Sunday, May 28, 2017

Beef sentiments in Kerala

While my car was getting serviced, I walked into a multiplex this morning in order to while away the three hours demanded by the service provider.  My wife suggested watching a movie and the ticket was available for the Malayalam movie, Godha. 

Godha is just an average movie about the sport of wrestling which is dying in Kerala.  There are a few individuals in a village who still live with nostalgic memories about the wrestling trophies they had won in their youth.  Into their midst walks a young girl, Aditi, from Punjab.  Aditi is a wrestler.  She revives the akhara and brings laurels to the village and the state.

There’s a bit of romance to add the necessary spice to the plot.  Anjaneya Das, the protagonist, had gone to Punjab to study where he met Aditi.  It’s that connection which brings Aditi to Das’s village.  While Das is in Punjab he tells a companion about what beef means to the people of Kerala.  “It’s not just a dish,” he says, “beef is a sentiment for the people of Kerala.”  Listening to the description, the companion goes in search of beef roast in Punjab and gets beaten up by people who ask him, “The cow is our mother and you want to eat her?”

The city supplements of today’s Times of India is dedicated to the ‘beef sentiments’ of the people of Kerala.  The headline is taken from the movie mentioned above: For Malayalis, beef is not just a food but a sentiment.  The movie was released much before the Modi (government) of India banned beef in the country for all practical purposes.  I watched the movie purely by chance: just because I couldn’t get a ticket for Bahubali 2 or some other movie.  I loved the coincidences, however.

I was reminded of what Swami Vivekananda said in response to a question about beef eating.  “There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how, when a Sannyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed; how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race. Therefore the practice was stopped, and a voice was raised against the killing of cows.” 

Killing of bulls and cows was banned in the country because of a practical requirement: to prevent the “annihilation of the race.”  Not because of religious reasons.  So when did religion enter into the business?  Obviously, when politics found a convenient scapegoat in the cow.

I lived in Delhi for a decade and a half and was struck by the sheer callous indifference of people as well as authorities towards the cows that roamed the streets eating whatever they could get from garbage dumps.  Of course, there were occasional devotees or some such people who offered food to the cows.  Generally the cows were a neglected lot.  So when I hear the war cries on behalf of cows today, I wonder what the warmongers did for the cows on the streets.  If their love for the animal is genuine, why don’t they take care of them in the first place?

I live in Kerala now.  But I never bought beef in the last two years except once.  Today, however, while returning home after the movie I stopped at a meat shop and asked for beef.  The owner who has kept pictures of about half a dozen Hindu gods on the walls of the shop told me with a pregnant smile, “Beef was sold out at ten today.  Unusual.”

“Is it because of the ban?” I asked.

“Could be.  Forbidden food is tastier, isn’t it?”

I smiled because what he said was more true about me than about his other buyers probably.

Coincidentally, again, the book which I’m currently reading is Standstill Utopias? Dalits Encountering Christianity by Jose Maliekal.  The book is about the Madiga people in the Telugu country.  These people earned their livelihood by skinning dead cows and making leather products.  They even ate the flesh of the dead cows and bulls which were given to them by the higher caste people.  There are many such communities of people in other states too.  What do such people do now? 

From Facebook
Just like the demonetisation exercise which was carried out whimsically and achieved little significant purpose, this beef politics will also probably end up achieving little but creating a lot of ruckus in the country.  The people of Kerala, at least, have openly shown their reistance.  Yesterday they held beef fests all over the state.  Even the law makers and law keepers of the state were seen consuming beef openly.

I don’t wish to jump to conclusions.  But the BJP may do well to use the grey matter a little more than the saffron.

Maybe, the BJP has ulterior motives.  Rumours have already been set afoot in Kerala that a temple in Malappuram district (a predominantly Muslim area) has been desecrated.  Let us not forget that this is how most communal riots began in the country.  The coincidence of beef ban with the beginning of Ramadan also smells ominous. 

The national borders are resounding too.  The avalanches on the Himalayas are waiting to roll down.  Ominously.


