An Indian Would-Be Vegan's Defence Of Beef-Eating
By N. Jayaram
01 October, 2012
A tin of non-dairy coffee whitener sits unused. And my attempts at replacing yogurt (curd) with a soya-based substitute for my consumption have thus far been rebuffed by my mother who keeps me fed since my return to India earlier this year.
She refuses to see my point that captive cows, from whom milk is stolen, are victims of daily torture. That in the land of cow-worshippers where Hindu fanatics make frequent demands for banning cow slaughter and attack beef consumers and butchers, it is unacceptable that so much cruelty is being meted out to so many tens of millions of bovines.
Those who eat beef partake in the infliction of momentary albeit lethal pain, lasting at the most a few minutes. Death might well be a relief for the cow, who otherwise might be left to fend for herself once she is past her prime. She might have to walk the streets, scrounge around in rubbish, eat paper and plastic (even in rural India ), which ravages her entrails.
Consumers of dairy products partake in and enjoy the results of torture on a mass scale. Perennially ropes are pushed up the typical Indian cow's nose and round her neck and she is tied up in a confined space, left to wallow in her dung and urine: not for minutes or hours, but for days, weeks, months and many years.
Gary L. Francione , Professor of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark puts it thus: "...there is no moral difference between meat and dairy. There is as much suffering in a glass of milk (as) in a pound of steak." ( http://law.newark.rutgers.edu/our-faculty/faculty-profiles/gary-l-francione )
An American feminist has pointed out further that:
"(1) mammals produce milk only after giving birth; (2) … cows produce milk only if they have recently calved; (3) people cannot take the milk if the calf drinks it; (4) dairy farmers therefore remove calves from their mothers within days of birth; (5) both mother and child resist and protest this separation; (6) mothers often bellow and moan for days thereafter; (7) mothers sometimes go to extreme lengths to locate and re-unite with their calves; (8) dairy farmers utilize restraints to prevent them from doing so.
"Dairy is the product of the exploitation for profit of the reproductive capacities of female bodies." From the blog by Carol J Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and The Pornography of Meat. See her blog http://caroljadams.blogspot.in/2012/09/dairy-is-feminist-issue.html .
In her books Adams links meat marketing, and the imagery used in the process, to the denial of the rights of women. Considering that fanatical Hindus include lacto-vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians who consume other kinds of non-human flesh – pork, chicken, fish and seafood – it is clear that their calculated practice of double standards is aimed at denial of the rights of Muslims, Christians and the oppressed castes, the Dalits.
After all, several scholars including D.N. Jha (a review of his book can be read here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/jul/13/historybooks.highereducation ) have pointed out that Brahmins and other upper castes ate beef in Vedic times. In fact, even today the ranks of Hindu fanatics and fellow-travellers include quite a few beef-eaters too, for their stance is inspired not by compassion for the cow but hatred for those who consume beef.
To say that it is a manifestation of fascistic and genocidal intent may sound exaggerated but those who examined the language that emerged during Gujarat 's anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 know it is an accurate reading of their intent. The slogans and the pamphlets that circulated in 2002 were shocking to say the least. Organisations such as Citizen's Initiative and the International Initiative for Justice have documented the utterances of those dark days ( http://www.onlinevolunteers.org/gujarat/reports/iijg/ ) as has Martha Nussbaum , Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago , who is a vegetarian. ( http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/nussbaum/ ).
A majority of Indian vegetarians, in practice if not always in speech, are comfortable in the knowledge that there are others who consume non-human flesh. Quite a number of Indian vegetarians may express disapproval of or even disgust at other people's food habits – born of ignorance or thoughtlessness – but do not seek to interfere in them.
But a minority consisting of Hindu fundamentalists and other fellow-travellers, including a few Gandhians, wants to impose its dietary preferences on the religious minorities and Dalits. This is of a piece with the criticism by some Westerners and others of dog meat consumption in some parts of Asia . If eating the flesh of pigs and goats – seen as cute creatures by so many humans – is considered normal, why single out the dog or cow for special protection? What is the link between demands for banning cow-slaughter and electoral calculations of Hindutva forces? That would make for a fascinating study.
If eating chicken and duck eggs and meat is acceptable – and turkey in some parts of the world – what moral or ethical objection can there be to emu and ostrich? At least in the case of whales, there is an international accord born of concern for their dwindling numbers. Similarly tigers and other endangered species rightly inspire calls for conservation.
Another eloquent indication that the anti-slaughter demands of Saffron groups in India is born of hostility towards fellow humans and not concern for non-humans is that they are almost entirely silent on the beef slaughter industries operating in the United States , Australia and elsewhere.
Early this year when Dalit students at Osmania University in Hyderabad tried to stage a “beef festival”, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which is part of what is referred to as the Sangh Parivar or likeminded Hindu rightwing forces, tried to disrupt the event. Noted Chennai-based Dalit poet and feminist, Meena Kandasamy ( http://www.meenakandasamy.com/mk/Profile.html ), took part in it and faced intense abuse from Hindu fanatic men.
