‘You Deserve Pakistan’, Police Tell Organiser of Beefy Picnic
Participants in a candlelight vigil in memory of 52-year-old Muslim farmer Mohammad Akhlaq who was lynched by a mob. (Photo: AP)
Participants in a candlelight vigil in memory of 52-year-old Muslim farmer Mohammad Akhlaq who was lynched by a mob. (Photo: AP)

‘You Deserve Pakistan’, Police Tell Organiser of Beefy Picnic

If you share one or two mutual friends with me on Facebook, there is a high probability that you know that there was a “Beefy Picnic” last Sunday in front of 11, Ashoka Road, aka the national office of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

But why should a picnic be such a big deal? The answer lies in what was being served at the picnic – BEEF. Of late, beef has ceased to exist as just “food”. It has now become an excuse to alienate and kill people; the latest being the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq by his own villagers in Dadri, on 28 September. The incident took place barely 60 km from Delhi.

I was horrified to hear this news. How can eating beef be a reason to kill someone, I wondered. How can the life of an animal – which some claim to be their mother – be more sacrosanct than the life of a fellow human being?

And the height of lunacy was – the police actually sent samples of the alleged beef retrieved from Akhlaq’s fridge for forensic examination! For what? To find a reason to pronounce this barbaric act the legitimate response of a nationalistic, cow-worshipping Hindu nation?

To add insult to injury, the so-called leaders of the party in power – the BJP – came up with some horrible statements ‘condoning’ this heinous act. They called it an “accident” which shouldn’t have taken place on “mere suspicion”.

Sajida Saifi, daughter of Akhalaq Saifi, who was killed by a mob, mourns his death inside her house at Bisahara village in Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Reuters)
Sajida Saifi, daughter of Akhalaq Saifi, who was killed by a mob, mourns his death inside her house at Bisahara village in Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Reuters)

I couldn’t see that the Jantar Mantar style vigils would have any impact whatsoever on the perpetrators or the conceited netas. That’s when I decided to do something about it. I decided to convey loudly and clearly that my fundamental rights are not subject to anybody’s whims and fragile religious sentiments. Nobody has the right to tell me what to eat. I didn’t want to meet a fate similar to Akhlaq’s.

I created the event in the late hours of Friday night inviting 40-50 people on my friends list for a Beefy Picnic lunch on Sunday in front of the BJP’s national office. It was a BYOB style picnic, i.e. Bring Your Own Beef. Next morning, I was amazed at the response and the number of times it had been shared. Considering the short notice, the online response was phenomenal. The last time I checked, just before I left for the picnic, the event was shared with 1,400 people and 300 people were “going”!

The Beefy Picnic event on Facebook. (Courtesy: Facebook)
The Beefy Picnic event on Facebook. (Courtesy: Facebook)

I laughed at the number because I know the difference between the virtual and the real world. In fact, the whole point of staging this very “in your face” kind of demonstration was also to make clear that protesting online often doesn’t have a big enough impact.

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Halted Even Before We Began

On the day of the picnic, my friend Gayatri and I left for INA Market around 11 am to fetch ‘beef’. It was interesting to note that the menu of the restaurant had everything listed in English except beef; beef was written in their local language.

At the Patel Chowk Metro station, from where we were supposed to walk to the BJP office, I was amazed to see considerably beefed-up security force. Nobody with beef was allowed to pass. I passed through nonetheless, don’t ask me how!

We were joined by a journalist who bumped into us after a few minutes. Now we were three – exactly 1 per cent of the people who were ‘going’ for the picnic.

To be honest, I don’t know how many people showed up at the venue because barely 10 minutes down the line, in front of the Shangri-la Hotel, we were spotted by the SHO of the Parliament Street police station, who had been tipped off by an ‘informer’.

Held for Hours, With No Access to Our Phones

We were taken to the Parliament Street police station in a police SUV; not technically arrested, but detained. The first thing the officer did after detaining me was seize my mobile phone. Throughout the seven hour detention, he didn’t let me call either my lawyer or my parents.

After losing a legal basis to frame any charges against the protester, the police didn’t miss any opportunity to pass moral judgements. (Photo: Reuters)
After losing a legal basis to frame any charges against the protester, the police didn’t miss any opportunity to pass moral judgements. (Photo: Reuters)

After successfully retrieving a box of ‘beef’ from my bag, he and his senior mulled over levelling charges against me for possessing and eating beef (a non-bailable offence with up to five years of punishment). They also wanted to charge me with flouting some sections of Indian Penal code related to rioting, disturbing public order etc.

For an hour or two, they kept waiting for culinary experts to ascertain the veracity of the ‘beef’. Nobody turned up. Eventually they called the restaurant from where I bought the ‘beef’ who disclosed that it was actually buffalo meat and not cow!

Though they lost the legal basis to frame any charges against me, they didn’t let go of the opportunity to pass moral judgement against me. “How can you eat such gandgi (rubbish) despite being a Jain?”, “People like you deserve Pakistan” etc.

While maintaining law and order is the duty of the police, I don’t know what empowers them to detain people (which included a woman and a journalist) for such long hours without any complaint, and to confiscate mobile phones without any documentation. Didn’t the police overreact to the picnic, which they perceived as a potential “riot”?

Was It a ‘Fair’ Provocation?

Some people say that my approach wasn’t right. That an eye for an eye would only leave the world blind. While I welcome disagreement or criticism of my response to the Dadri incident, I don’t think it was “an eye for an eye”. If at all, my response was a “here’s another eye, come blind it all you want, but I won’t stop looking.”

While there were some extremely vitriolic comments from some fringe right-wing elements, there were tonnes of voices which supported the event and the intent behind it whole-heartedly. I am also glad that the media focused on the idea rather than the numbers which turned up.

I am hopeful that this “Beefy Picnic” will spawn more such protest picnics across the country. This unnatural and illogical ‘pedestalisation’ of beef must end. It’s food for millions of people in India, including Hindus. Eating beef shouldn’t spread hatred and intolerance. It should spread love, just like sharing any food does.

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