Politics of meat ban creating polarisation

The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri should come as no surprise to those who have been closely following the ground level politics in western Uttar Pradesh.

September 30, 2015 11:52 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:34 pm IST - New Delhi:

The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, on the edge of the national capital, by a violent Hindu mob on Wednesday should come as no surprise to those who have been closely following the ground level politics in western Uttar Pradesh and the meat/beef bans imposed by BJP-ruled States during the recent Jain festival of Paryushan.

If the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 created a Hindu-Muslim divide across western U.P., the run-up to last year’s general elections saw local BJP leaders making communally coded speeches, ending in an electoral sweep by the party. In the months since the BJP-led government came to power at the Centre, similar political mobilisation has been in evidence, with a spurt in rumours and incidents relating to cow slaughter.

In June this year, a video clip of Bajrang Dal activists brutally assaulting an alleged “cow murderer” went viral on the social media, heightening communal tension in Shamli and Muzaffarnagar. Accompanying the video was a warning: “This man was killing cows near the mandi . He is a cow murderer. Listen to what we have to say. If anyone else is caught slaughtering cows, this is what we will do to them.”

Simultaneously, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, led by Yogi Adityanath, the BJP MP from Gorakhpur, that has for years harassed Muslims in parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh during Eid, is now reportedly active in western U.P. And recently, when cattle smugglers shot dead a policeman in Bareilly, local Hindu outfits wove the episode into an anti-Muslim narrative. This received wide coverage in the local Hindi press.

At the national level, the ban on the sale of meat in Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra during Paryushan saw the two coalition government partners, the Shiv Sena and BJP, slugging it out.

In its wake, three other BJP-ruled States — Rajasthan, Gujarat and Chattisgarh as well as Punjab led by a Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government — banned the sale of meat during the Jain festival either partly or across their States. The Chhattisgarh government banned sale of meat not just during the eight-day-long fasting period but also for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. In Punjab, the ban was imposed only for a single day in Ludhiana.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the High Court ordered the State police to ensure strict implementation of a colonial-era law banning the sale of beef, after a petitioner argued that the slaughter of bovines hurt the sentiments of some communities.

The court order reiterated an existing law, a Section of the 1932 Ranbir Penal Code.

The court directive triggered clashes on the streets and irate reactions from residents, politicians and separatist groups.

All through this, all criticism of imposing such a ban was met largely with silence from the BJP leadership. Those who did speak out, like Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, focused on the fact that such temporary bans had taken place in the past, and that the criticism was politically motivated.

Only Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, spoke out in defence of freedom of choice: “This is a democratic country…. We have to honour the sentiments of each place….I eat beef, I’m from Arunachal Pradesh, can somebody stop me? So, let us not be touchy about somebody’s practices.” Later, he was forced by his party to clarify: “To calm down the situation … I gave a hypothetical example … It was uncalled for to make that hypothetical example as a headline, thereby making it sound as if I consume beef in real life and challenge the other communities to stop me,” he said.

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