Life in the time of bans, perilously enslaved

It is now the turn of food to be fired as a political weapon.

Cow is a revered animal for Hindus in India

Cow is a revered animal for Hindus in India

In India, one has seen radical political organizations turning their wrath and fury on art and culture. Movies have suffered for long. Now it is meat on the block.

A recent ban on beef in Kashmir had the whole state fuming. Ironically, this prohibition has been in force there since 1932, and a High Court ruling on September 9 was merely upholding that decree.

The court order came after a petition was filed by Parimkosh Seth, a lawyer and member of the nationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking a rigorous enforcement of the 1932 edict.

The court said: “The government should strictly implement the existing order banning sale of beef in the state… strict action shall be taken in accordance with law against those who indulge in this activity.”

Although the judgement was merely a re-enforcement of an existing ban, people were angry. They felt that the verdict, coming in the wake of similar prohibition against beef and other kinds of meat in several states including Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, was part of the BJP’s move to implement its agenda of Hindutva or Hinduism in the whole of India.

An under-graduate Muslim student of SP Degree College in Srinagar (capital of Kashmir), Nasir Hussain, quipped to the media: “Tomorrow they will ask us to stop eating mutton. There’s no way we’re going to accept this ban. They can’t dictate our dietary habits”.

Hussain, who never ate beef for the simple reason he did not like it, adds in a tone of defiance: “I will eat beef now to assert my religion and my identity. We will slaughter a cow on Eid.”

All these decades, nobody even thought that beef was a no, no, and, in any case, it was never a part of Kashmiri cooking.  Seth’s petition has merely created one more problem in a state that has been seeing a lot of political disquiet — separatism and insurgency, whose origins may be traced to Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir.

Cow slaughter in the state was stopped by a Hindu Dogra king in 1932. The state had a Muslim majority, but was ruled by Hindu royalty.

In her acclaimed book Kashmir: Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects, historian Mridu Rai writes: “It (cow slaughter) was deemed by non-Muslim rulers as critical to their own dharma (faith) and so also to their sovereignty relying on its protection… So, it is said Maharaja Ranbir Singh slit a woman’s tongue for beating a cow which had torn some clothes she had hung out to dry. In Maharaja Gulab Singh’s time, cow slaughter was punishable with life imprisonment.”

In 1986, memories of the maharajas were rekindled when the then governor of Kashmir disallowed consumption of meat after an extremist Hindu group demanded it.

An unknown cleric, Qazi Nisar, killed two sheep in rebelliousness, and later, he became one of the main pillars of the Muslim United Front. Now his son, Qazi Yasir, is in the forefront of the battle against beef ban.

Kashmir is merely the latest state to be facing this kind of government interference in something as personal and even intimate as food — and that too in a country of 1.3 billion people with unimaginable diversity in language, religion, culture, clothes and cuisine.

In recent weeks, administrations in five states stopped the slaughter and sale of all forms of meat in what was purportedly to be in deference to the wishes of the Jain community (an offshoot of Hinduism), which was observing the fasting period of  Paryushan. This restriction varied from many days to a few.

However, the Mumbai (once Bombay, and capital of the Maharashtra state) High Court stayed the controversial ban on the sale of meat in the city. The restraint remained in other parts of the state.

There seems to be no end to this kind of administrative intrusion into personal areas. For, soon after the  Mumbai court’s decision, a federal minister, Mahesh Sharma, proposed that meat should not be sold during Navarathiri — a nine-day Hindu festival celebrated in October.

Sadly, it seems that India is being Talibanized by men who want to have a say, and an absolute say, in what people eat, what they wear, what they buy, what they read and what they watch.

The hounding of young girls — and even roughing them up — because they were seen drinking in pubs, the diktat over what women must not wear, the campaign against Valentine’s Day and the utter hostility towards courting couples in public places amply convey that India is becoming a highly intolerant nation where the democratic freedom of an individual is under severe stress.

 Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years. He now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.

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