramani observed, was a symbolic counter to the Hindu nationalist elements in the State. The D.K. called off the programme in view of the stay granted by the High Court. But what happened thereafter surprised many. When everyone was preparing to leave the venue, a group, suspected to belong to the Shiv Sena came in an autorickshaw and attempted to rough up the D.K. cadre, injuring six D.K. members. The police arrested five of the attackers and seized a few country-made explosives.

Periyar, after his tours abroad, understood beef-eating as just a way of life for the poor man, for whom it offered a diet that had high nutritional value and was economical as well. He condemned the contempt of some sections of society for those who ate beef and the attempt to see them as “inferior” and untouchable. “These Brahmins obey even a ‘botler’ [as Periyar used to pronounce butler], who used to cook beef for Englishmen who eat beef and rule you. But they refuse to tolerate the natives eating the same meat,” he said.

Veeramani, talking to Frontline, pointed out that Ambedkar, too, concurred with Periyar’s views. Cows and animals were sacrificed in hundreds in yagnas, to which references are aplenty in the epics. “A few Hindutva elements who are attempting to appropriate Ambedkar claimed that he had asked people not to eat beef. But what he told his people was that they should not eat the meat of dead animals. In his book The Untouchables, he explained his views on this issue clearly. But Hindutva zealots have constructed false propaganda around his views on beef-eating,” Veeramani contended.

Periyar had taken up the issue of beef-eating in 1926 itself. While throwing open a well meant exclusively for ‘Adi Dravidars’ (Dalits), at Siravayal village near Karaikudi on April 6, 1926, he told the Adi Dravidars that he did not favour the practice of having a separate well for them. “The reason you are called ‘Parayars’ is that you eat beef and drink liquor. But those who eat beef are ruling the world. It is a ruse to keep you as untouchables. Hence, I will never ask you to discard beef-eating,” he said.

Veeramani said the present attempt to remove beef from the State List was a move to usurp the State’s powers. “Many such endeavours were made on earlier occasions too. But the D.K. opposed them all vehemently. For instance, at the D.K’s central committee meeting held in Chennai on May 6, 1979, it was decided to host a bread-and-beef feast in all important towns in Tamil Nadu. Accordingly, it was organised a week later, on May 13.”

There have been attempts in the past in the Dravidian land to saffronise the State’s culture. But those attempts were hastily dropped after a public outcry or on electoral considerations. The then Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, brought in the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act, 2002, known as the Anti-Conversion Act, but had to repeal it. She wanted the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prohibition Act, 1950, to be revoked. But as elections to the State neared, she withdrew it.

In fact, Tamil Nadu has a law on cow slaughter. The Tamil Nadu Animal Preservation Act, 1958, governs the slaughter of cattle in the State. All animals could be slaughtered on obtaining a “fit for slaughter” certificate. The law defined “animals” as bulls, bullocks, cows andcalves, and buffaloes of all ages. On August 30, 1976, it enacted a new law that banned cow slaughter. “However, the ban is not implemented stridently,” said an animal rights activist. Beef, of course, is available freely across the State.

The 1966 agitation against cow slaughter in India provided a fillip to the cow protection movement. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, did not yield in to the pressure, however, and this led to violence in Delhi. A mob of sadhus, sanyasins and hooligans attacked the house of the senior Congress leader K. Kamaraj, who escaped through the back door. The reason for the mob ire against him was that at the Congress Working Committee meeting on the issue of cow protection, Kamaraj was firm in pointing out that religious majoritarianism should not be allowed to appropriate the cow as its sacred mascot.

Periyar was furious when he heard about the near-assault on Kamaraj and asked the people in Tamil Nadu to launch a protest movement against Hindutva anarchy. He even went to the extent of asking those who opposed Brahminism to carry “six-inch”-long daggers like those of Sikhs to save “samadharma” (equality) from the evil clutches of “varnashrama” which unleashed violence against secularists and “black” leaders.

Periyar in his broadsheet, Viduthalai, dated November 15, 1966, published an editorial justifying the need for such an extreme act of carrying weapons. He asked D.K. cadre to organise rallies and meetings on November 20, 1966, in Tamil Nadu to condemn the attack on Kamaraj. He asked his cadre to organise beef-eating festivals at various places.

“Meat-eating has been a tradition going back thousands of years. When Ambedkar wished to set right a wrong while framing the Constitution, it was not allowed,” Veeramani said. “The predominant Brahmin members in the Constituent Assembly,” he said, “insisted on having a law on cow protection, which eventually led to the recommendation on the prohibition of cow slaughter in Article 48, which offers guidelines to States under the head of Directive Principles.”

“This has encouraged the States that have Hindu nationalist governments [read BJP-led governments] to go for a ban on cow slaughter and the selling of cow meat as is the case of Maharashtra today,” said Veeramani. But beef being projected as “minorities’ food”, especially of Muslims, was dangerous, he said and added: “The attack on the food culture of a single group has internal and international ramifications.”


