India is experiencing a new wave of communal tension as ultra-nationalist Hindus try to ban Muslims and Christians from consuming beef and other types of meat. These extremists enjoy full support from the ruling BJP. Some of them are already talking about a coming ‘cow war’ in India.
Fear has spread across the country as butchers in India, who mostly belong to the minority Muslim community, are regularly being harassed, even in states where the law permits slaughtering cattle.
In early April, Pehlu Khan, a Muslim was beaten to death by a mob in Alwar, Northwest Rajasthan. The self-proclaimed ‘cow vigilantes’ accused the unfortunate man of transporting meat in his truck illegally. In another such incident, Muhammad Akhlaq was dragged outside of his house over beef rumours in Dadri, west Uttar Pradesh. The angry mob proceeded to brutalise the 50-year-old Muslim man; beating him with bricks and rocks until he died in an unimaginable agony. It later turned out after forensic analysis that the meat in Mr Akhlaq’s fridge was mutton, not beef.
In another gory incident, the bodies of two cattle traders were found hanging from a tree in Jharkhand. The hands of the victims, one of whom was a teenager, were tied. The injury marks on the bodies of both men indicated that they had been brutalised and beaten to death. The hanging must have come later.
It seems that outrageous acts by ‘cow vigilantes’ who are often referred to as ‘gaurakshak’, have become commonplace. They are not only being tolerated but also to an extent, glorified by mainstream Indian media.
The latest case of ‘gaurakshak’ violence in Alwar, Rajasthan is different because there are video footages of the entire incident. These must have been taken by either the bystanders or the vigilantes themselves for the purpose of sharing them on social media. The most horrible thing about these videos, even more than the beating of helpless Pehlu Khan and his associates, is the fact that people seemed to be enjoying the show. The videos established another interesting fact: one of the drivers of the truck identified himself as Arjun and declared that he was a Hindu. The mob let him go as it proceeded to trash the rest of the men who were Muslims.
The epicentre of this latest communal crisis is Uttar Pradesh which is the most populous state in India. Since assuming office as chief minister of UP on March 19, 2017, Hindu extremist Yogi Adityanath of BharatiyaJanta Party (BJP)has launched a massive crackdown for the protection of cows. Most of the slaughterhouses in the state were closed immediately. The rest are simply idling. Consequently, thousands of meat sellers have no work to do. In many parts of India, livestock markets are emptied.
On 31st March 2017, the state of Gujarat adopted a law that called for severe punishment against slaughtering cows. Anyone who kills a cow will be handed down a 14-year prison sentence. In India, this is considered life imprisonment.Several other states are also tightening the screw on meat producers and sellers. The chief minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani was recently quoted saying that the cow is a symbol and it is a responsibility to protect it. Unfortunately, he failed to mention who was responsible for protecting the victims of ‘gaurakshak’ lynchings carried out during the past few days?
Around 80 percent Indians are Hindus while 14 percent are Muslims. Christians make up about 2 percent of the population. However, only 30 percent Indians are strictly vegetarian. This does not constitute a majority, but the vegetarians are over-represented among Hindu nationalist and conservative groups. From the state of affairs, it seems that vegetarian Hindu nationalists are seeking to impose their diet on others. Only last year, the BJP led government of Madhya Pradesh banned the provision of eggs to students in schools.
The irony of the entire cow protection fiasco is that India is currently the biggest exporter of beef in the whole world. It produces millions of tonnes of meat every year destined for Vietnam and China. The industry brings in around the US $4 billion each year. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, meat exports have seen a fall.Despite this decrease, India still remains the world’s biggest beef exporter. In UP alone, the meat industry employs hundreds of thousands of people most of whom are Hindus.
The ruling BJP and the over-zealous cow vigilantes seem to have forgotten that fact that many Hindus also consume beef. It is a cheap source of protein for the poorest who cannot afford anything else.
India’s contemporary love for cow may be a manifestation of the ancient caste system. The upper caste Brahmins are strictly vegetarian. In contemporary India, anyone contemplating a different diet – around 75 percent of the population including Muslims, low-caste Hindus, and Indians belonging to various parts of the country who enjoy various types of meat – is a potential victim of the “gaurakshak” gangs.
The writer is an investment banker and a freelance columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org