Feeding the frenzy

October 06, 2015 01:38 am | Updated November 17, 2021 01:18 am IST

In India, the cow has taken on communal colours. It would seem that eating beef is no longer the simple exercise of a food choice, but a pre-meditated act intended to offend Hindus and show disrespect to Hinduism. The > lynching of a Muslim, Mohammad Akhlaq, in Dadri last week , followed rumours that he had consumed beef, and an announcement over the loudspeaker in the midst of a kirtan from the local temple that a cow had been killed in the neighbourhood. Therefore, for >Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to appeal that a “communal colour” should not be added to the incident is deeply intriguing. Not only do the immediate context and the trigger for the murder appear to point toward the violence being ‘communal’ in nature, but also the wider environment in the communally sensitive western Uttar Pradesh in the last couple of years speaks to a situation of communal hatred and religious identity politics. After the > recent controversy over a meat ban effected in some areas during days of the Jain fasting period and Vinayaka Chaturthi, meat consumption moved up as a topic of discussion from dining areas to media platforms. But if the meat ban threatened to divide Hindu society, the beef ban exacerbated the Hindu-Muslim divide as the cow has had the status of a sacred animal within many traditions of Hinduism. Unfounded rumours of a Muslim family consuming beef were enough to instigate a mob.

Banning cow slaughter is a key component of Hindutva politics. True, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of legislation in many States against cow slaughter. And, prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle is part of the Directive Principles of State Policy. But the rationale in the Constitution was economic, relating to the organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry in a predominantly rural economy, and not religious. However, the stridency in the recent demands to ban the slaughter of cattle and the sale of meat, is part of the new muscular Hindutva that allows for no differences or exceptions or reasons other than the invocation of religious sentiments. Indeed, after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at the Centre last year, there has been a renewed demand for a central legislation banning cow slaughter. Currently, such legislation is under the State List. Surely, Mr. Rajnath Singh is seeking to divert blame, and not clarify the issue in black and white, when he is asking that the killing of Akhlaq not be given a communal colour. To ignore the social context and the prevailing political atmosphere while situating the killing is to ignore the Hindutva politics of communal hate and religious intolerance. Those who feed the mob frenzy must be made accountable for the mob violence.

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