The Shame of Ban on Beef in Secular India

Published on Sunday, October 11, 2015

India's beef ban came into spotlight recently in horrible ways. On September 30, 2015, a mob of more than 100 people lynched a 50 years old Muslim man, named Mohammad Akhlaq, in Uttar Pradesh. They also roughed up his family, including seriously injuring his 22 years old son. What was the reason? There was a rumor that the family had beef in their fridge. On October 8, 2015, an MLA of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, named Engineer Rashid, was beaten up by some of his colleagues for hosting a party where beef was served. On October 9, 2015, a mob beat up two youths and clashed with the police in Uttar Pradesh. What was the problem there? There was a rumor that a cow was slaughtered and skinned.

In the Mohammad Akhlaq case of Uttar Pradesh, the rumor turned out to be false. The family actually had goat meat in the fridge. In the Engineer Rashid case of Jammu and Kashmir, he did indeed host a party where beef was served. In the cow skinning case of Uttar Pradesh, the rumor turned out to be false. The two youths skinned a cow that had already been dead. Of course, even if the rumors were true, the mob had no business giving any punishment, if they were members of a civilized society. The Jammu and Kashmir MLAs who beat up Mr. Rashid, obviously acted no better than the barbarian mobs of Uttar Pradesh. Of course, even if the rumors were true, in none of these cases the victims had committed any crime by the civilized standards of the world today.

Shortly after the murder of Mr. Akhlaq, the de facto top leader of the Indian National Congress (INC) party, Rahul Gandhi, met the family. What he said to them is unclear. Of course, INC has governed India for most of the lifetime of the country; now it is a minor opposition party. The top leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, was silent on this for more than a week. When he broke his silence on October 8, he failed to condemn the murder, then delivered empty talks of religious harmony, of asking people to ignore hate speeches and of Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty together and not each other.

The criminals in all three cases of these atrocities were mostly supporters and leaders of BJP. As for the other prominent political party of India, INC, which people like Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru once led, there is no basis to think that they are willing to solve the real problem here. In fact, a senior leader of INC, Digvijaya Singh, has revealed that his party plans to call for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter.

Now, let us look at the beef ban picture of India. Out of a total of 29 states, among the larger ones, only Kerala and West Bengal allow slaughtering cow and eating beef. The tiny northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Manipur also allow cow slaughter and beef eating. In almost 90% of the land area of India slaughtering cow and eating beef are prohibited by law.

Here is a state by state political parties in power in India. There are two very striking facts here. 1) There are three INC-ruled states, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttarakhand, that ban beef. 2) Even in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, beef is banned. After BJP came to power with Narendra Modi's leadership in 2014, the only state that started banning beef is Maharashtra. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has revived an 1862 ban on cow slaughter that was imposed by the Hindu king of that territory at that time. Thus, with INC being in power in most of the lifetime of today's nation of India, it is fair to say that INC has also been a supporter of beef ban in India.

According to the current CIA World Factbook on India, the country's population includes 81% Hindu, 13% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Sikh and 2% others. Most Hindus do not eat beef, but many superstition-free and educated people who nominally call themselves Hindus do. There is no religious restriction on the Muslims and Christians on eating beef; and in fact, most Muslims do eat beef. Thus, banning beef eating is not only foolish, it is unfair to at least a fifth of the population of India.

Let me note here that I do have great respect for the idea of a vegetarian diet. Killing any animal is cruel. To me, being vegetarian is one way to be nonviolent and compassionate. I also like the idea of having a special corner for cows in people's hearts. After all, a lot of humans grow up and sustain themselves with cow milk; and I can see why some people would look at cow like a mother.

However, killing animals for eating meat in general is not illegal anywhere in the world, including in India. Beef is also a staple food in almost all the countries of the world. Thus, while Hindus as individuals have a right to have their silly belief of cow being holy and godly, they do not have a right to impose that belief on non-Hindus and on people who nominally call themselves Hindus but do not believe in the superstitious diktats and traditions of that religion.

If the Hindus of India have a religious sentiment for cows, shouldn't they keep that sentiment only onto the cows they own, as opposed to imposing it on people of other faith and no faith? Can India claim to be a modern, pluralistic, and secular democracy by banning beef? While mob violence is grossly barbaric, the injustice and unfairness of the states imposing bans on slaughtering cow and on eating beef is a shame that is widespread in India, including the two principal political parties of BJP and INC. The world needs to demand the lifting of these bans from India.

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