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Thursday, March 05, 2015

#BeefBan Furore: 'Why Do 'Gais' Have All The Fun In Life?'

If the ban in Maharashtra was an unkind cut, the discussion too could continue till the cows come home.

The news of the ban on beef in Maharashtra and the fact that anyone found to be selling beef or in possession of it can be jailed for five years and fined Rs 10,000 has resulted in the hashtag #BeefBan soaring up the trending charts on Twitter, appearing more than 22,000 times in less than 24 hours, according to the BBC.

While serious discussions and outrage about laws surrounding the ban, the politics and its historical context were very much a part of the chatter, it was also an opportunity for jokes, puns and sarcasm:
 "So now in Maharashtra you can have a beef with someone but you can't have beef with someone."- Actor Farhan Akhter tweets, while Arun Nambiar says "The #beefban from a leader who is a load of Bull to the cows. With love!". Another tweet says, "In Maharashtra, all chicken, goats and sheep are currently thinking - Why do gais have all the fun?", "Beef being banned. Freedom of choice is at stake. It mince you cannot eat what you want. Phela roast gaya, Abb beef roast gaya." says Mohammed Ali.

Perhaps the real surprise of Maharashtra’s beef ban is that it took so long. The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, to which the President has just given assent, was passed 20 years ago in one of the first Acts of the Shiv Sena-BJP government that came to power in 1995.

The agitation that led to it started 50 years ago. In 1965, an all-India meeting of the Ram Rajya Parishad in Jabalpur called for the government to ban cow slaughter, a sign that the movement, which had earlier fought the ban in the Supreme Court and failed, was gearing up for more direct political action. By 1966, this agitation had exploded, presenting the newly-elected Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with her first major political challenge. 

Impassioned protests across India culminated in the firstever attack on Parliament on November 7, 1966, when rampaging sadhus and their supporters burned cars and buildings. For the first time in independent India, the army was called out to control Delhi’s streets.
A shaken Centre seemed ready to accede to the demand. It announced the formation of a committee to figure out how to do it. 

And Maharashtra seemed particularly ready. Most MLAs of the ruling Congress seemed to be in favour, and on December 7, 1966, chief minster V P Naik announced that they were looking at how to unify the three existing Acts that already banned the slaughter of cows and calves in Vidarbha, Marathwada and western Maharashtra.

Yet, this final action, either in Maharashtra or nationally, never happened, despite the government’s committee including such committed campaigners as the RSS’ M S Golwalkar and the Shankaracharya of Puri. But against them were dairy experts like VKurien of Amul, who argued forcefully that a ban on cow slaughter made no sense if abundant, cheap milk was wanted.

The brutal truth of commerciallyviable dairy farming on a mass scale is that every model requires the cow to be sold at the end of its life to be slaughtered for meat and hide, giving the farmer the price to buy new cows. The only option if one wants milk without slaughtering cows is not to raise cows at all, but focus on other milch animals like water buffaloes and goats.

Amul had, in fact, started off with a focus on buffaloes. The aim was not to preserve cows, but because buffaloes are better suited to Indian conditions, and produce higher-fat milk that gives more butter and ghee. Yet, the Indian dairy sector has been shifting to cows. Imported western breeds give higher, more reliable yields of milk. They are amenable to mechanical milking, which buffaloes are not.

And there is the constant promotion across India of cows and cow products being superior to buffaloes.

The result is a huge increase in cows that, as per the policies advocated and now being enforced by the cow preservation movement, can’t be legally slaughtered. Cow preservation advocates say that cow shelters will be created to take care of them. But there is simply not enough land or funds to create the number of shelters required for the number of cows that will result from this policy.

What happens is that a few showcase shelters are created, but there will be hundreds more where the cows are quietly left to starve to death. Thousands more cows will be transported — in terrible conditions since it must all be done without regulation — to states where they can be slaughtered. And as more states ban slaughter, the length of these journeys will increase, sometimes as far as Bangladesh whose meat industry is probably the biggest beneficiary of cow slaughter bans.

The people taking part in this trade are overwhelmingly poorer Muslims, Christians and Dalit Hindus whose livelihoods will be directly affected by the ban. It will neither stop them, since most have few other options, nor will it stop them from eating beef, since they have few other sources of cheap, much-needed protein.

Elite eaters of beef can always defer their consumption of steak to trips abroad, but the poor will continue to eat beef and work in trades involving cow slaughter simply for their own survival. The only difference now is that the provision in the Act for prosecuting simple possession of beef will hugely increase their harassment, all perfectly legal and sanctioned by the government.

The Maharashtra government has now simply decided to ignore all reasonable considerations and pass the policy. Perhaps since being reasonable was never its point.
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