FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Folly of Beef Festivals

by FARZANA VERSEY

If a group of Christians decided to hold a pork festival as part of their cultural assertion in Hyderabad, a city in South India that is now in the news for the Dalit beef festival at Osmania University, would no one protest? I doubt it. There would be protests, if not clashes. The Hindu rightwing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) did just that and it resulted in mob fury, and even a student being stabbed.

Beef festival organizer B Sudarshan, a research scholar, said it was unfortunate that some upper caste students tried to disrupt the festival which was going on peacefully. “We have not made any slaughter of animals in the hostel premises but only distributed food among the students to acknowledge the age-old custom of Dalits and minorities. We wanted to remove the dirty image associated with beef, as spread by the Brahminical culture,” he said.

If it is age-old customs that they refer to, then it would also mean being subjugated, something that Dalits have suffered for centuries. There are several ‘dirty images’ that need to be publicly flogged. There are professions that have come to be associated with the scheduled castes and are looked down at. Perhaps, such scholars might like to find out if the Grade 1V low cadre workers can even afford a meal of lentils and chapattis, or how those in the rural areas are stripped naked and beaten up, even killed, for belonging to a scheduled caste. Will they be discussing beef with them?

This issue appears to be ostensibly puerile. But when it is projected as a cultural move, then we need to discuss it in the larger framework, as much as we do when the Hindutva groups wish to reclaim the ancient heritage by pulling down structures and inciting hatred against minorities. The standards for argument have to be similar, for it is a political move responding to a religious-political group.

***

Food is a primal need. So much so that alleys that stock edible items in malls make sure to not only psychologically but physically work up an appetite with strategically-placed exhaust fans that exhale the scent of freshly-baked breads or the sound of the crackling pit close to the ready mixes. Besides being a marketing trick, it urges us to salivate. It is a bit like pornography.

The reason for this digression is that Dalits, by fighting for the right to choose their food, are in fact portraying an image that might be quite unlike the one they envisaged.  There is a large section of Hindus that reveres the cow; the movement against such slaughter is not new. It is seen as muscling Brahmin superiority. This is not completely true. You pass any temple and even the poorest people, not all Brahmin, will stop to touch the cow with reverence or feed it. Among the other castes, too, one often comes across instances where the men may rebel and partake of meat outside the house. At an eatery in Rajasthan, the owner told me that on weekends men visit for their dose of meat and booze. They would not permit the women to eat any sort of meat. These people are not Brahmins.

Meat is associated with pugnacity. It harks back to the caveman image of men hunting, holding up the bloodied spear, skinning the animal, tying its limbs and letting it cook in its own juices on a slow fire. The barbeque is often seen as a man’s day with the hunted, although women are primarily the cooks. Their participation here as well is a rolled-up sleeves act.

This is cultural conditioning. The Dalits are talking about the right to not be subjected to Brahminical dictates where food is concerned. It is true they might seem to be belittling the reverence for the cow, but is that their only motive? Is it not possible that the anger against the beef festival has also to do with them being part of an educational institution, of qualifying for the same professional stakes?

***

I feel they have taken the sting out of their protests by playing into the ‘reverence’ narrative instead of creating one of their own. The idea is not always to react. Some feel happy they are allowed entry into temples or to become priests. These are in fact the very values they ought to be moving out of. Why do they need the temples that have scripturally created the hierarchies in the first place? Why do they not have their own places of worship, if they must? Why read out shlokas (verses) that affirm, say, the karma theory, which would in effect amount to implying they are what they are because of some past birth sin?

The problem is not with beef. Anyone can tell you that many Hindus do eat beef. So, Dalits, Muslims, Christians can eat what they wish to. But to celebrate it is plain politics. These Dalits will not have a pork festival at the Muslim-run Anjuman-e-Islam institute.

I do not eat pork. I do not eat beef. I do not eat kangaroo meat or ants. Whatever it is that I eat, I do keep the sensitivities of those around me in mind.

When Mahavir Jayanti and Bakri Eid clashed on one day a few years ago, I wrote in one of my column that Muslims should perform the qurbani (ritual sacrifice) a day earlier. The simple reason is that vegetarianism is intrinsic to Jainism, whereas the qurbani is a symbolic gesture and it is often performed at different times in different parts of the world. Not a single Muslim wrote contesting me. It does not mean they did not do what they had planned, but I was not called a kafir or pseudo-secular, which happens often.

Some see culinary choices as hypocrisy. Let me give a personal example. When I was in school a close relative got married to a South Indian, a Brahmin. She converted. They went overseas to plum jobs with their plum education. On one of her trips home, I recall her saying that if one can eat lamb then why not pork, why these double standards? She had started eating pork. I assume her husband ate beef. I never bothered to ask. It did not really affect me. Looking back, I find it a bit strange for I am not the religious one; she chose another religion, which naturally made her an adherent to a faith. The liberalism was short-lived.

Years later, she and her family turned vegetarian, for health and ethical reasons. Now this idea began to be flaunted. It was both a physical and spiritual detoxification, but it also resulted in proselytising. I see that often among vegetarians, more than meat eaters. I have never denied that not eating pork is most certainly part of conditioning and it would be difficult for me to shake that off. I am aware that there will be people ready with their clichés to push me into a corner of an Islamist. Will I go and stuff myself with bacon only to prove them wrong?

***

It is not surprising that intellectuals have jumped onto the bandwagon, the academic Brahmins. I wonder what these proponents of the Dalit beef festival would say about the communal flare-up in the same city when a piece of beef was hurled at the Hanuman Temple wall. Would they see this as a protest? The first suspects would have been Muslims, but a source in the Special Investigations Team said, “We have specific information that the incident was executed by locals from the same community”. This was done by rightwing Hindus to cause mischief and put the blame on Muslims.

What would be the stand of the beef festival organisers on this? It is so easy for perceptions to change because the reality is not constant.

The real pity is that in a nation where many people go hungry, the Brahmins push for cow protection and the Dalits rebel against that. Where people do not have a place to live, places of worship become a refuge for scoundrels to act out their nasty beliefs – a piece of pork near a mosque, beef on temple walls. Caste and communal riots only prove that we are different. No one realises that with so much to lose, we have human festivals almost every day. Someone celebrates someone’s death. It is not just about human flesh, but humane ideals that die.

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.in/


Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail