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24 January 2012

If only cows could vote

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By Ram Puniyani

Last month, the Madhya Pradesh government’s Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Act – or the Bill for Protection of Cow Progeny – got the presidential clearance. As per this Act, the punishment for slaughtering a cow or its progeny, transporting them to an abattoir, eating and storing beef, is punishable with a fine of Rs 5,000 and prison term of up to seven years. States such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh already have laws against cow slaughter, while Odisha and Andhra Pradesh permit the killing of cattle other than cows if the animals are not fit for any other purpose. There are minimal restrictions in other states and none in Nagaland, Meghalaya, West Bengal and Kerala. Beef consumption in India is double the combined consumption of meat and chicken in the country. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report says the largest consumed meat in India is beef. The per capita consumption of beef in India is 26 lakh tonne, as compared to 6 lakh tonne of mutton and 14 lakh tonne of pork.

While the rightwing Hindutva parties make no bones about their assertion on a total ban on cow slaughter, the Congress too has time and again played the cow protection card especially in the north.

In BJP-ruled states, the legislations are tougher already. But the one in MP beats them all in its ferociousness and potential to target minorities and adivasis. As per this Bill, anybody consuming or storing or intending to violate the law can be apprehended by a head constable upwards. The onus of proof is not on the prosecution but on the accused. It would have lot of logistical problems. For, how does one prove the meat being consumed is not from cow but from buffalo or a lesser animal? This Bill brought in the name of the faith of Hindus is a direct manipulation of the food habits of a large section of poor Indians who include adivasis, dalits and minorities for whom this is an affordable source of protein. It is also an attempt to intimidate the Muslim minorities.

Through word-of-mouth propaganda and a sustained campaign through literature such as pamphlets etc., perceptions like ‘cow is holy for Hindus; Muslims eat it’; ‘it’s an insult of Hindu faith and that Muslims are violent because they eat non-vegetarian food/beef’ have become part of the social common sense. When the BJP-led NDA came to power at the centre for 13 days in 1996, the government tried to pass a Bill against cow slaughter. The cow has been part of the identity politics of RSS affiliates and Hindu rightwingers in India. Even at the time of the freedom movement, many a riot was instigated around the issue of cow slaughter. This has been a part of propaganda, and cow protection societies are a dime a dozen, which maintain cowsheds. This is done at the social level by RSS affiliates and their followers.
While Ram temple issue was the main point of an onslaught on democracy, the issue of cow slaughter has been always on stand-by so far. Gradually the intensity about cow protection and the myths built around cow are becoming more intense. The Madhya Pradesh government’s Bill is yet another step in this direction. As such, the state government has been communalising the state by religiocultural mechanisms. There are multiple ways to communalise society. But the identity-based issues are the major ones. Communal violence is the ghastly outcome of identity politics. For the past couple of years, since BJP has come to power, a slow and subtle Hinduisation of the state is in progress.

Even the predecessor of Shivraj Chouhan, Uma Bharti had converted her official residence in to a gaushala for all practical purposes. Lot of things have been started around the divinity of the cow. Marketing of cow urine as a medical remedy for diseases and chains of shops selling cow urine drinks and other products are on the upswing in the state. The state government has also introduced the Hindu ritual of surya namaskar (worshipping the sun god); Gita saar (Essence of holy Hindu book Gita) in the schools, introducing bhojan mantra (Hindu meal prayer) in schools, collected information about Christians in the state, has introduced most of its welfare schemes in the name of Hindu gods and goddesses. Like Ladli Laxmi for girl child welfare, Anna Prashan for children’s nutrition programmes, etc. While many accused in Hindutva terror attacks have been given shelter in MP, Kashmiri students are being harassed in the state. The name of the capital city of Bhopal, founded by a Mughal Nawab Dost Mohammad Khan, is intended to be changed to Bhojpal after the Raja Bhoj.
This silent communalisation of state has escaped the notice of the national media to an extent. Most of these steps of the government are not in tune with the spirit of the Indian constitution, which respects personal choices about faith and food and keeps state policies away from religious veneer and content. The schemes started by the BJP government are a sort of intimidation of minorities and are pushing them to the status of second-class citizens. In MP, we are witnessing yet another pattern for marching towards the goal of a Hindu nation, the gradual and sustained intensification of anti-minority policies in the name of promoting Hindu culture. This is unlike the phenomenon in Gujarat where communalisation was intensified through violence. The paradox in Madhya Pradesh is that all these practices showing intolerance to the sentiments and needs of minorities are done while blowing the trumpet that Hinduism is the most tolerant religion.

[Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai. He can be contacted at ram.puniyani@gmail.com]

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