Saturday, March 2, 2024

Remembering Akhlaq: How the Politics of Trade in Beef is Terrorising Muslims

Opinion – YFDA – JNU


On 28th September 2015, in Bisara village near #Dadri town, not far from Delhi, a man called #Mohammad_Akhlaq was lynched to death while his 22-year old son Danish was badly injured. The reason for mob vigilantism was a rumour that Akhlaq’s home had refrigerated beef. This may seem like a freak incident of terror, but in recent times there has been an alarming rise in crimes against Muslims and Dalits on grounds of beef trade and consumption. This is directly connected to the current fascist Hindutva regime in India.


Beef and the so-called ‘pink revolution’ (namely, increase in beef slaughter and export), was one of the election planks of the BJP in 2014. The BJP castigated the UPA government for encouraging beef slaughter in the country; it promised to put an end to the export of beef if it came to power. The motive behind this communalisation of food was clear: polarise the country using the Hindu symbol of the sacred cow- those who worship ‘Gaumata’ and those who slaughter her for food.


Once BJP came to power however, the party’s beef policy unravelled. India sold meat and meat products worth $3.3 billion during April-November 2014 compared to $2.8 billion in the same period the previous year, registering a 16.74% jump. This shows that there has actually been a RISE in beef exports under the BJP government, in contrast to his election-time jumlas. According to a Time report of 23 April 2015, the current extension of the beef ban by the BJP government is not designed to affect beef exports. In fact, by banning “illegal” cow slaughter, the beef ban intends to raise the productivity of exportable buffalo meat and carabeef. “It could bring an end to illegal slaughter and raise the price for buffalo meat, thus proving to be beneficial for companies like us who are engaged in legal slaughter and export of buffalo meat,” Priya Sud, a partner at New Delhi–based Al Noor Exports, told Time.


The policy of the NDA II regime is therefore to create two different zones of legality. “Legal” cow slaughter — undertaken by registered slaughter-houses owned by upper-caste Hindu export traders — is encouraged, for it contributes to growth of trade. “Illegal” cow slaughter — undertaken by lower caste Muslims and Dalit communities for purposes of local consumption and sale — is criminalised, with the help of a useful Hindu symbolism of the sacred cow. Buffalo, oxen and cow meat also determine which is “legal” beef and which is “illegal” beef, but the categories here cannot be fixed; cow meat is often passed of as a legally tradeable commodity.


BJP’s beef policy is therefore based on a typical doublespeak of religion and politics. The “legal” beef trade caters to upper-caste bourgeois interests. But by banning “illegal” beef trade, the government is able to endanger the livelihoods and food practices of many Muslims and Dalits for whom beef is a cheaply available source of protein. The prosperity and economic interests of upper-caste beef exporters are hence directly linked to the damage done to the livelihoods in local beef shops.


Apart from this macro vs micro economic divergence, there is also a cultural symbolism behind the politics of beef. Recently, there have been police raids in the biryani shops of Mewat, Haryana; while the Rashtriya Muslim Manch of the RSS has called for a ban on animal sacrifice during Bakrid altogether, replacing it with the cutting of goat-shaped cakes. Muslims can no longer lay claim to their cultural signifier of Biryani, nor are they free to follow practices central to their religion. Beef policing also has implications of gender. In a country where the security of Muslim women is constantly encroached, eating beef has recently resulted in the rape and murder of two Muslim women in Haryana recently.


In September 2014, Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women & Child Development, declared her “theory” of “pink terrorism”. Claiming that illegal animal slaughter is funding terrorism and bomb making, she said that “Slaughter of milking animals is a trade of Indians. Money through trade of slaughtered animals goes into terrorism and therefore into killing us. Why are we allowing this? Milking animals are being slaughtered and illegally traded to Bangladesh and the Middle East.” (…)


Condemning the many ramifications of Hindutva’s beef agenda will need a multi-pronged approach. Firstly, we need to reclaim the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion as listed in the Articles 25-28 in the Constitution of India. As per this right, Muslims have the right to disown the Hindu sacred symbol of the cow and lay claim to a decent livelihood as per the precepts of their own religion. The rights to life, liberty and security of personhood must also be claimed. Secondly, the paradox of the beef trade policy followed by the BJP government must be exposed. The neoliberal policy of pandering to national economies at the expense of local livelihoods must be condemned unequivocally. In recent times, Khairana in Uttar Pradesh has shown an example of how local communities can act to deny the Hindu victimhood discourse propagated by the Sangh parivar. These initiatives must be highlighted. After all, the politics of beef is also another victimhood discourse, which portrays a beef-eater as the criminal whose dignity must be ripped off. The fascist government must be replaced for a semblance of that liberty of livelihood and dignity of personhood.




Youth Forum for Discussions and Welfare Activities (YFDA-JNU) is a non-political group of Muslim students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


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