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Man’s Beating Death Casts Harsh Light on India’s Beef Politics

3 min read
Gateway of India

The Gateway of India. Photo: Ajay Om Saini.


Communal attempts to banish the consumption or procurement of beef in India for religious reasons have taken a deadly turn. A mob consisting of 200 Hindu men lynched a Muslim man in the outskirts of the Indian capital of Delhi after rumors spread that his family was eating and storing beef.

Mohammad Akhlaq, 50, was beaten to death, and his 22-year-old son was severely injured. The two were dragged from their sleep at home in Dadri in the state of Uttar Pradesh after it was reportedly announced over the local temple loudspeaker about him possessing beef.

Nearly 80% of the country is Hindu, and many adherents abstain from eating beef. That leaves a sizable minority of 250 million Indians, including about 140 million Muslims, who do eat beef. Different states have different laws regulating slaughter and consumption. Hindu nationalists have pushed for tougher dietary restrictions nationwide with renewed fervor following the landslide victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014.

‘Playing up extremes on both sides’

Banning meat has a long history in India. In August 2015, slaughterhouses in two neighborhoods in Mumbai, capital of Indian state of Maharashtra, were instructed to shut down for four and nine days respectively by the local municipality so that the local Jains, a small minority in India who are vegetarians, can practice a religious festival.

Social media users reacted strongly both in for and against under trending the hashtag #MeatBan on Twitter at the time. The annual temporary ban has been put into place since 1964, but received increased focus this year because of a controversial blanket ban placed on cattle slaughter in Maharashtra in March 2015.

Historically, banning the slaughtering of animals dates back to 16th century. Mughal emporer Akbar (1542-1605 CE) ordered people to abstain from butchering and selling of meat to respect the religious sentiments of the Jains.

Offstumped at Niti Central broke down the beef politics in India and how the different sides of the political spectrum along with the media all have it wrong:

The Right is wrong for moving the debate on “Cow Protection” from the personal domain based on personal morality and religious observances to the domain of the State, something which didn’t happen even during [ancient Indian jurist] Kautilya’s time.

The Left is wrong in questioning the legitimate Right of the State to legislate on matters that happen in public spaces, a Right which is not unique to India and a Right that is routinely exercised in liberal democracies of the West.

The media is wrong for having distorted the public debate by raising the bogey of personal freedoms when in fact there were no consumption bans. Rather than inform and clarify the media has vitiated the debate by playing up extremes on both sides by repeating crude generalisations and peddling vulgar oversimplifications.

Read more: globalvoices.org

Written by Subhashish Panigrahi
Global Voices


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