The politics of vegetarianism
Why are the Senas selling meat on Bombay streets?
It required the Shiv Sena MP and its party organ Saamna editor Sanjay Raut, a strong votary of Hindutva and a self-confessed Muslim baiter, to declare that 85 per cent of Indians are non-vegetarians. Otherwise it is made out that in a Saatvik desh like Bharat the crime of slaughtering animals and eating meat is being committed only by these Mallich Musalamans. Since the minorities, including Jains do not constitute more than 20 per cent, it works out that majority of Hindus are non-vegetarians, who subsist on meat, fish, chicken and eggs.
The Jain BJP mayor of Mira Road Bhayandar has of course banned the sale, slaughter and consumption of all non-vegetarian items in her municipal areas for eight days to honour the Jain festival and would have nothing of reducing the ordeal of non-vegetarians, implying that the state shall henceforth decide on the choice of people’s food. It serves her purpose that the festival of Id-uz-Zuha is likely to fall within those eight days, most likely on September 23 and would hopefully cause considerable communal tension to the advantage of the BJP.
Earlier they banned beef in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. All along Modi’s 13 year rule and even before him, it was forbidden in Gujarat. In any case slaughter of cows is proscribed in the plains of India for decades, almost since Independence. But in the entire North-East, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, beef was openly sold and consumed all through these years. The best beef steaks I enjoyed at a high end restaurant of Brigade Road in Bangalore and in Maharashtra the bulls were slaughtered legally while there was some official ban on slaughtering cows.
Throughout the five year rule of Shiv Sena-BJP government from 1994-99 the state government owned MAFCO outlet right outside Mumbai Police headquarters opposite Crawford Market used to sell beef openly. There was a list of items available on a life size black notice board outside the outlet distinctly distinguishing between Beef and Beef-Buffalo, for these were differently priced. But there the Shiv Sena was the main engine and BJP only a junior partner.
In the early 1980s when I worked as a crime reporter for the Indian Express in Bombay, while most high end non-veg eating joints offered sea food and chicken and even pork, the more modest ones served beef. For instance I used to eat almost regularly at Gulshane Iran at Crawford Market where a plate of Qeema or two seeks kababs (obviously beef) plus two tandoori rotis cost me just Rs 3. Since my staple diet back in Delhi was mutton I learnt to my utter surprise that no one cared much for mutton in Bombay then.
Closer to my office, Churchgate restaurant offered a plate of Prawn masala with three tawa chapatis for six rupees. I mentioned this to remind that even though the Birhanmumbai (Greater Bombay) Municipal Corporation was even then ruled by a front comprising of Shiv Sena, BJP and other non-Congress parties, there was never any talk of forcing vegetarianism on people. I personally have no problem if some people choose not to consume meat and in fact it would serve hard core non-vegetarians like me better for the fewer people eat meat the lower the price of mutton. But then no one has a right to force his vegetarianism on me.
That apart, why has Shiv Sena and its rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) of Udhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray decided to take up cudgels on behalf of the non-vegetarians? Bal Thackeray the most vocal votary of crushing the Muslims who earned the epithet of Tiger for roaring against the Muslims loved his warm beer and non-veg fare was a must at the Matoshree dining table.
However that can’t be the reason for the Sainiks to get so worked up about fish and meat. The issue is a little deeper and more serious. The first convert to the Sena was the Ghaati who migrated to Mumbai and found no job and no respect in Mumbai, he considered his state capital and since Bal Thackeray clearly pronounced his angst first, he took to Sena readily. As the Sena spread in the hinterland, it attracted mostly rural non-Maratha OBCs.
Now it is known to all, though in these times not many would honestly state, that most OBCs, EBCs, and almost all Dalit castes subsist mainly on meat and that too mostly buffalo meat, for that is the cheapest in the plains of India. Add to this the stupid myth that eating meat makes you virile and macho and therefore the Hindutva inspired Shiv Sainik prides in eating meat, even beef as much as the Gujarati Jains pride in their vegetarian culture. Incidentally even in Gujarat except for the Aryavrat all others specially those settled along the vast coast line of the state live on fish, prawn and other sea food and are therefore non vegetarians. A false notion has been deliberately spread by the RSS and its campaign machinery that most Hindus are vegetarians. The facts are entirely to the contrary.
When Sonam Kapoor, or Sonakshi Sinha or Rishi Kapoor or Mahesh Bhatt and Priyanka Chopra protested they were silenced by calling them all sorts of names and in the case of poor Sonakshi they did not spare her father the BJP and filmstar Shatrughan Sinha either. In effect for the Sanghis any opposition to non vegetarianism is condemnable as anti-Hindu. But how do the Sanghis explain the outburst of Sanjay Raut, Udhav and Raj Thackeray?