  1. Forbidden food tastes better than others. BJP wanted a chance to humiliate others and they got it in beef. If not why would they want to ban it when the Ramadan begin. It's nothing religious to ban beef. Even if it is constitution of India is above all government and judiciary as long as it is amended. Constitution defines india as a secular state and ensures liberty of faith. Then on what basis can they say the need ban is religious. If it is religious how can one society force it on other society in a country which gives no religion special privilege and promise liberty and.

    1. Nothing religious about it. The ban is politically motivated. Its purpose is elimination of certain communities of people by denying them their traditions and food. Both food and traditions are integral for a people's survival.

  2. I agree. But let me put forward a hypothesis

    Let's take a different situation. Our state is a state where pork is consumed in a significant amount. We have our various local indigenous pork dishes.

    Had our state been in a Muslim dominated country, would we be allowed to hold a pork fest openly to oppose restrictions? We would have been beheaded.

    But in India, we can protest in such forms openly and audaciously. We enjoy freedom or perhaps we are testing our limits of freedom.

    Can I hold a pork fest in darker places of muzzafarpur or in dulhagarh?

    I love all kind of red meats, most probably because of our cultural integration with various tribes in North east but how far and till which limits of geographical location can we dare to protest in such audacity?

    The issue is not with BJP it can as much be the same with a democratic Muslim party. Oh hell, the issue is with religious sentiments of dumb people.

    1. I could easily get a teaching job in one of the Gulf countries and they pay handsome salary. But I refused to go there precisely because of the religious bigotry that prevails there. I would have been dead long ago if I were working in a Muslim country. So the parallel you are drawing is justified.

      But I chose to stay in India which pays me a pittance because India at least affords me the liberty to believe in whatever I like and speak my views openly. If India becomes like a Muslim country, then what's great about it anymore? Why should I stay in this country earning a salary which doesn't even permit me to live with a fraction of the luxury that my democratically elected leaders can afford? I hope you get the point. This comparison or contrast with Muslim countries is the worst logic I have seen in India. We had that tradition of what Amartya Sen called argumentativeness. We respected diversity of all sorts. BJP is destroying that great tradition for selfish political purposes. It's a greater tragedy than what you have understood, I think.

    2. I drew a comparison with muslim countries, yes. But I also wrote about predominantly Muslim populated areas in India. Can I openly hold a grand fest of pork consumption in such places? In silchar, a part of assam, there is a huge Muslim population and I had trouble finding pork meat there.
      I find holding on to a fixed ideology quite disastrous to ones mental well being. It brings in a lot of self agitation.
      Why can't we look at the wrongs at both the roads.

      Oh, blaming Hindus is liberal but blaming Muslims is blasphemy? See, I hate pseudo liberals as well as pro Hindu bhakts.
      Why can't we seek a middle path instead. Why do we have to be a stickler to argumentative ideologies.

    3. I think you got me wrong here, I am against holding open fest of consuming meat which might offend people of other religions. Not against consumption of meat in their personal spaces.
      BJP is perhaps restricting the consumption of a particular meat and it is fair enough to protest. But protesting in such a manner? That's where I had the problem.

      Yes, I am too slow to grab hold of certain meanings in between the lines 😂

    4. Your last comment relieves me more than you can imagine. I would have been sad otherwise. Because I'm one who had a lot of admiration for Hinduism as a dharma until it was degenerated into the present day Hindutva and my admiration can now be only be expressed with a veil over it. What I lament is the degeneration of a great philosophy into a proposed monolithic, and possibly a monotheistic, religion. Well, I won't explain it any further.

  3. there has neither been a beef ban nor cow slaughter. The following newspaper article describes it the best

    1. In practice, it is equal to ban on beef altogether. Dear Durga ji, it has been a very shrewd movement to deny certain communities their food as well as certain traditions. The makers of this ordinance are so crooked that it can be interpreted in umpteen ways. What you have given is one such interpretation. The ordinance destroys the livelihood of thousands of people in the country. If you want details i can provide.


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