By Mohamed Harees –
Hypocrisy in politics is a time-honoured tradition. The prevalence of deception may be the great irony of democratic politics. Accusations of hypocrisy are so common in politics that one usage of the term “politician” is as a near-synonym for “hypocrite”. As Cambridge Don David Runciman argues that we should accept hypocrisy as a fact of politics, but without resigning ourselves to it, let alone cynically embracing it. Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics. Hypocrisy is however not the particular vice of any one segment of the political spectrum. Be it as it may, politics has become, may be barring a few exceptional figures, one big, immoral con. Perhaps expectedly, we’re harder on hypocrites when they belong to the opposite group. Look at hypocrite from your own tribe, and the alternate explanations begin to creep in.
The cow is now again grazing the political pasture in Sri Lanka, with the present government’s proposed imposition of a ban of cattle slaughter . However political hypocrisy is telling! when the cow slaughtered within the borders of the Island, becomes a ‘mummy’ but when imported it’s considered ‘yummy’. What is religious about eating the meat of a calf slaughtered in another country confounds any bemused thinker? Most definitely the religious sentiments of the people about eating beef should be respected, but what is detestable is that there is political hypocrisy surrounding this contentious issue.
Cows are now not just animals; rather have evolved into political animals. They have become a tool of political parties, an electioneering code word and a rallying cry for the political opportunists, with nowadays beef featuring more in our political system than its cuisine. The cunning politicians and their backers among Maha Sangha and the extremist Right, have always found meat in the demand to ban beef. The obsession with beef is a leftover of the communal politics of the last century, when food was a marker of the religious divide and served as a pretext to mobilise communities.
There are lessons from our neighbourhood. Of all the social fault lines caused by cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding food in India, none cut deeper than beef and beef-eating. Cow slaughter is a disputable point in India in view of the cow’s religious status and regarded as a living being particularly in Hinduism. Ironically, in India the cow has become a polarising animal. The Indian cow grazed the political, cultural, and social landscape from time to time. Historically, it was a leading source of the country’s communal strife. Dalit and Muslim’s recent victimization in the name of the Gau Mata put the holy cow back into debate and discourse. Amid the framing of the Constitution, the subject of cow butcher was a standout amongst the most laden and argumentative themes of discussion. Seth Govind Das, an individual from the Constituent Assembly, confined it as a civilizational problem from the time of Lord Krishna and requested the ban on cow slaughter to be made on the Constitution’s part on major rights, on a standard with the restriction of untouchability.
Still, the “beef ban” is often pitted as a Hindu-versus-Muslim issue in India. Arguably it has a worrisome impact on the social and religious equilibrium of India’s hugely diverse and complex society. Beef traders and consumers have been frequently attacked, and lynched and even killed by Hindu vigilante cow protection groups over the last two years. India is however the world’s largest exporter of beef. Reports indicate that India exports beef worth $4 billion annually, and that the ban is already causing concern over a potential rise in global beef prices due to reduced supply, given that the country’s export volume. The Agricultural and Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), India’s apex food export agency, says buffalo meat exports have been growing at an average of approximately 14 per cent every year since 2011. It says that in 2015, India earned more from beef exports than from the export of Basmati rice, so far the country’s top export item in the food category.
Contrary to the perception of India in the western imagination as a predominantly vegetarian country, according to recent National Sample Survey data, more than 70% of Indians above the age of 15 are non-vegetarian. And while chicken is the most widely consumed meat, even classic beef items like burgers and steaks had become popular on menus in top restaurants across Indian cities in the last decade, where patrons include wealthy urban Hindus. A cocktail of religion, tradition and food habits is behind the political calculations over the meat debate on both sides of the aisle. Although such 70% of Indians eat meat, including a majority of Hindus, many upper-caste communities within the religion are vegetarian. They’re a minority, but centuries of cultural dominance give upper castes outsize political influence. By banning beef and curtailing other meat, the BJP hoped to ensure the support of these communities. Thus there is political sense to maintain a beef ban for the survival of the extremist BJP government in India.
While proponents claim the ban protects traditional Hindu values, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan have vociferously opposed the ban because their states traditionally consume beef. Many Indian liberals have questioned whether such a ban is constitutional, arguing that the policing of food choices infringes on the basic rights of citizens. However with the cattle slaughter becoming a politically contentious issue, many who don’t eat beef but were previously not concerned with others eating it, also became roused into taking a stronger, less tolerant stance than before. While those who simply ate beef to subsist, suddenly feel like they have a point to prove. And to think that a ban on cow slaughter will put an end to communalism in India is silly and ignores realities. Communalism will be stoked up by vested interests for getting votes, irrespective of a cow slaughter ban.
Back to Sri Lanka, although this ban has been postponed by a month, the decision has already been welcomed by the hierarchy of the Buddhist Chapters. It will certainly strike a resonance chord with the Sinhala Buddhist lobby groups as well as animal rights groups. Few years back, Ven Indratissa committed suicide close to the Dalada Maligawa calling for a ban on cattle slaughter. Apart from political hypocrisy, there is also religious hypocrisy as well. There are also public protests against a blanket ban to this effect despite its medicinal benefits, that it is hypocritical to consider only ban on cattle slaughter when mass scale slaughter of other living beings like chicken, goat etc a(and even fish) are freely carried out. All are living beings and Buddhism preaches against all types of killing of praana(living beings) which should extend even to vegetation as well. The critics therefore cite Hindu influence in only singling out the cow for the ban.