She later wrote: “…in a racist nation which advertises vaginal skin-lightening creams, the large, naive eyes and flawless complexion make the cow an attractive mother. Men take pride in being mummy's boys, but it is high time Hindutva organisations and secular, state-run universities stop being swayed by bovine sex appeal, step out of their Oedipus complex and remind themselves that cows, at least the fertile ones, are only mothers of calves.” http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280608 .
After another Chennai-based poet and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai ( http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3972347/ ) returned from a stint in London , she posted a rhetorical query on facebook about her chances of finding accommodation, describing herself as a “strict non-vegetarian”. In India it is deemed acceptable to deny renting houses and flats to non-vegetarians, even though that is a thinly veiled excuse for shunning the minorities and the lower-castes. Human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi ( http://www.anhadin.net/auteur2.html ), sister of theatre activist Safdar Hashmi , who was murdered by Congress party hoodlums in 1989 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safdar_Hashmi ), similarly faced trouble finding accommodation in Gujarat outside of Muslim ghettos.
And this in an India which produces an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of buffalo meat annually, of which 24% is exported ( http://mofpi.nic.in/ContentPage.aspx?CategoryId=173 ). How much difference is there between cow and buffalo, other than that the latter is black? Does the privileged position accorded to the cow as opposed to the buffalo stem from sheer racism on the part of Indians?
To state all this is not to argue for free for all non-vegetarianism. Human beings' eventual move towards a vegetarian or vegan diet and for reducing meat consumption would be eminently desirable. Apart from compassion for and recognition of the rights of non-human animals, there are ecological and environmental arguments too. The planet can ill afford to see hundreds of millions of Indians, Chinese, Africans and Latin Americans – experiencing income rises – taking to the levels of meat consumption seen elsewhere. Water scarcity will play havoc with the practice of feeding vast quantities of plants to animals and then consuming small amounts of the latter.
But the movement towards a deceleration of meat consumption and adoption of plant based diets has to arise from an awareness of ecological needs as well as greater compassion for both humans and non-humans. The current, especially Indian, attitude to beef is devoid of compassion whether towards humans or non-humans.
And as Priyamvada Gopal , who teaches at Cambridge University says: “A serious discussion about food security and natural resource usage must emphasise redistributive social justice and not just lifestyle choices in the abstract. The excessive consumption of animal products clearly poses an imminent danger to both planet and human existence. But addressing this cannot take the form of a coercive herbivorous moralism. We need a comprehensive reordering of the global economy and our priorities as human beings to end the limitless scandal that is widespread hunger.” ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/28/vegetarian-food-security-hunger )
A year ago during one of my last visits to Bangalore before moving back, I heard the eminent writer Girish Karnad ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girish_Karnad ) and other speakers at a Dalit forum defend beef-eating. I was planning to write critically of their stand, to say, “leave animals out of this, your quarrel is with upper caste humans, not with non-humans.” But after spending a continuous period of a few months and seeing the extent of the Hindutva menace, I realise that current consumption of non-human flesh is less of a menace to society than is the genocidal antipathy of some humans for others.
The Buddha attained enlightenment in India, but did not preach vegetarianism, as Ajahn Brahm , originally from Britain and now a monk in Australia, who was ordained in the Thai Buddhist tradition, says ( http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books6/Ajahn_Brahm_What_the_Buddha_say_about_eating_meat.htm ). Curiously, many Chinese vegetarian restaurants offer mock meat dishes, partly in order to make non-vegetarians feel welcome.
Today, October 2, is Gandhi Jayanthi (the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi , revered as Father of the Indian nation). And it is a no-meat day across the country. Butchers' shops have perforce to shut. What might the Mahatma have made of the current Hindutva attitude towards beef and towards the minorities and Dalits?
The question “what might have been” is invalid in discussing history and can be equally invalid in assessing the positions humans might have taken. But one possible answer lies in the actions of Gandhian atheist Goparaju Ramachandra Rao (Gora) who hosted “beef and pork dinners” at the Atheist Centre in Vijayawada ( http://atheistcentre.in/ ) in 1972, in order to break through religious taboos and discrimination based on dietary preferences. I have Gandhian friends today who share Gora's abhorrence of discrimination and who, while being vegetarians, prefer to let non-vegetarians be.
A reading of the theses of Adams and Gopal would point to a prescription for humanity to reduce dependence on fauna for protein and to obtain it directly from flora. But such a movement has to be voluntary. Prohibitions and proscriptions amount to violence against fellow humans, hardly the path to take in preventing cruelty towards non-human fellow-beings. Least logical is it on the part of Indian dairy consumers to rail against those who eat meat, including that of cows.
When its udders were squeezed and milked
You didn't feel any pain at all
When it was stitched into a chappal you stamped underfoot and walked
You didn't feel hurt at all
When it rang as a drum at your marriage and your funeral
You didn't suffer any blows
When it sated my hunger, beef became your goddess?
(Excerpted from a translation of the Telugu poem 'goDDu mAmsam' by Digumarthi Suresh Kumar from the collection of Madiga poetry 'kaitunakala danDem' http://roundtableindia.co.in/lit-blogs/?tag=digumarthi-suresh-kumar .)
N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes a blog: http://walkerjay.wordpress.com/
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