The Beef Paradox
         Date: 24-Jun-2018

Nandakumaran Thampi

Choice of food is a basic right. A beef-ban is as absurd as a mutton-ban or a chicken-ban. But, all this reasoning does not invalidate the imperative that the Government continues beef-ban “of sorts” in India. The retail sales of Beef should remain banned in most parts of India for at least sixty more years.
It is the three qualifiers – retail sales, most parts of India and sixty years - which overarch the pretty straightforward and quite powerful reasoning against beef-ban.
The contemporary Hindu inhabiting most parts of India ascribes divinity to the cow, as have his predecessors in the collective memory of this society. He holds the cow as holy and reveres it as his mother. The progressive liberals pooh-pooh that belief. It is absurd, they say, it is foolish! But then, all beliefs are foolish when measured by the yardstick of cold reason and judged by the standards of pure logic. So, going by the same logic and reasoning, it is incontrovertible that it is equally foolish and absurd to ascribe divinity to a certain book printed in Arabic or a piece of round bread upon which a few syllables were uttered.
Now, let us do a thought experiment. Picture a market somewhere in old Delhi (or Kairana, UP, if you will). It is mid-morning and the crowds are in full swell. A fish seller is using pages torn from scrapped books to pack his customer’s purchases. He is through with one big book, a volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and picks the next book. This one has Arabic letters printed on its pages and is considered holy by a section of people. He starts using pages torn from that book to pack fish. Can you even imagine the consequences? Delhi will burn, for days on end; why because people will be inflamed and driven into a blinding rage by the sight of their holy book being roughly torn apart. The same will happen if someone tried to denigrate the “holy piece of bread” in full public view in Goa.
The same happens with the retail beef trade. To see the bloody spectacle of the sirloins, the rumps and the briskets of the cow - of his holy animal, his beloved mother - hanging in a roadside shop does the same to the average Hindu. This gory display, along with its inherent brazenness and assumed irreverence would drive him into a blinding rage. That is why there occur riots in the name of the holy cow.
In India, publicly denigrating a Holy Book or a holy object is a very serious crime. It is for the same reason public slaughter and sale of the meat of cow is and should remain a crime in most parts of India.
In short, the retail sale of beef should be banned in most parts of India; not because it is some magical animal that “breathes out oxygen”, but because that is the only way to forestall injured faith and inflamed passions, in this deeply religious country called India.
Such a ban should continue for sixty more years. A generation extends for approximately thirty years. It will take at least two generations for the public perceptions to change, if at all they do change in this case.
However, there is no reason to ban the production and consumption of beef in areas like Kerala, Goa and Northeast India. Beef consumption is ubiquitous in these areas and there is no widespread discontent about production and sales of beef. Among Hindus residing in these parts of the country, Cow-worshippers make a microscopic minority. It is true that democracy is not majoritarianism. However, it cannot afford to be sensitive to every single splinter group raising demands for special consideration. So, in these parts of the country, a prudent administration does well not to heed calls for a beef ban.
On the other hand, the North of India, the much-maligned so-called “cow-belt”, is a wholly different picture. North India had a very distinctive semi-pastoral lifestyle in its past, where the cow was the centre of agricultural production. This lifestyle engendered a culture of cow worshipping. The average North Indian Hindu is still a lot like the mythical Emporer Dileepa who was ready to sacrifice his own life to save the life of a cow. As long as this country is a democracy, such widely held notions need to be respected however irrational they may be. After all, if provinces of the oldest democracy in the world can ban human consumption of horse meat, can’t the largest democracy in the world ban public slaughter of cows and retail trade in beef?
But such a ban should not come in the way of mixed farming practices and ranching. A meat processing industry does not involve public slaughter or retail trade of raw cow meat. It should be allowed to operate in all parts of the country, as long as the heart rendering site of inhuman transportation of cattle is strictly avoided. Also, canned beef should not be brought under the ban as it can satiate the palate of those who have a taste for beef.
Beef is not a staple food of any disadvantaged group in India. Therefore, taking away beef wouldn’t take away anyone’s life. It is clear as the day that it is in everybody’s interest for a ban on retail trade beef and public slaughter of cow continues to operate in North India and parts of South India where the cow is held in high esteem.