The Muslims, should not have any qualms in the religious sense with the cattle ban, although it would be in the economic sense. Some critics think that the intention of this governmental action is to target the Muslim beef traders economically. But then, quantitatively with most beef eaters as well as cattle breeders and suppliers being from the majority community, the economic impact would be felt all over; not just by the Muslim beef dealers. In fact, the ban order from the government would not only impact those who eat beef, but also will have a detrimental impact on the leather industry and the meat producers (who not only provide for the domestic market, but also for overseas markets). But then, as earlier stated, there is the tongue in cheek proposal to import beef to satisfy the millions of those who enjoy their steak and beef cuisine which goes beyond the Muslim consumer. This cattle Slaughter issue therefore should not be pitted as Buddhist vs Muslim issue, for beef consumption is not mandatory for the Muslims. As far as the question of cow or bovine meat is concerned, it cannot be projected as part of Islamic identity by any stretch of imagination.
For the Muslims, lessons from India will certainly help. It has been a hundred years since the Muslim community voluntarily gave up eating beef in India respecting the religious sentiments of the Hindus. In 1919, the idea of refraining from cow slaughter was conceived by nationalist Muslims like Maulana Mohammad Ali, Shaukat Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mian Haji Ahmed Khatri, Mian Chhotani, Maulana Abdul Bari and Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani who actively took active part in the Mahatma Gandhi led Khilafat movement that began in 1919. These leading Muslim clerics urged their followers to refrain from cow slaughter and faced stiff opposition from within the community from radical theologians on the subject. Both sides issued extensive fatwas (religious decrees) based on the holy Quran and teachings of Prophet Mohammad (OWBP) to substantiate their line of thinking. Many prominent Muslim scholars now want the Modi government to formulate a uniform law relating to cow slaughter. On their part, some of these intellectuals favour a nationwide blanket ban on cow slaughter. Maulana Mehmood Madani of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, an organisation belonging to the Deoband school of thought however feels that the issue of cow protection has been politicised and used as a tool to target the Muslims. Khwaja Hasan Nizami who wrote Tark-i qurbani-i ga’o in 1921, also cited the Quranic verse: “God does not need the meat and blood of your sacrifices.”. The reality is that it is neither obligatory (wajib) nor mandatory (fard) in Qur’an to consume the meat. Here is what it says with regard to food consumption: “Eat of the good things we have provided you” (Qur’an- 2:168). The Qur’an only permits, and does not necessitate the meat consumption. Throughout the world, the moderate Islamic scholars of both Sunni and Shia schools have endorsed this point. However, eating meat is permissible in Islamic law although eating too much is reprehensible (makruh).”
Overall, thus, the national implications of a cattle slaughter ban should be considered. The cattle economy is a complex economy and several significant industries are intricately connected with it. Faizan Mustafa, a renowned jurist of constitutional law in India however suggests that there is a need to weigh in a range of ecological and environmental issues while taking a call on cow slaughter. The vice chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad wonders what would happen to non-mulching cows. Some legal experts argue that prohibiting consumption of cattle meat which forms a daily part of consumption habits of one section of the society to maintain the religious sentiments of another section of the society is not a reasonable legislation in a federal nation.
Besides, a beef ban, as proved in many studies, will have an impact on livestock holdings. Farmers no longer want to own cattle, afraid that when the animals age there will be no resale value for them. There is mounting evidence of how the absence of secure and robust resale values for non-productive cattle has led to decreasing cattle ownership amongst farmers, as it is completely uneconomical for farmers to rear the animal. (The livestock census in India shows that those states with bans on cow slaughter have seen a decline in livestock. Those states with no decline on cow slaughter, on the other hand, have seen their numbers of cows either remain the same or rise). Thus, the cow slaughter ban would be actually “anti-cow.” The result of the Beef Ban Effect will be ‘Stray Cattle, Broken Markets and Boom Time for Buffaloes’. The economic value of an animal, despite it not being purchased by another farmer, exists because of all post-farm downstream economic values of the cattle economy after slaughter: cattle beef as a critical part of food cultures and a cheap source of protein, cattle skin the basis of India’s thriving leather industry …and its offal used widely in the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries. It would also affect domestic milk farmers who often sell male animals for meat. Also, the importation of meat will result in a spike in beef prices at local markets.
Thus, in Sri Lanka according to many observers, the timing of the cattle slaughter proposal is driven by political motivations. Cattle slaughter has frequently been raised by Sinhala nationalists and monks to alienate the Buddhist majority from and agitate against the Muslim minority. It is also looking like a tactic to offset some of the controversies the government finds itself embroiled in. At the forefront is the 20th Constitutional Amendment bill, which would weaken curbs on presidential powers. The government has kick-started the legislative process following the amendment draft’s publication recently. Then the public outrage sparked by an imprisoned murderer MP Jayasekara’s swearing-in was diffused to some degree by the proposal to ban cattle slaughter. This swearing in was contrary to the so-called ‘one country –one law’ policy of this government. (Sarath Fonseka and Kuttimani was denied this privilege). Many also consider the ban as “part of the appeasement of the Sinhala Buddhist majority” that will come “at the expense of the ‘Muslim community.” It is thus considered another blow at the pluralism of the population.
Overall, with hypocrisy linked with ‘Cattle politics’, there are wide implications to consider; as this cattle slaughter ban will affect not only the Muslims but the country as a whole. This ban thus appears to be ill conceived like many other pieces of legislation and policies Sri Lanka have seen in recent times.