Food has been an integral part of politics in our country. It has been successfully used as a weapon of change by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi. However, in the last few years ‘food politics’ has taken a violent turn. “What’s on your plate?” or “What should be on your plate?” is being vehemently discussed and debated nationwide. Against this backdrop comes a well-researched work by a Mumbai-based writer. In Who Will Bell the Cow?, Shruti Ganapatye has tried to make sense of cow politics from all possible angles.
The book tries to take a holistic view of issues like the beef ban and debunk myths surrounding it. The writer has tried to trace the genesis of the ‘cow movement’ and how it is milked for political benefits. She has exposed the hollowness of this movement. “There is no phenomenal growth in cattle population overall and especially in states where the movement is very strong like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, etc. The number of bulls has reduced drastically and stray cattle have increased suddenly.”
Further, claims like ‘Hindus never ate beef, never killed a cow and always venerated her as a mother’ or ‘India is a vegetarian country and only Muslims eat beef’ lie shattered. The writer says, “The holy status of the cow did not prevent the Aryans from slaughtering it in fire sacrifice and using it for consumption. Vedic texts refer to meat-eating and the offering of animals such as sheep, goats and oxen to the gods in sacrifice.”
To drive home the point, there is a reference from Rig Veda. “Rig Veda is quite open about beef-eating, offering it to gods and preparing it for various rituals. There are special references to beef in connection with Indra, the chief of all gods. At one place, Indra states, “They cook for me fifteen plus twenty oxen.”
The author laments that the National Crime Records Bureau has nothing on lynching, cow slaughter crimes and crimes registered for the beef ban. Also, the data collected by the author through RTI applications did not elicit responses from all states barring a few. Uttar Pradesh, which has been at the forefront of the cow protection movement and incidentally from where the first case of mob lynching was reported was a big disappointment as information was not shared.
“Looking at the volume of cases related to cow protection, the forensic figures are very slim. Only one conclusion can be drawn that all the meat seized is not sent for forensic verification” Hence the author says, “Also, there is no year-wise bifurcation of the figures to draw other conclusions. Then, the question is why there is so much hullabaloo over beef when no one is aware of the actual meat seized or not even taken efforts to verify it.”
Taking a disquieting view, the author has explained how while food nationalism in other countries arouses traditional values, in India it divides people. She says the connection between food and nationalism is so strong that lynching in the name of beef goes unpunished.
The food consumed by the upper and dominant caste is considered superior. Though 70 per cent of Indians are non-vegetarians, the propaganda surrounding vegetarianism is strong.
The book concludes with the thought that eating a particular kind of food is a personal choice but forcing a particular kind, vegetarian in this case, ensures the caste system remains intact in its modern avatar and India cannot afford this homogeneity as it risks breaking up the country in two.
Who Will Bell the Cow?
By Shruti Ganapatye
pp. 235, Rs.399