Beef Chat: Is India's Ban on Cattle Slaughter 'Food Fascism'?

A lawmaker from India's southern state of Kerala has announced that he is returning to eating meat, fish and eggs after practising vegetarianism for nearly two decades.

There's nothing unusual about a lapsed vegetarian but VT Balram said his decision was prompted by the federal Hindu nationalist BJP government's attempt to seize the people's right to eat what they wanted.

"I have been living without eating meat, fish or eggs since 1998. But now the time has come break it and uphold the right politics of food assertively," Mr Balram said, while posting a video of him eating beef with friends and fellow party workers.
Is Ban on Cattle Slaughter 'Food Fascism'? 

The BJP believes that cows should be protected, because they are considered holy by India's majority Hindu population. Some 18 Indian states have already banned slaughter of cattle. But millions of Indians, including Dalits (formerly untouchables), Muslims and Christians, consume beef. 

And it's another matter, say many, that there's no outrage against the routine selling of male calves by Hindu farmers and pastoralists to middlemen for slaughter as the animals are of little use - bullocks have been phased out by tractors in much of rural India, and villagers need to rear only the occasional bull.

Ironically, the cow has become a polarising animal. Two years ago, a mob attacked a man and killed him over "rumours" that his family ate beef. Vigilante cow protection groups, operating with impunity, have killed people for transporting cattle.

More recently, the chief of BJP's powerful ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers' Organisation) has called for a countrywide ban on the slaughter of cows. And this week, a senior judge said the cow should be declared a national animal and people who slaughter cows should be sentenced to life in prison.

Many say this is all contributing to effectively killing India's thriving buffalo meat trade. Earlier this week, several Indian states opposed the federal government's decision to ban the sale of cattle for slaughter at livestock markets. The government said the order was aimed at preventing uncontrolled and unregulated animal trade.

But the ban, say many, could end up hurting some $4bn (£3.11bn) in annual beef exports and millions of jobs. There are some 190 million cattle in India, and tens of millions "go out of the system" - die or need to be slaughtered - every year. How will poor farmers sell their animals?

So, as lawyer Gautam Bhatia says, the new rules are "perceived as imposing an indirect beef ban". He believes the government will find it difficult to defend them if they are challenged in the court - one state court, responding to a petition that they violate the right of a person to chose what he eats, has already put the ban on hold.

The badly-drafted rules, Mr Bhatia says, are "an opportunity for citizens and courts to think once again whether the prescription of food choices is consistent with a Constitution that promises economic and social liberty to all".
'Dietary profiling'

Critics have been calling the beef ban an example of "dietary profiling" and "food fascism". Others say it smacks of cultural imperialism, and is a brazen attack on India's secularism and constitutional values. Don't laugh, but there could be a conspiracy to turn India vegetarian, screamed a recent headline.

Many believe that the BJP, under Narendra Modi, appears to be completely out of depth with India's widely diverse food practices which have always been distinguished by religion, region, caste, class, age and gender.

Indians now eat more meat, including beef - cow and buffalo meat - than ever. Consumption of beef grew up 14% in cities, and 35% in villages, according to government data analysed by IndiaSpend, a non-profit data journalism initiative.

Beef is the preferred meat in north-eastern states like Nagaland and Meghalaya. According to National Sample Survey data, 42% Indians describe themselves as vegetarians who don't eat eggs, fish or meat; another baseline government survey showed 71% of Indians over the age of 15 are non-vegetarian. - BBC

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