India: BJP’s Cow-Slaughter Ban Draws Backlash

Prabhat Sharan
170606-IN-beef-620.jpg Members of the Student Federation of India host a beef fest to protest a ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in Kozhikode, Kerala state, May 27, 2017.

A recent decision by India’s Hindu nationalist government to ban the sale of cows for slaughter has unleashed protests in states where beef is a common part of the diet and prompted critics to describe the move as “food fascism.”

The Indian government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), banned the sale of cattle under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Act on May 25. The new rule virtually prohibits the sale or consumption of beef across the Hindu-majority nation, where cows are considered sacred.

The move provoked a wave of protests in the country, particularly in southern and northeastern states where beef is widely consumed.

Last week, the government of Tamil Nadu state obtained a stay from the High Court on the controversial notification as hundreds of students of Chennai’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) boycotted classes in protest of the ban. They were demanding action against suspected right-wing activists who allegedly assaulted a research scholar who had participated in a beef fest organized at the institute.

“This is food fascism,” IIT student Abhinav Surya, one of the organizers of the beef fest, told BenarNews.

“The attack on our fellow student who participated in the festival clearly shows the BJP is trying to impose its communal agenda. The impunity with which rightwing goons move in and around our campus shows that they are neither afraid of the administration or the police,” he said.

The neighboring southern state of Kerala, the second highest consumer of beef in India, is also in the process of moving the court against the decision, officials said.

“The ban will not just hit beef exports but also the internal supply,” Fauzan Alavi, spokesman for the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association (AIMLEA) said, adding that the move would adversely affect the country’s $4 billion annual beef exports and will cripple millions of jobs.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the BJP government’s notification an “uncivilized decision.”

“Tomorrow, they (the BJP) will ban the consumption of fish also,” Vijayan said sarcastically.

‘A party of Hindus’

No one from the BJP could be reached for a comment, but the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the party’s ideological mentor, insisted beef consumption had not been banned.

“The prerogative is still with the state governments to decide on how to incorporate the new rule without affecting their supply of beef. The consumption of beef has not been banned,” K.R. Umakanthan, an RSS activist from Kerala, told BenarNews.

Bernad M. Marak, a political heavyweight from northeast India’s Meghalaya state, resigned from BJP last week, citing the cow slaughter ban as his chief reason for quitting the party.

“BJP is a party of Hindus and does not respect sentiments of other communities such as Christians. In no way can the government dictate what we can or cannot eat,” Marak told BenarNews.

Shobha Menon, a prominent artist from Kerala, called the government’s move a “human rights violation.”

“Although I am not a beef eater, I still respect every individual’s right to eat what he or she wants. The move by the central government smacks of its fascist nature,” Menon told BenarNews.

Ram Puniyani, a Mumbai-based academic, criticized the BJP of engaging in “dietary profiling” and said the party had embarked on a “dangerous” path through the new ban on beef.

“A careful analysis of the kind of dietary habits the BJP is trying to impose reveals an aggressive espousing of vegetarianism popular among Hindu upper castes,” Puniyani told BenarNews.

Jhumur Deb in Guwahati, India, contributed to this report.


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