Beef on the menu

By R. Krishnakumar

THE price of beef has been going up, of all places, in Kerala, where there is no legal restriction on the transporting or killing of cattle. Meat is readily available at street corners.

This August, beef prices unusually touched Rs.300 or more a kilogram at most centres in Kerala. Temporarily, at least, beef delicacies disappeared from hotel menus. On October 9, the price of beef ranged between Rs.270 and Rs.290 in markets in and around Thiruvananthapuram.

The average price of beef in the State was Rs.193.29 a kg in 2013-14, according to the State Planning Board’s Economic Survey. “Desi” chicken sold at Rs.231.74 then; broilers at Rs.145.80; and mutton at Rs.403.10 a kg.

In a State where dietary restrictions are rare among most Hindus (except Brahmins), it is the sharp difference in price that has all along made beef the favourite (and the cheapest) source of animal protein for the common people, irrespective of their religion. The killing of Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri and its reaction in Kerala—the “campus beef festivals” organised by the Students Federation of India (SFI), the support it received from all walks of life and the awkward resistance against it by students affiliated to the BJP—have put renewed focus on the flourishing beef trade in this southern State, which, strangely, rears very few cattle on its own.

For several years now, the BJP-RSS combine and its affiliates have been trying to “reform” the culinary traditions of Kerala to its liking through subtle strategies. But cattle meat continued to be as popular as ever in the State where the majority of people, Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike, consume beef.

Of late, however, merchants’ associations allege, vigilante groups in Tamil Nadu, some ostensibly seeking ethical treatment of animals, have been taking the law into their own hands, waylaying cattle-laden trucks bound for Kerala and rustling the animals to makeshift enclosures, at times even demanding a ransom for their release. After several such trucks, each load worth about Rs.5.5 lakh or more, were attacked, merchants decided to stop transporting cattle to Kerala until the two governments intervened to find a solution.

Kerala is one of the few States in India where slaughter of cattle is not prohibited. But rearing cattle for meat has never been a popular activity. Most farmers in the State belong to the small or marginal category. Cattle once used to be reared as an adjunct of rice farming in Kerala. However, there has been a continuous decline in the area under paddy and other seasonal crops in the past four decades. Straw became a scarce commodity, and farmers were forced to depend on the costly cattle feed produced in other States.

They found little purpose in rearing male cattle, preferring instead to raise cows and concentrate on milk production, using high-yielding cross-bred female animals. Today, nearly 84 per cent of the adult female cattle population in the State is cross-bred. The number of bullocks, indigenous female cattle and male calves have come down considerably. Rising input costs also meant that it was uneconomical to keep male calves or bullocks and cows once they had gone past their utility value as draught or milch animals.

Kerala used to record a deficit in milk production in the early 1980s, but by 2001 or so it could produce enough and more for its needs. This was the result of an intensive programme for upgrading and maintaining the genetic quality of its cattle through artificial insemination and, importantly, regular culling of the unproductive cattle stock.

Dr K. Narayanan Nair, an expert in livestock economy, told Frontline some time ago that it was very important for Kerala to have a regular system of culling cattle for maintaining the quality of its stock. Farmers were struggling to keep even the useful dairy stock and could not afford to keep unproductive, aged or diseased livestock. Unlike some northern States, Kerala does not have extensive stretches of land for cattle grazing either.

Significantly, beef consumption in Kerala touched an all-time high of 2,50,000 tonnes in 2014-15, the State Animal Husbandry Director, S. Chandrankutty, said. (Total meat consumption during the period was 4.45 lakh tonnes.) However, cattle reared within the State accounted for only a small share of the beef consumed. As per data from the border check posts, the number of cattle transported from other States increased from 3.89 lakh in 2013-14 to 4.93 lakh in 2014-15. Similarly, there was an increase of over one lakh buffaloes during the same period, from 1.51 lakh to 2.52 lakh.

But these animals were not beef cattle (those fattened exclusively for meat) but culled cattle from the farms and backyards in neighbouring States. “The actual number of animals being brought in could be much more, as today hotels and wedding organisers also source meat directly from the neighbouring States in addition to buying from illegal traders,” he said.

There are 55 slaughterhouses in Kerala, as per government estimates. But officials believe that there could be around 2,300 more unauthorised abattoirs. It is an accepted rule of thumb that unauthorised beef trade is about three times the legally known business in the State.

Yet, Kerala continues to experience a shortfall in the availability of meat. Some sample surveys had indicated that 97 per cent of the rural population and 85 per cent of the urban population in Kerala are non-vegetarian and that beef accounted for over 40 per cent of the meat consumed.

Estimates may vary, but there is no doubt that the majority of people in Kerala consume beef, which has long been also an important part of the poor man’s diet.

There are plenty of reasons why politicians should leave people alone, and let them have the food of their choice.