Why I Will Celebrate The Beef Festival
By Dr Akhileshwari Ramagoud
06 December, 2015
Students of the University College, Thiruvananthapurama, Kerala taking part in a beef festival organised by the SFI in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.– Photo: C. Ratheesh kumar/The Hindu
I will participate in the Beef Festival being organised by students on the Osmania University campus on December 10. Or wherever they choose to hold the festival since the OU authorities have refused to give permission. Or whenever it is held. I will participate because being a free citizen of this free country, I have every right to do so. That is guaranteed to me by the Constitution as citizen of this country. I might hurt some sentiments of some people but the Constitution has put no qualifying clauses to my freedom in this democracy especially where a totally private issue like food is concerned. When food is forcibly brought out of the privacy of our kitchens, and into centre-stage in public, with the single motive of driving a wedge between ‘us’ and ‘them’ then our sentiments too have been hurt, our sensibilities have been outraged and we have to assert our rights over the food we prefer to eat or not eat.
Most importantly, as an individual in this free country, my strength is equal to everybody else, alone or together: Strength in terms of legal rights over choice of food and also strength in terms of my belief, my values of right and wrong and my freedom to eat what I want to, need to or prefer to, eat.
Let me at the outset clarify my own background: my father was born a non-vegetarian but opted to give up meat and other animal products like eggs as a young man. He remained a vegetarian his entire life. As a result, meat was banned in our house. It was cooked and eaten on the sly, if at all, in our vast household. Later, as we grew up, he relaxed his stand and allowed the growing children to eat meat. But eating meat was never as big a treat as say, a laddoo or shrikhand, a sweet made from curds. This was so because our culture at home and within the extended family of a dozen families or so was entirely Brahminical despite our roots being in the service caste since we were among the wealthiest people in the region. There was nothing “BC” about our lifestyle, our language, our food habits, our religious ceremonies, or even death ceremonies. The extended family comprising several brothers and their families patronised Brahmin pandits, held pujas and even hired Brahmin cooks for the regular feasts and festivities. My grandfather, a well-known philanthropist in my home town, even got a guest house constructed to house the visiting Brahmin priests and their families. This ‘Sanskritisation’ of our family was also perhaps responsible for my father’s decision to get all his children, girls and boys, educated in top schools in Hyderabad, Pune and Bangalore, making us the first generation of educated career women in our community in the entire region, if not in the State. Therefore, while killing of animals and consuming their flesh was literally a taboo in our home, we also respected those who enjoyed their biryani or kheema-khichidi or mutton fry or kababs. The two issues were kept separate as they should be. In short, we lived and let live. ‘They’ , the meat-eaters, could eat whatever they fancied while we ate whatever we fancied.
An Assertion of Right to Choice of Food
Holding a beef festival or participating in it is not an issue of secularism of ‘pseudo secular’ people or ‘sickular’ people, to use Hindutva parlance. It is no display of secularism. It is an assertion of people of their right to eat what they want, including beef, including pork. It is their protest to halt the communalising of food. Since we are not being spared even if eat in the privacy of our homes, we have to hit the streets, resist all such tyranny publicly. We cannot submit to the tyranny of the minority, the Hindu fundamentalists, who have developed muscle after the BJP has come to power and Narendar Modi became the prime minister.
Beef is the food of not just Muslims but several non-Muslims too. It is consumed by majority of Christians, Dalits, Lambadas and Adivasis. For the large number of Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic communities that are largely invisible, and whose lifestyle involves being on the move all the time not just beef but ‘anything that moves’ is food, such as crow and squirrel, in the words of a leader of a Nomadic community. Since they did not have the luxury of a settled community that grew its food in fields or reared animals for milk and meat, they consumed whatever they could trap and catch. While some OBCs do eat beef, most consider it ‘Dalit food’ and therefore, to be avoided. Increasing brahminising of society has also resulted in the cow being seen as ‘sacred’ and rejecting beef as food across the caste spectrum.
Ganga-Jamni rule of Hyderabad State
The former Hyderabad State that saw 400 years of Islamic rule, is known for its ‘Ganga-Jamni Tehzeeb’ or pluralistic culture. Interestingly, the elite Muslims who were the ruling class, did not eat beef out of deference to their upper caste/class Hindu fellow citizens. And across the State, pork was avoided by all including those OBC castes who had traditionally enjoyed pork as it can still be found in coastal Andhra OBCs. The exceptions were those communities of pig-rearers. What is to be noted is that in the entire four centuries of Muslim rule pork was not banned by the rulers in deference to the food habits of the people. Although the rulers were monarchs and their writ ran large, they still did not encroach upon the subjects’ food choices. Beef in the 400 years of Kutub Shahi and Asaf Jahi rule was the choice of only the poor Muslims. This phenomenon continues even today in the Muslim elite of former Hyderabad State. Such was the sensitivity of people and rulers.
Tyranny of the Majoritarianism
Let me give two examples of the tyranny of the majoritarianism that I experienced personally. After the last beef fest held in Osmania University in 2012, (in which I participated and hogged beef biryani) I wanted to write on the food culture of the people. When I approached two Lambada leaders, both of them, one after the other, refused to be interviewed for the story or admit that they eat beef. They apparently feared their acceptability would be compromised, their leadership and scholarship would be devalued if they went against the 'mainstream'. A leader of the nomadic communities insisted that he was vegetarian and a Shiva Bhakta, apparently fearing he would be 'disqualified' by the 'mainstream' and rendered a pariah if he admitted to eating beef. In effect, it might compromise his dreams of making it big in the state politics.
This tyranny has grown exponentially in the last 18 months of BJP rule in the Centre resulting in violent assertion by the Hindutva groups emboldened by the ascension to power of BJP and Modi with unbeatable majority in the Lok Sabha. This march of majoritarianism has to be halted and it can be done only with people’s resistance. Majoritarianism has no place in a democracy. If majoritarianism is allowed to run amuck then the very democracy that allows the flowering and nurturing of diverse and even opposing points of views, will be endangered and would be replaced by authoritarianism.
I will participate in the Beef Festival. And also in a Pork Festival especially if it gets banned by the State. I will not allow any minority such as the Hindutva fundamentalists to asserting its intolerance in the name of the majority of Hindus, in my name, in the name of my family, in the name of hundreds and thousands of Hindus who share my agony and fears. Therefore, I will celebrate beef festival.
(The author is a senior journalist, a teacher and researcher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)