To Eat or Not to Eat: The Big Beef Question

Posted on May 28, 2012 in Specials

By Shruti Shreya:

To eat or not to eat, that is the real question! When you walk up to a McDonald’s counter and stare longingly at the Big Mac displayed on the menu with your mouth watering, you are faced with this very dilemma: To eat or not to eat!

Yes, I am sharing the predicament faced by many a Hindus, especially the ones settled abroad, in places far away from the moral policing of Hindutva, in countries where eating beef isn’t considered a taboo. Being a vegetarian, I may personally never have been through such an ordeal, but have however, on many occasions, seen my friends being torn between their love for the red meat and their sentiments for their religion that forbids its consumption.

For centuries now, Hindus have been blindly following the so-called religious rite that forbids them from hurting cows, given that cattle is considered sacred within Hinduism. But how many of us have ever stopped and questioned the reason why consumption of certain animals is “allowed”, and that of some tabooed? While our ancestors would have us believe that these laws have been defined by the Hindu scriptures or the Gods themselves, a closer look at the Rig Vedas will reveal that pastoral Aryans indulged in sacrificial rites involving cows. In fact, among the Gods to whom these sacrifices were made, Indra is known to have the biggest appetite for bull’s meat and Agni, for cows’.  Lost in the translation are also facts that Brahmins actually consumed beef in those times and it is advised in the scriptures to entertain guests by feeding them a slaughtered cow. So it is fascinating to wonder, at what point in history, did killing cows become a bad thing!

As many myths and legends have ensued, the humble beginnings of this rite can also be traced back to a very pertinent social cause that required a logical solution. It has been conjectured that with the rapid depletion in the population of cattle in olden times, very much like what is happening with the tigers today, a sudden law was forged to prevent the extinction of the very animal that provides us with milk, almost acting as a surrogate mother to us all.  Being considered God’s useful gift to mankind, cows have not one but many purposes, and thus protecting them was important. Linking it to religion was the smart move that ensured that the law was never broken and remained within the fabric of our society for ages to come. Well, mission accomplished!

Trickling down centuries now, however, this law has somehow become one of the traits with which Western countries describe the religion, while the followers of Hinduism accept it with no questions asked, advocate it within their households and pass it further down to the new generation. The sanctity of these animals is now so imbibed in our culture that the true followers of the religion are quite sentimental on this issue, making it a rather volatile subject, as was evident last month at the Osmania University where Akhil Bharathiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists assaulted and injured students who had a organized a “Beef Fest” to celebrate the Dalit food culture at the Hyderabad campus.

As the festival, that was organized by Telangana Student Association, the Progressive Democratic Student Union and Student Federation of India along with student groups from English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), where beef biryani was served to some 200 supporters ended, 50 activists hurtled towards the venue torching cars, shouting slogans, pelting stones on their way, protesting against the event that they felt was organised to hurt the sentiments of Hindus. One PG student, Rama Rao, sustained knife wounds while several others suffered injuries in the chaos.

While riots like these continue in the name of faith in a secular country where religion is taken rather too seriously, so much so that we trample humanity in the process, it may be time now to pause, step back and take a deep breath before acting, a time to learn how to balance our devotional sentimentalities with a sound mind and a human heart.  Hurting cows may be considered a sin but since when did hurting human beings become a pious act? Just some food for thought, vegetarian or otherwise!