by Shomit Sirohi
Recently, the Delhi High Court clamped an order against the organizing of a beef-and-pork festival at Jawaharlal Nehru University that was being organized by a student body. This Order was passed in a PIL filed by the Rashtriya Goraksha Sena — which sought a ban on the festival. The New Materialists, the student body that proposed it, did so on the basis of Dalit assertion and democratization of food culture in the campus. Interestingly, the ban order was passed effectively for merely ‘thinking’ about beef eating, under The Delhi Agricultural Cattle Prevention Act, 1994 which has a provision for five years imprisonment and Rs. 10,000 fine for storing or serving beef. The Rashtriya Goraksha Sena, is active in nine states including West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana as a part of the Hindutva movement. Unlike beef, pork is neither banned in the country nor is its consumption subjected to fascist measures by the state (like the most recent legislation on cow slaughter in Madhya Pradesh which authorizes the police to arrest anyone on the basis of mere suspicion that he/she might have consumed beef). Though traditionally considered as a taboo as per Islam, there has not been any particular instance where any Muslim organization has forcefully intervened in consumption of pork by any community or individual.
To understand the implications of legal protection of cows in India, one must trace this back to the history of Hindu nationalism and its dominant influence in defining norms, social space and politics. Such influence pervades social Indian society even today. In the 19th century, numerous socio-religious reform movements emerged in response to the cultural encounter with Western ideas of utilitarian reform and monotheism, which signifies primarily, the varying responses of educated elites under colonialism to come to grips with the challenge of Western domination and the seemingly regressive aspects of their own society and culture. The transition from reform to revival can be broadly traced (within the Hindu milieu) in the transition from Brahmo Samaj to Arya Samaj. Dayananda Saraswati in his construction of the ‘Aryas’ as the autochthonous people of Bharat, reinterpreting caste society as a merit based division in the original pristine culture of Aryan society – ‘Aryavarta’ –and the individual was taken to be the basic unit. This ‘revivalism’ against the West, was also the invention of a pristine Hindu tradition through what Christophe Jaffrelot calls an ideology of strategic syncretism (‘syncretism’ because of the clear assimilation of Western values and ideas, and strategic since the culture in question remains the prime concern), marking an important moment in the polarisation of religious identities. A major mobilizing religious symbol at this point for the Arya Samajists was the cow, a sacred symbol linked to and facilitated by the ritual authority of Brahmanas. The first Gaurakshinisabha (cow protection society) was established in the Punjab in 1882. The movement spread rapidly all over North India and other regions and gradually through polarization of religious identities culminated in communal riots, beginning in Azamgarh in 1893. In much of Azamgarh district, a long-standing antagonism to Muslims, specifically butchers for obvious reasons, was the predominant focus of Cow Protection. Throughout the twentieth century, from the Hindu extremists such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak to V. Savarkar, the sacred cow was revered as a major symbol for communal and fascistic Hindu-rashtra mobilizations.
The consistent movements of Hindu organisations have of course been recognized and protected legally by the Indian constitution and State. This legal recognition, points towards the persistence of the dominant ethos of Hindu nationalism (that is, an exclusivist nationalism conceived in terms of Hindu society, with a Hindu cultural essence embodied in Brahmanical rites and rituals) and the corresponding communal fascistic political culture that perpetuates a climate of religious polarization.
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(Shomit Sirohi is a Final Year student pursuing B.A. (History Hons) at Ramjas College, Delhi University. A paper in the Journal of Indian Law and Society has previously argued that the intervention of state agencies on the pretext of enforcing toleration is likely to pose a threat to the private beliefs and practices of the people and it can greatly endanger the plural ethos of the Indian collective)