BJP's pink mask slips
There's a strange anomaly in letting beef exports flourish while barring local cattle traders from earning a living
Ais not a cow even if they share all traits BUFFALO that are so revered by devout Hindus. Ask them why they worship the cow and they will tell you that it is because the cow gives “selflessly”—everything from milk and fertiliser to skin—and is a “humble and loving animal”to boot.
But then,so is the buffalo,one could point out.Docile, it does farm work, gives more milk and meat and earns the farmer a better income because of its milk’s richer fat content. Besides, its hide is thicker and, apparently, can be put to more versatile uses. These considerations do not count with the religiously inclined who believe in protecting only the cow,which,according to a learned friend, is for the following reasons. The buffalo, poor thing, is dark, almost black, and is the
(mount) of Yama, the god of death in Hindu mythology, and is thus inauspicious.Besides,there is that unfortunate Mahishasura, the half-buffalo minotaur. The cow, on the other hand, is always portrayed as pristine white and is associated with the amorous herder god Krishna and all things delightful.
The distinction between the two kinds of livestock, however specious it may appear when one is discussing animal rights and protection, is useful for the Indian economy.The buffalo is a huge exchange spinner. For the first time in 2014-15, India’s beef exports—and it is all buffalo meat, according to officialdom and the Hindutva brigade—outstripped those of Brazil and put the country in the top spot. Beef brought in a tidy $4.8 billion and for the first time, India earned more from this animal than from rice ($4.5 billion) which has for long been the leading agricultural export.
The emergence of “vegetarian India” as the world’s top beef exporter has spawned many snide commentaries globally,specially since this happened after the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) government of Narendra Modi assumed office.In fact,there has been a 17 per cent increase in beef exports since then,and India accounts for as much as 23.5 per cent of the global meat trade.The irony is that in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi had attacked the previous Congress government for promoting a “pink revolution”or the beef export boom.
But while exports thrive, the Hindutva lobby is doing its best to undermine the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands involved in the cattle trade by proscribing the slaughter of cattle.This is particularly affecting Muslims, who are dominant in the sector. Not just livelihoods, but lives are also being lost as the saffron brigade launches increasingly aggressive attacks on cattle traders. The fallout can sometimes be unexpected and widespread. For instance, the ban on slaughter combined with attacks on cattle traders is having a serious impact in drought-stricken rural Marathwada where distressed farmers are finding it difficult to dispose cattle.
As the government is discovering,religiously tinted views on meat can cause serious social,economic and political mayhem with even its brother-in-arms, the Shiv Sena, opposing it. Fortunately, the courts have stepped in to uphold individual freedoms to allow people the right to eat what they choose, irrespective of the “religious sensitivities” of some sections. On September 17, the Supreme Court said the meat ban is not an issue that can be “forced down the throat of anyone.A spirit of tolerance has to be inculcated”. This was a clear admonition to the bjp government in Maharashtra.
As for undoing the “pink revolution”, it is not certain that the Modi regime would be willing to forego the rich pickings from beef exports—or upset the big companies that make a fortune from it. It is a lobby that it cannot afford to antagonise unlike the small cattle traders who enjoy no clout.