Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Folly of Beef Festivals


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

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future