Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Meri gaay ko danda kyun maara?

Nothing can act as a better prelude to my blog than this episode in Douglas Adams’s super-amazing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that leaves you with mixed emotions on the morality of meat-eating. As all the four protagonists sit down for dinner at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, they are presented with the unique opportunity of meeting their ‘dish’ before they eat it. A quick (abridged) extract is reproduced below for those who have missed out on reading this masterpiece:
A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox's table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.
"Good evening," it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, "I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in the parts of my body?"
"Something off the shoulder perhaps?" suggested the animal, "braised in a white wine sauce?"
"Er, your shoulder?" said Arthur in a horrified whisper.
"But naturally my shoulder, sir," mooed the animal contentedly, "nobody else's is mine to offer."
"You mean this animal actually wants us to eat it?" whispered Trillian to Ford.
"Me?" said Ford, with a glazed look in his eyes, "I don't mean anything."
"That's absolutely horrible," exclaimed Arthur, "the most revolting thing I've ever heard."
"A green salad?" said the animal, rolling his eyes disapprovingly at Arthur.
"Are you going to tell me," said Arthur, "that I shouldn't have green salad?"
"Well," said the animal, "I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am."
"Look," said Zaphod, "we want to eat, we don't want to make a meal of the issues. Four rare stakes please, and hurry. We haven't eaten in five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years."
The animal staggered to its feet. It gave a mellow gurgle. "A very wise choice, sir, if I may say so. Very good," it said, "I'll just nip off and shoot myself."
He turned and gave a friendly wink to Arthur. "Don't worry, sir," he said, "I'll be very humane."
~ From The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Before we begin, I must put out the disclaimer that I don’t eat meat, and certainly not beef. I am not a ‘pure’ vegetarian if you must know; I am that moderately impure variety which also eats eggs, other than your regular veggies. But, I don’t mind if the person sitting next to me is eating meat or fish (I live in Bengal) or squids (on one occasion, live squids!) or cockroaches or whatever-rocks-your-boat-man. I have also lived through inanities like, ‘Have you really never eaten non-veg?’, ‘What do you eat then - paneer all day?’, ‘You know that you are missing out on so much in life, right?’, ‘Plants have lives too; Go hungry then?’.
If I were to ever do an award-waapsi (once I get an award that is), I would do it against the intolerance of meat-eaters towards the veggie-eaters like me. I mean you guys are another level of bigots. Not only do you cock a snook at any veg items that I may order during our eating out together, you would then also shamelessly mooch half my food till your bloody meat arrives. My list of problems with you guys is long. But then, this blog is not about that.
This blog is about our ‘Holy Cow’. The new cuss word in India’s collective conscience. The cow that our forefathers worshipped as the abode of all Gods. And, today, every bleeding heart liberal can spontaneously crack a dozen jokes on it, write Op-eds on how our reverence of cows will be the end of humanity, and mirthfully organize circle-jerk beef parties. And the only person to be blamed for this entire farce is you, the self-apppointed protector of cows: the gau-rakshak. You have reduced a harmless bovine into an excuse for terrorism. When the PM of the country, the man that you have repeatedly reposed your faith in, and the Head of the social organization, which is primarily responsible for mobilising your community, openly do not support your brand of vigilantism, whose side are you really on when you resort to violence, arson, and murder? You are harming the cause, if I am to assume that there is a cause worth our time and efforts.
But can we really debate on the ongoing national epidemic around cow-protection without understanding basic human nature? In fact there is no debate on cows at all, it is only on basic human nature.
The shaakahari and the maansahari:
Like chicken-and-egg, we don’t know which breed came first. But, let’s say some of us, over time, decided that we don’t want to kill animals to feed ourselves. Not that this reflects in any way on how humane we are in our general conduct in life, still let’s just respect this choice and move forward. For some others, the bloodlust was too strong. Ok, ok, delete that. For some others, they believed that food chain is nature’s way of churning the ecosystem, and we must play our role in it. This is absolutely fine too.
I am told that we have enough evidence to suggest that our forefathers ate meat. Nothing then explains how a large section of Indians came to look down upon meat-eating. For example, in my house, non-veg food is strictly not allowed. My mother would faint if she gets to know that the person sitting next to her is eating meat; in most cases she will know just by the smell of it. Even in Hindu households where meat is eaten, the utensils meant for puja are kept separate so that they are don’t get apavitra or impure. We all have those weird friends who are vegetarians on particular days in the week. Overall, even though many of us eat meat, eggs or what-have-you, vegetarianism is considered ideal from a spiritual perspective.
What holds us together?
It is now beyond doubt that human beings are perfectly capable of completely obliteraing our kind in a matter of seconds. What is it then that holds us together? Not just members of a family, community, society, country, but even you and me – two strangers. No, don’t give me that old dope on how humans are superior to other species. Animals are far better at living in groups, and fiercely protecting their common interests. What holds us together is LAW. Not just the law created by Governments because governments came much later, but laws created by societies, religions, communities, and every other thing that defines our personality. These are known by different names: conventions, practices, rituals, beliefs, culture. And these laws evolve over time. Some become redundant with passage of time, and are discarded. Some become oppressive to a few of us, and are amended. Some are forgotten, and then again revived. Sometimes these laws take the form of moral values, and sometimes plain superstition. Every such law must have been created with some rationale at some point in time, and more often than not, it must have been the greatest good of the greatest number. Standing today, it’s not always possible to see that rationale, and we must decide what is right in today’s context and collective sensibility.
But lots of these laws are breaking down today in urban settings with alarming frequency, and an unintended byproduct is celebration of the individual over society. We are an impatient generation, more selfish than the earlier one, and this degeneration (if we can call it that) is getting worse with time. And the rift between the thought processes of us, the urbal elite, and them, the rest who form the backbone of societies, is getting wider. We don’t understand them, they don’t even want to understand us. World over, we have eaten humble (eggless) pie when trying to predict how they should be behaving.
Can religions co-exist?
Hindus worship cows, and oppose cow-slaughter. It would be silly not to admit that other religions are primary consumers of beef. Do some Hindus not eat beef? Do Hindus really take care of their cows, to justify them getting all self-righteous when opposing cow-slaughter? Do slaughter-houses smuggle cows meant for farming? A logical analysis of this problem is almost impossible. There are too many ifs and buts. But what is clear to me is that if different religions were not involved, the problem would not have assumed such importance. Every religion has an inherent distrust of the others, and this fuels most of the anger, and need to assert its own importance. It is about cows today, it will be about something else tomorrow. What is needed is for us to teach our children to learn to accept others as they are, with their different religious beliefs.

I don’t know what should be the solution? Can the Hindus be a little less touchy? A Bengali colleague, who often passionately discusses myriad socio-political issues with me tells me why he doesn’t eat beef: he is a hardcore non-vegetarian, and needs to have his fill of meat twice a day for him to have a good night’s sleep. Yet, he’s never had beef. He tells me that when he was very young, his family owned a cow, and he has fond memories of playing with it, washing it, drinking its milk, calling it a mother. As they grew up, maintaining a cow as a pet was no longer practical, as everything that mattered - space, time, money – shrunk. How can I eat beef when I have once called a cow my mother? he tells me. He’s an MBA, working for an MNC, and yet see how emotional he gets on this topic. He will never impose his own views on others who may want to eat beef. And his is the story of so many of our generation even in cities, let alone villages. To write off the emotions of such people by making jokes on cow, is again us vs them all over again: we are not capable of this analysis.
But vigilantism is a crime, and it needs to be treated us such. No one has given right to a bunch of hooligans to go around beating people up. Gau-rakshaks who beat up others are as malicious and hypocritical as those who make up fake stories of being asked to get off an auto for carrying a leather bag. You are not the solution, you are the problem. And what needs to be done is to call out these people and get authorities to punish them. We will be achieving little by writing satirical articles on Cowcracy, or by initiating a gau-raksha andolan. Let that poor animal be, please.


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