The beef and cow slaughter ban: eating the sacred cow in India

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The cow is considered sacred in Hinduism. She is go-Mata, the one who should be worshipped for the various graces she bestows on humanity.

The Hindu legends invariably treat the cow as sacred. Even some of the Muslim kings who ruled India decided to impose a ban on their subjects eating beef as it was considered offensive to the majority Hindus who revered the cow. Fair.

In August, the government of India decided to introduce a bill banning the sale of beef across India. Several reasons including a constitutional directive, economy and religious sentiments were cited as the reasons for the same.

There was immediate protest, as many of the BJP's own allies in parliament objected saying that they were not consulted. Sale of beef is already banned in many states in the country. The main opposition party, Congress, is divided on the issue as some of its chief ministers would like to see a ban imposed, if nothing else, for one-upping the BJP.

Several states in India on the other hand, eat beef and enjoy it too. Kerala and the north-eastern states have a large number of beef-eaters.

Should one eat an animal that a substantial chunk of the population considers as sacred?

The answer to that would depend on whom you ask. There are many for whom the answer will be no. Why offend others, especially when there are many other kinds of non-vegetarian food you could eat? Here, I suspect that a sizeable chunk of beef-eating Hindus, Muslims and Christians would not want to eat beef if the question is put to them in this way. However, there are many for whom the question means nothing, as they would either want to eat what they feel like eating. And I am sure there would be some Hindus, Muslims and Christians among them too. I do not know if their numbers would be more than those who would not want to eat beef if it offends someone. What if it is not? If more people would prefer not to offend others by not eating beef, does it mean that diets should be decided by a majority vote? In that case, what if the majority was vegetarian or non-vegetarian and felt offended every time someone would not conform to their ideas? Would someone who would not want to offend the non-beef eaters extend that principle to a choice between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism?

Should the government of the day decided what should constitute an individual's diet, be it based on religious, or say, health considerations?

The government would argue that it is not their decision; it is what the people want. What the people want really cannot be figured out anyway unless we have a referendum. Here, BJP and the RSS would probably know it instinctively that the majority of the people in the country would prefer a ban, but there would be many who instinctively doubt if this is true.

We come back to the same question. If the majority would want a ban, is it right to have one? Does democracy mean majority decisions on everything? What if the majority in one state wants something different from the majority in another? What if the majority wants war, or the majority wants a king?

My personal take on the issue goes thus.

I do not like to offend people. If I were asked nicely enough without the slightest element of a threat, maybe I would stop eating beef. I would like to respect the feelings of Hindus. 

However, if the question is whether to have a ban or not, I can state that there is a pretty good chance that I will eat beef. No one should be allowed to dictate what I eat, smoke, drink. Individual freedom wins over sentiment.

Recently on NDTV, Rajdeep Sardesai asked BP Singhal why they do not educate people on the merits of not eating the cow. He said they were doing it. So why not have a ban when there is a consensus on a ban, Rajdeep persisted. There was no clear answer. I have a clear answer. Even if there is a consensus, there should not be a ban. Educate me to hell about the demerits of beef-eating, and I would be happy to listen and make up my own mind.

In fact, the truth could be something else. The BJP and RSS believe that even if they tried educating the beef-eaters, they are not going to succeed. They know that probably, they will not succeed in convincing the Hindus. They know that it is a futile attempt, and it is much easier to have a ban first. There is also that satisfaction in beating the beef-eaters (especially the Muslims and Christians), proving to them that Hindus can beat them in the legislature any day. This I suspect is the primary motivation.



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