By Mehernaz Patel:
There was much trepidation on a late weeknight when I realized that the guilty pleasure of watching my cooking show had been compromised. Not because of the show, mind you.
No, the compromise arose out of the fact that I was unable to hear the name of a certain ingredient as it was being spoken by the participants – something by the name of b**f or even worse – c*w. This mystery meat was tainted with censure. This is something many are familiar with – in our country – albeit, not necessarily from a culinary point of view. The sacred cow, arguably held sacred by our ancestors for what it provided them with in terms of commodities, has always held a controversial space in India considering that its image swings from the devotional to the delicious – hence the censure of the very word – lest our sensibilities get offended.
But, if one were to evoke Nihalani’s censor board, then there would be a long list of words that my favourite show would eventually be missing. Pork for example, or shellfish. Or perhaps, garlic, and potatoes. In a nation so diverse in its beliefs, practices, and even swear words, if every singular “offense” were to be considered, there would, indeed, be a short list of uncensored terms.
But, coming back to the beef, the inkling that began with the word being subtly silenced, was realized in its being banned in Maharashtra. In the passing of a Bill that originated in 1995, the people of the state have found themselves being confronted with a ten thousand rupee fine for the possession or sale of beef. In what Fadnavis has termed as the realization of “our dream on the ban of cow slaughter,” many eyebrows have been raised at what might be considered a blatant ignorance of the food culture of some of the communities in the state. Not to mention that beef is by far the cheapest meat available for those who find themselves unable to afford the most unholy chicken, fish, or mutton. Also, there is the small matter that cows, technically, haven’t featured in our burgers and steaks since 1995.
This argument is perhaps simplistic. The officially cited reason is – the environmental repercussions. The Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act has been amended to include a blanket ban on the slaughter of bulls, bullocks, female buffaloes, and buffalo calves, which essentially implies a big no-no with regards to their consumption as well. The fact that very few people in the public forums are acknowledging the environmental face of the argument, and heading straight to attack the religious favouritism argument is a problem in itself.
There is no way that such amendments would take place outside of religious and cultural influence, that much is obviously certain, yet the fact that few – aside from the state of course – are willing to even consider another aspect to the decision is as dangerous as if the allegation were completely true. In an immediate tendency to accuse the state of siding with the majority, there is an immediate lowering of belief in those that the nation itself elected. This dissent and yet, the fact that even the opposing discourse revolves around the same narrow criterion it accuses the centre of, is troubling.
Yet, despite these musings, there is always the seemingly unimportant fact that the very word is bleeped out of public memory. Coupled with the attacks carried out against those involved in the beef trade, evidence seems to be stacking up against the purely environmental view provided by the state. Because, as much benefit of doubt may be accorded, there is no possible way in which a mere mention of the word is causing a deficit in milk! What it may cause, however, is offence to some, who constitute the majority. The majority that voted for the ruling government, and apparently the majority the government is legislating for – a suspicion further strengthened by the economic benefit that beef provides India.