By Ram Puniyani
Recently (December 2011) Madhya Pradesh. Government’s Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Act (Bill for Protection of Cow Progeny) got the Presidential clearance. As per this act punishment for slaughtering the cow or its progeny, transporting them to slaughter house, eating and storing beef, is punishable with a fine of RS 5000 and prison term up to seven years. States like Gujarat, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh already have laws against cow slaughter, while Orissa and Andhra Pradesh permit the killing of cattle other than cows if the animals are not fit for any other purpose.
There are minimal restrictions in other states and none in Nagaland, Meghalaya, West Bengal and Kerala. Surprisingly beef consumption in India is double the combined consumption of meat and chicken, not only that India is also the third largest exporter of beef, As per the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization UN (FAO) report titled Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch says the largest consumed meat in India is beef. The per annum consumption of beef in India is 26 lakh tons, as compared to 6 lakh tons of mutton and 14 laky tons of pork.
While the right wing Hindutva parties make no bones about their assertion that a total ban on cow slaughter is their aim, the Congress too has time and again played the cow protection card especially in the north.
In BJP ruled or ruling states the legislations are tougher already, but the one in MP beats them all in its ferociousness and potential for targeting minorities and Adivasis in particular. As per this Bill anybody consuming or storing or intending to violate the law can be apprehended by head constable upwards. The onus of proof is not on the prosecution but on the accused. It will have lot of logistical problems to prove as to how does one say that the meat being consumed is not from cow but from buffalo or other lesser animals? This draconian bill brought in the name of faith of Hindus is a direct manipulation of the food habits of large section of poor Indian population, Adivasis, Dalits and Minorities (Muslims and Christians) for whom this is an affordable source of proteins. It is also an attempt to intimidate the Muslim minorities.
Through word of mouth propaganda, and the sustained campaign through literature, small pamphlets etc. , the perceptions like ‘cow is holy for Hindus, Muslims eat it, it’s an insult of Hindu faith and that Muslims are violent because they eat non vegetarian food/beef’ has become part of the ‘social common sense’. When BJP led NDA came to power at Centre for 13 days, in 1996, the Government tried to pass the bill against cow slaughter. Cow has been part of the identity politics of RSS affiliates, Hindu right, Hindutva in India. Even during freedom movement many a riots were instigated around the issue of cow slaughter. This has been a part of propaganda, and Gau Raksha Samitis (Cow Protection societies) are dime a dozen, which maintain Guashalas (Cow sheds). This is done at social level by RSS affiliates and followers.
While Ram Temple issue was the main point of onslaught on democracy, Cow issue has been always on the stand-by so far. Gradually the intensity about cow protection and the myths built around cow are becoming more intense. The MP Government’s Bill is yet another step in this direction. As such MP Government has been communalizing the state by the religio-cultural mechanisms. There are multiple ways to communalize the society. Identity based issues, are the major ones’. Communal violence is the ghastly outcome of identity politics. In MP from last couple of years with the current BJP Government, the slow and subtle Hinduisaion of state is in progress. Even the predecessor of Shivraj Chauhan, Uma Bharati had converted her official residence in to a Gaushala for all practical purposes. Lot of things have been started around the divinity of cow. Marketing of cow urine as a medical remedy for diseases, chain of shops selling Cow urine drink and other products are on the upswing in the state. In addition one sees that the state government has introduced Hindu ritual of Surya Namaskar (worshipping the Sun God), Government has introduced Gita Sar (Essence of holy Hindu book Gita) in the schools, introducing Bhojan Mantra (Hindu meal prayer) in schools, collected information about Christians in the state, has introduced most of its welfare schemes in the name of Hindu Gods- Goddesses. Like Ladli Laxmi for girl child welfare, Anna Prashan for Children’s nutrition programs. Many an accused of Hindutva terror attacks were taking shelter in MP. Many a Kshmiri students were harassed in MP. The capital city of Bhopal, founded by a Mughal Nawab Dost Mohammand Khan is intended to be changed to Bhojpal after the Hindu King Raja Bhoj.
This silent communalization of state has escaped the notice of national media to some extent. Most of these steps of the Government are not in tune with the spirit of Indian Constitution, which respects the personal choices about faith and food and keeps the state policies away from the religious veneer and content. The schemes started by the BJP Government are a sort of intimidation to minorities and is pushing them to the status of second class citizens. In MP we are witnessing yet another pattern for marching towards the goal of Hindu Nation, the gradual and sustained intensification of anti minority policies in the name of promoting Hindu culture. This is unlike the phenomenon in Gujarat where communalization was intensified through violence. The paradox in MP is that all these practices showing intolerance to the sentiments and needs of minorities are done while blowing the trumpet that Hinduism is the most tolerant religion
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD.