I am born foody. I must have inherited this trait from my mother as she is a great cook as well as food lover. I love to eat everything that is edible; however, somehow I have always kept some distance from red meat and chicken by embracing seafood and eggs. In short, for me food is an object of attraction and I derive immense pleasure (foodgasm) from it. My parents were kind enough to provide me what was healthier and tastier because of which I put on some good quality meat on my body. As I grew up and stepped out of the protected environment of home I introduced myself to some exotic food items like pavbhaji, panipuri, dabeli, kandabhaji, bhel, bread pakoda, samosa. As a school going child till I reach the footsteps of my college, I nourished myself on green vegetables, fresh eggs, fish, juices, soups so on and so forth. Junk was then unknown to me.
As I graduated from my school and entered in amazingly free environment of college, life completely changed. By then I started to get some pocket-money which I would often spend on exotic street-side eatables. I made good friends in the community of street-food vendors; as a result I was made to be entitled to have some extra pieces of their amazing menus. Life was good. ‘Eat-Shit & Make Merry’ became a mantra of life. My weight was also increasing in the direct proportion to curries I was religiously consuming.
Nobody bothered what I ate. I myself never bothered what I eat or what i would be eating. Mother was happy that I was putting on healthy weight and growing into a handsome young boy. Except stomach all were happy (poor thing…had to work 24 hrs…what to do!!..). Even my Chaatwala Bhaiya would be delighted to serve me with the broadest possible smile. We both shared a secret relationship. Chaatwala Bhaiiya and I were in secret contract wherein we gave our free consent to make each other happy- He by feeding me his exotic chaat items, and me by paying regularly with smile. This was the first lesson of Law of Contract I learned in my life.
Soon I graduated myself to the studies of Law and took admission in Asia’s oldest Law school – ‘The Government Law College’ of Mumbai. Again my life changed in 360 Degrees. It broadened my perspectives about the world around me, and in no time I was introduced to the RED WINE. I finally committed the ‘cardinal sin’necessary to enter in the true fraternity of Foodies. I tasted wine for the first time in my life. See, how I was growing as a foody! Life was then going smooth with Food.However, blissful journey into the exotic world of food met with a great accident; that may even be identified as an incident which dramatically changed the course of my life. It so happened that once I was invited by my friends at Bombay IIT for a food festival. The moment I reached at the venue i was utterly surprised to know that it was actually a Beef Festival which was organized by the students mostly from Kerala, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Northeast States. I never tasted beef in my life. None introduced me. My friends then threw a challenge to me. They challenged me to taste which was something I heard was forbidden. The certified foody in me gathered all the courage, took a piece of Bread, dipped in ‘Beef Kappa curry’-a traditional Keralite dish and tasted it. I ate Beef-I was fed meat of ‘Ox’that I never tasted before.
I often get nostalgic whenever I recall my historical ‘Ox’ Moment. Recently when I visited Nagaland I ate Pork and Fried Silk Worms. Now, at this age of my life I have reached to a certain level where i can eat anything and everything without any inhibition. A man like me who is more comfortable living in dense forests and high mountains than in the chaos of metro cities will never fall short of food. No question of dying hungry..Ehhh!!
However, I am disturbed about the latest developments in India’s world ofrich food culture. I fail to recall any instance in the past when dirt of politics overshadowed the taste of curry. When I was introduced, for the very first time to the Beef Politics by the current ruling government of India I was shocked and truly surprised. I never ever imagined that a politics can be played by targeting the Food Culture. Beef Ban in Maharashtra and other states was basically a ‘constitutional heart-attack’ to the secular and democratic fabric of the nation. Being a Bombay Guy, I lived and grew up in a highly educated, cosmopolitan, so called western and ultra-liberal environment where at least I dissolved in a common identity of being a Mumbaikar. Nobody bothered what others eat (except some strange people who were really worried about the smell of delicious fish fry coming from someone’s kitchen…LOL ). The organization of small scale Beef Festival at IIT by bunch of kids was the evidence of city’s liberal and free character.
Food and Politics are two distinct entities that have potential to influence mankind to great extent. When those distinct entities come together on a single platform the result we get is the Beef Politics or Cow Politics. Cow might be a sacred animal for the Hindus hence deserve to be venerated and respected by the community, however to what extent it is justifiable to impose this religious belief and sentiment on the others? In Northeast part of India Beef is a part of staple diet of people. Naga people cannot imagine life without Beef and Pork. The higher castes-Brahmins and Kshatriya communities in the northeastern part of India especially in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam eat Beef without giving any second thought to it simply because they have been habitually eating it for thousands of years. Take an example of Kerala, it is also one of the major Beef eating states in India which food culture has been traditionally influenced by the Middle Eastern Food Culture and culinary traditions. This is an alternate reality and a strong counter to the narratives of Beef Politics. It looks like even the governments of the states that have banned beef have taken the other stakeholders for granted.
There is one more angle to Beef Politics and that is the poorly understood definition of Beef by general public in India. So what exactly the Beef is? let us first understand that the Beef consists not only of Cow Meat but also a meat of other larger animals of cow family like Bull, Ox, Buffalo,Mithun etc. It may be a political conspiracy to correlate the term ‘BEEF’ exclusively with Cow Meat to gain some political mileage. If government wishes to ban consumption of cow meat completely they may do so (however;Supreme Court in its various judgments did not favour total, unconditional ban on cow slaughtering please refer Mohd. HanifQuareshi v. State of Bihar, 1959 SCR 629 : AIR 1958 SC 731Abdul Hakim Quraishi v. State of Bihar, (1961) 2 SCR 610 : AIR 1961 SC 448 : (1961) 1 Cri LJ 573,Mohd. Faruk v. State of M.P., (1969) 1 SCC 853,Hashmattullah v. State of M.P., (1996) 4 SCC 391however these judgments overruled byState of Gujarat v. MirzapurMotiKureshiKassabJamat, (2005) 8 SCC 534which attempted to constitutionalized the total ban on cow and cow progeny slaughter by rescinding the 45 years old jurisprudence on the subject. However,inspite of the 2005 mandate of Hon’ble Supreme Court there is no law on Cow-slaughtering in entire northeast region and the state of Kerala; the fact of which is very important to consider)however, there is no point in banning Beef consumption altogether because certain communities in India have been traditionally consuming it since antiquity. The question for debate is, whether the food habits and cultural traits can be changed? Or moulded by the law? Is it the Law of the land that now would decide and differentiate the eating habits and choices of people? The right to have a desirable diet is an unalienable right enshrined in the Constitution of India within the steel framework of its Art. 21. How can controlling the food habits then not violative of Art. 21 of the Right to Food under the Constitution of India?Could you imagine asking a Fisherman giving up his habit of eating fish? Could you imagine asking the great Nagas of the northeast to give up eating Beef, Pork, Silk Worms and other animals and birds? Law, under no circumstances can overrule the customs and traditions eternally influencing the ‘eating habits’ of people. Some are vegetarian by choice, some are vegetarian by custom; similarly some are non-vegetarian by choice and non-vegetarian by custom. Religious morality by donning the garb of Law has no jurisprudential standing to repeal the Food cultures and culinary traditions of the people.
India is still a developing nation. We are facing serious problems of poverty, population, malnourishment, unemployment, underemployment, caste-racial-gender discrimination. On the political battlefront the ruling party has been showing us dreams of super-self-sufficient-developed, self-reliant and powerful India. But; I don’t understand as to how a nation can be developed that fight on the issue of ‘eating habits’ of people? It may not be incorrect to say that the Beef Politics is a by-product of the rise of Hindutva politics.
It may not be worthwhile to forget the fact that the India is not a nation, but an amalgamation of thousands of nations, nationalities, races, castes and communities with distinct characteristics, culture, religious beliefs, languages and habits. The unity in diversity could hopefully become a strength of India if the ‘rulers’ give up their conservative and out dated political ideologies, and saffron tantrums that unnecessarily disturb society and strengthen the already existing discrimination of people in the name of caste, religion, culture, geography and now the food.
There have been debates running aroundon the value of Democracy regarding the correct reflection of the principle of ‘Maximum welfare of maximum people’. I wish to know how this principle would be applied in a society which has traditionally been characterized by the well-established system of ‘gradedinequality’. What is the politically correct solution as to finding the correct definition of majority and minority? Will the people in power be in a morally correct position to forcefully arbitrarily impose their cultural and social norms on those who are not in power? Is Democracy then a failed institution that does not even recognize the people who are powerless or are in much lesser number than the privileged rulers? This is the Cardinal problem of Democracy. How will the state be made a truly welfare state that would nourish and care for the biological, social, cultural and political existence of miniscule social groups in its democratic framework? In such a complex situation the onus is on those who are at the throne to prove their integrity, tolerance, understanding, acceptance and camaraderie towardspolitically misfortunates.
No matter how small in number the people are, they are given every right by Mother Nature to exist in this vast expanse of universe. The success story of Democracy has always been written by the hands of those who are thrown at the lowest strata of it. Democracy should not, under any circumstances be made a throne of tyrant psychopaths to rule the nation. Tolerance is the core principle of Democracy which shall requireto be valued and respected in its true essence. In ideal democracy there is always a scope and space for ‘breathing’ the different colours of air. The respect for individual choices, wishes, visions, aspirations, dreams and opinions helps a community to grow from the political state to the people’s nation. Every single human being matters in human civilization, no matter how strong the political currents are, struggle to defend the individuality in life will have to be continued. Beef/Meat may or may not be banned, it may or may not be eaten, but the right of free people to stand firm with their cultures, traditions, wishes and choices must be defended. Let us be human, let us remain human.
Aniruddha Vithal Babar, B.com, D.H.R.L., LLM (International Law and Human Rights), M.A. (Political Science with specialization in International Relations and Conflict Studies), Former Advocate; Bombay High Court and independent researcher with interdisciplinary temperament. He has respectable hold on political and Socio-legal philosophy and thought with research interests include International law, Tribal Jurisprudence (with special emphasis on the development of Naga Jurisprudence), Applied Politics, Idea of justice, Peace & Conflict Studies, Northeast Studies, Subaltern Studies and Human Rights. Presently he is pursuing his PhD in the interdisciplinary fields of Law, Governance and Conflict Management at SSLG, JAIPUR NATIONAL UNIVERSITY. He may be contacted at [email protected]