“The state shall, in particular, take steps for … prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”
— Article 48, The Directive
Principles of State Policy
“For the [Vedic] Brahmin every day was a beef-steak day.”
— B R Ambedkar
In an otherwise Ambedkarite Constitution, the Gandhian mafia managed to sneak in the cow. However, it was not made the mandate of the Indian state to protect “the porcupine, the hedgehog, the iguana, the rhinoceros, the tortoise or the hare” — all listed by the Manusmriti (circa 200 AD) as “eatable”.
Brahminical Hinduism tends to yoke together practices totally at odds. The meaning of one resides in the meaninglessness of the other. The touch-me-not Brahmin renders everyone else untouchable; sometimes he cannot even touch himself. Time was when the Vedic Brahmin happily ate beef; merrily sacrificed cattle in thousands; treated a special guest with veal pulao. Post-Buddhism, the cow was declared sacred and holy. It became Kamadhenu, the abode of 330 million gods and goddesses. Gandhi called the cow “a poem of pity”; his love for the bovine was rooted in seeing it as divine. “The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection. Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution.”
Many Dalit communities have myths – the Madigas of Andhra Pradesh have Jambava Purana – that trace their origin back to the consumption of cow meat and the stigma of untouchability enforced on them. After the Brahmins declared the cow holy, society still needed someone to clear the cow carcass. The ingenuity of the caste system was there to manage this problem. Ambedkar argued that untouchability entailed from eating the meat of the dead cow. So, conventionally, “untouchables” got to eat not a cow in prime, after slaughtering it, but after it died of old age or disease — stringy, not juicy, meat.
Yet, beef and buffalo meat comprise the largest meat product to be both produced and consumed in India. “This animal [buffalo] has not been given its due place in the livestock sector. Paradoxically, it is discriminated against merely on account of its dark colour. This is clear apartheid against buffalo.” This is not from Kancha Ilaiah’s Buffalo Nationalism, but from the India report of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Meanwhile, the dark buffalo is ritually sacrificed. In several parts of South India, Dalits are forced to do the slaughtering. Gandhi did not love the buffalo.
The caste system’s inferiorising of those who deal with cattle (dead or alive) and leatherwork has resulted not just in intolerance but also in the lack of evolution of diversity of red-meat products. According to the FAO’s India report, hardly one per cent of the total meat produced in India is used for processing. Take Germany’s wide range of sausages (Bratwurst, Blutwurst, Bregenwurst, Liverwurst, and whatnot) and salamis (dry-cured, aged). Look at the range of knives and precision instruments used for cutting meat in Europe. Think of thin carpaccio. Think of the range of cheeses in France. This comes from not just love for food but from respect for communities that deal with animals. In India, many of the inferiorised castes have wonderful ways of salting and preserving meat (and fish). When these communities are despised and rendered resourceless, how will their secrets and techniques be valourised and commodified? Dal-roti-sabzi, a Brahmin-Bania-Jain diet, is projected as the staple. Indians contributed an ugly word to the English vocabulary — non-vegetarian.
Much hue and cry is being raised over the recent cow-slaughter bans in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh — conveniently ruled by the demonic Bharatiya Janata Party. But few realise that there has been a ban in place in Delhi since 1994 (the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act), for few in the secular brigade – who have a Pavlovian response to any agenda set by the BJP/RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal/Narendra Modi – get worked up over the silent ban on beef in Delhi. Most beef sellers in Delhi are forced to claim they are selling “buff”. Consumption of beef does not seem to excite the secular-liberal elite, for whom Hindutva is an easy enemy — not Hinduism, which by some reckless and perverse misunderstanding is seen as tolerant/non-violent. The vociferous defenders of A K Ramanujan’s essay or Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses won’t sign a we-love-beef petition.
Last week in Hyderabad when students, activists and professors asserted their right to consume beef, they were attacked because they ate beef in a celebratory fashion. They were taking joy in what was expected to be done secretly. A food that has been made an object of stigma and shame was being reclaimed as a symbol of pride, as a right; after all, a kilo of beef costs Rs 130 while okra is Rs 100. It’s time we started a movement to declare beef the national food of India. Some truly Vedic Brahmins may well sign up.
The author is publisher, Navayana