Beef Only For NE: When ‘Non-Veg’ Politics Defines Law of The Land

As BJP’s ‘no beef ban in Northeast’ resolve sparks a row, a closer look at politics over another controversial meat.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
(Photo Courtesy: Abhilash Mallick/<b>The Quint</b>)

In light of the recent notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter, The Quint is republishing this piece from its archives, originally published on 31 March 2017.

News that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has no intentions of trying to ban beef if elected to power in the states of Northeast India has been met with silence and shrugs from the party’s supporters and accusations of hypocrisy from the opposition.

We’ve seen the prequel to this movie before.

Let’s take some help from our friend Google to refresh our memories of May 2015 – a time when the country was being roiled by ‘non-veg’ politics. Television and Twitter were incandescent with outrage over Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s “those who cannot survive without eating beef should go to Pakistan” remark.

Quote-Misquote!

The comment met with a riposte, not from the usual maharathis of the cult of ‘secularism’, but from Naqvi’s cabinet colleague Kiren Rijiju, the Union Minister of State for Home.

“I eat beef. I’m from Arunachal Pradesh. Can somebody stop me? So let us not be touchy about somebody’s practices. This is a democratic country. Sometimes, some statements are made which are not palatable,” Rijiju was quoted as saying – by various news organisations – to members of the media in Aizawl.

Rijiju had also been quoted as saying:

If Maharashtra is Hindu majority, or if Gujarat is Hindu majority, Madhya Pradesh is Hindu majority, if they are to make laws which are conducive to the Hindu faith, let them be. But in our place, in our state, where we are majority, where we feel whatever steps we take, you know, laws which are conducive to our beliefs, it should be. So they also should not have a problem with the way we live, and we also should not have a problem with the way they live.

At this fairly reasonable statement, little mushroom clouds of outrage were manufactured in TV studios, and Rijiju, upon his return to Delhi, changed his tune and said he had been misquoted. “I only said that India is a secular country and that food habits cannot be stopped but the Hindu faiths and sentiments must be respected,” he said.

What About Other Meats?

Those of my readers who have tried precis writing in school may notice that Rijiju’s clarification is a neat precis of his earlier statement, minus the “I eat beef” declaration.

The fact of the matter is that in the hills of Northeast India, most people do eat beef. And pork. And some other meats as well.

Opinions on beef tend to diverge between practising Hindus and the rest. So let us take a look at banning another meat, on which there is greater convergence of opinions across political and religious divides in India.

Attempts to ban dog meat in Nagaland have not succeeded, even though the redoubtable Maneka Gandhi, also a minister in the Modi government, tried, most recently in October last year.

Her letter to her cabinet colleague Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister for the Development of North East Region, was laughed off by the Naga Hoho, the apex body of Naga tribes.

To Eat or Not to Eat?

The arguments against eating dog meat are as reasonable or unreasonable as those against eating beef or pork. The cow and pig are both large, intelligent animals, like the dog. In fact, pigs are probably smarter than dogs, going by the findings of studies by scientists from Cambridge University. The cow, whose IQ may be lower, has high EQ and a good memory, Canadian scientists told Wired magazine.

However based on their traditions, white people have decreed that pigs and cows are okay to eat, so all the colonised folks around the world dig into their sausages and steaks without disgust or guilt.

The logical position is that it’s okay to either eat all meats commonly eaten by human beings anywhere, including dog, or no meats at all. Dog meat was traditionally eaten in many countries, including China, Korea, Vietnam, Nigeria and parts of the USA. This means that even today, there are probably more eaters of dog meat in the world than there are vegetarians.

It isn’t logic, but social conditioning, that tends to influence individual stances on eating or not eating a certain type of meat. Food is a part of daily, lived culture – it appeals to our gut feelings in more ways than one. Our responses to it are visceral.

Eating dog, beef and pork is a part of traditional Naga culture. Dog meat has largely been abandoned by the new generation out of embarrassment, but there’s no question of either beef or pork being abandoned, now or anytime in the foreseeable future.

The genesis of Naga separatism lies in a memorandum submitted to the Simon Commission by the Naga Club in 1929. It is the foundational document to which all arguments about Naga separatism go. In that memorandum, the Naga Club had sought to remain outside undivided India as a British protectorate. One of the reasons cited was as follows:

Our language is quite different from those of the plains and we have no social affinities with the Hindus or Mussalmans. We are looked down upon by the one for beef and the other for our pork.

The Nagas, in 1929, were already inclined to stay out of any future Hindu or Muslim countries because they liked their beef and pork.

In his ‘A Philosophy for NEFA’ – published in 1959 – anthropologist and lapsed missionary Verrier Elwin pointed out that the tribes of Northeast India would never take to Hinduism because “between them and that great religion stands the gentle figure of the cow”. Islam, similarly, stands little chance because of its pork taboo.

The BJP and RSS’ leaders and strategists are obviously aware of these facts. In the past few years, they have shown themselves to be pragmatic people. Their stand in the Northeast is adapted to local sentiments there.

The meat ban agenda – popular with Jains and vegetarian Brahmins – is restricted, at least for now, to places where those groups are dominant.

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Shillong. He can be found on Twitter as @mrsamratx. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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