Look what’s cooking

September 16, 2015

The thoughtless and frenzied ban on animal slaughter and sale of meat has created new fissures in society and allowed some dormant elements to raise their ugly heads.

When history records the present in the future, it could also teach a lesson or two on what should not be done in governance. It’s really amazing that all that shouldn’t have been done is being done to create a mess as if there wasn’t any other to clear up. The latest, in some ways, is a continuum of what had happened in one state which had decided what people should not eat, some months ago. Now, the issue has snowballed into building walls which do not help strengthen social harmony.

As a practice, it is not unusual for Indians to read the standard paragraph in newspapers just before any major festival of certain communities of a ban on the slaughter and sale of meat. It is a practice that has been in vogue for a long time, ordained by orders of the court of law, and to a very large extent genuinely respected by all to honour the sentiments of others, religious or cultural. Those who would want to keep their form of protein intake intact would utilise the freezer to store their meats.

But, not all communities do that like in western societies for a week or even a few days. This is where the rub came when state after state, all ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), decided to impose a ban on the sale of meat and its products for a week. It has been a standard practice in these states to impose a ban for a couple of days when a week-long festival of Paryushan is observed by the strictly vegetarian community of Jains. The festival marks a period of penance where the Jains fast and avoid any form of violence to any life form and do not even consume green vegetables.

It was evident that by extending the number of days of the ban, the powers-that-be within the BJP did not look beyond their noses. The decision very neatly caused a rift between the minority community of Jains and the dominant community of Marathas in the western state of Maharashtra. The Marathas are fond of mutton and fish and it showed that they would not prefer storing it all up in the freezer for a week. There are similar communities in the other states as well like Haryana, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Around the same time, a division bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court went by the law on the statute for strict implementation of a 1932 order of the then Dogra King banning the slaughter of cows. The court’s decision came in response to a petition filed by a lawyer who was appointed as the additional advocate general after the BJP backed the conservative regional party, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) to form a coalition government. It is not that Kashmiris by nature are beef eaters. It is a tradition that has existed since the time of the Dogra rulers.

But, what such decisions have led to is something ominous. In Kashmir, the separatist groups were a dying breed. First, they got into the reckoning because of the soft coalition partner, the PDP, of the BJP. Now, these toothless organisations of separatists succeeded in their call for a state-wide shut down, possibly, for the first time in two decades. Young people have gone on record to say that they had not tried beef thus far but would now go and eat only that for the upcoming Muslim festival.

In the western state of Maharashtra, the already irritated ally of the BJP, the Shiv Sena, has joined hands with its estranged cousin, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The latter had got a severe drubbing in last year’s elections for its parochialism and even went on do the unthinkable to directly hurt the sentiments of the community for which the ban was imposed. In short, the party that rules the country has been able to do what many others would not. It has fanned the separatists in a sensitive border state. And, in the western state, it has done the unthinkable. It has been able to fan sentiments of a major community against a minority community and, possibly, vice versa. Instead of doing everything for peaceful co-existence, a ruling party has gone about doing just the opposite, create fissures in society.

The surprising part is it came to power on the plank of development and only development. Should it be landing itself in the most peculiar of problems and causing controversies when none should have existed? The BJP before the elections, like its mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had done everything possible to unite the Hindu community.

The purpose was to wean away the backward classes which were enamoured by the parties of their caste groups. It was a two-fold approach which helped, more so, because the BJP was promising employment which had gone stagnant in the previous regime.

In terms of governance, it has literally given room for unlicensed slaughtering of animals as the MNS did publicly in the most grotesque fashion. All this implies that when a ban is imposed without a thought and when it breaks away from standard practices, the government loses control of law and order. The other point is that if this is how the BJP controlled state governments and local bodies’ functioning, the other frontal organisations would be emboldened to indulge in more aggressive moral policing. When the ease of living gets affected, it also hurts the ease of doing business. It really goes beyond the government deciding what’s cooking in a citizen’s kitchen. And, this is something that governance is certainly not all about.

It’s not Bond
A spy seeking bail from a High Court is unthinkable. But, then it has happened in the southern state of Karnataka. A 45 year old woman sought bail after she was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). Her alleged crime: She ordered cocaine from a man who spilled the beans during interrogation by the NCB. The NCB promptly put her behind bars as per the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

The spy petitioned the High Court to say that she was, indeed, a spy whose job was to track down drug peddlers and smugglers. The court noted: ‘In view of the fact that the list of recoveries has been placed before the court, among which is found her ID card issued by the Republic of Philippines, Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation, in which the name of the petitioner is mentioned and in view of the fact that the petitioner was collecting information with regard to narcotics and drug peddling, I deem it fit to grant bail.’

But, the spy has an additional problem. She has to report to the jurisdictional police station every second Saturday for a period of six months as well as attend court hearings whenever they take place. It’s really not easy getting caught while investigating a case for anyone, including journalists. It should have really been an experience for the spy. It means that not everyone can get away like James Bond. Mindy would know better.

Mobile connectivity in cities and towns may be plagued with call drops. But, something very interesting is evolving in rural India. People who could not sell their cattle in their neighbourhood are beginning to find a new platforms to find buyers. Reports suggest that people in some of the rural areas in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, for instance, are beginning to sell cows online. And, the surprise of surprises is that one-third in the animal category is the space occupied by cows with the remaining being for pets like dogs, cats, birds etc. Yes, ‘just a click away’ is beginning to happen in rural India!