Debjanee is a research scholar at the Centre for Political Studies in JNU. This write-up is an abridged version of her recent paper that can be accesses HERE.
Because they are the only ones engaged in it.
Let me state it as clearly as this, the beef ban is not a debate to be fought on grounds of constitutionality. The debate is not whether the beef ban is constitutional but in whose interest is the ban. The question is not which community is being targeted but which community wants the ban. The issue rests on public morality where the public is the majority community. One must shift away from arguing about minority rights guaranteed under the constitution because no one is really playing by ‘the book’. When we pose the debate as such, the ‘secular’ cloak of the right-wing falls.
Even before the beef ban became an official policy of the government, the mob had lynched to death Mohamed Akhlaq on the suspicion that he had beef in his fridge. Essentially this was a crime of public morality being upstaged rather than a violation of constitutional morality. Of course the mob violated the constitutional rights of the family but it had the social legitimacy of the villagers. The legitimacy of the violence is evident in the act of draping one of Akhlaq’s killer’s coffin in the tricolor flag. It is evident in the act of BJP politicians paying homage to the accused.1 Therefore is a waste of time to fight the battle on the terrain of constitutionality when public morality is all that matters.
The law, media house and the viewers
The constitution and the laws of the land are alien to most of us. The law for most of us is the tool of the state to punish and not to protect. Only a few believe that the constitutional laws are a guarantee against the barbaric local laws of the village.
Media house debates on TV are the closest we can safely get to investigating the constitutional law. All the ‘facts’ of the case are laid out to the viewers and the panelists and a feeling of oneness with the world is packed in those few words, “We the People” or “the nation wants to know”. We become one big investigative family, where the judge and the advocate is the news anchor. When media houses become the para-legal domain of ensuring justice, fairness, equality and all those values that are enshrined in the constitution, we have a problem. The fact is the media has its own biases.
There is nothing ethical or constitutional about news anymore. It will be a welcome change if the media or the government flashes a disclaimer, “viewers discretion is advised” before the airing of any news.
Media houses and the beef ban debate
The left-wing or liberal intellectuals will pose the question of beef ban on the constitutional right to freedom of expression and tolerance. They will question the double standards of the government to persecute Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection but not persecute the mob lynchers who hacked the victims to death. What does the government do? It takes out a bill on illegal trade of cattle.
Right-wing panelists argue that the majority interests and sentiments regarding the cow must be respected. It is here that the liberals must take the cue and state that the law in fact is operating for the majority. But they foolishly fall back on the argument that the constitution is made to protect all communities including minorities. The point is lost once again as the liberals speak on behalf of the victims and their rights without pushing to limits of the right-wing panelists by questioning the majoritarian politics or public morality. Following which they fail to question the neutrality of the cattle trade ban. The liberals choose to instead harp on minority victimization rather than vilifying the majority for what it is, a dictatorship of the majority! Rajdeep Sardesai only ends up being a Muslim apologist.
The right-wing media houses escape the debate unscathed. The right-wing news anchors argue that the beef ban is not targeting any community. It is a bill on illegal practice. They argue that the victims just happen to be Muslims or Dalits. Arguing in this manner there is not a dent on the constitutional secular identity of the ruling party. They argue that they are only representing the wishes of the majority. The majority being those who want to protect the cow, also known as the patriot. And that this is an open category, for there are many in their definition of the who do not like beef consumption.
The right-wing anchors cloak their biases in neutrality of patriotism and national spirit. This closes the gap between the constitutional morality and public morality. The issue is skirted via the constitution which is apparently is reflective only of majority/patriotic interest. Thus right-wing media houses use the constitution to their advantage. Arnab Goswami ends up being the national/patriotic upholder of the law as the public knows it.
Hindutva and the liberals
Liberal media houses do not let the audience reflect on public morality. The crowd does not understand the moral panic within the liberals about Hindutva. So what if India is proud of being a Hindu nation/ or has a Hindu party at the center? It does not mean that they are attacking the minorities. Hinduism is a peaceful religion (unlike some Others we know), and can co-exist with other religious minorities as well. After all, as Raveena Tandon says, Hindutva is all about wearing a saree, which is a traditional Indian dress. She later goes on to state that the liberals are free to tag her as a ‘sanghi’ for being a patriotic Hindu.2 Her tweet sums up the Hindu discomfort with constitutional morality and left politics. The liberals and the intellectuals have failed to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity/constitutionality. Moral codes built around public sentiments and traditions are easier to understand, relate to and apply rather than those built around liberty, secularism and justice that have varied clauses and sub clauses.
Liberals should ask themselves, how is it that after the barbaric act of lynching, the villagers still came out in full support of the accused? How is it that they became the ‘patriots’ of the nation while Akhlaq was criminalized for a crime he did not commit? Liberal and leftists need to understand that soft-Hindutva operates through moral panics that could make the Hindu feel insecure about wearing the saree. Hindutva is a subtle ideology that panders to majority sentiments of fear.
Resentment and identity politics
Resentment is a strong feeling. It is causing anger among the majority Hindus who feel that the Muslims who cannot be like Hindus/Indians must leave for Pakistan. It is a feeling that is popular among the minority who suddenly find that they are having to prove their patriotism/ nationalism at every turn, sometimes at the cost of their religious identity.
It is the duty of the left liberals to tease out the Hindu from the Indian that has merged in BJP rule. They should address the anxieties/moral panic of the majority. But they do not. They do not engage with the minds who have read and been brought up on Vedic texts interpreted by the local goonda. For if one really read the texts closely, Hindus also fed on beef.3 The key is to go back to the Vedas and reveal to the public that their ideals are a not so much built on fairness and equality as much as on twisted facts. To hell with the constitution, first let’s talk of the Ram Rajya and the casteist, patriarchal society that India was in the Golden Vedic age, in a language that will relate with the audience. People will turn off your channel, they are doing so anyway.
Give viewers bitter truths and shout it as aloud as Goswami, and you will give them a headache and a nagging thought. Do not make them go to bed feeling bad for being a Hindu and wearing a saree. Do not make them resent that the anchor was once again just taking the side of the minority community. Make them feel bad that the Vedic era has no mention of the Vedic dasi. Make them feel bad that they have been fooled into thinking that Hindus never ate beef! But the liberals will not do that.
And people will go to bed with the same feeling of persecution. Every community ends up feeling persecuted. Surely it is one’s patriotic duty as Arnab da, paralegal, semi-judge, says, to protect the cow and the constitution. Or was it only the cow? Or the constitution? Who cares? Where’s the difference?