This article originally appeared on VICE India
It’s only been a few days since the outcome of one of India’s most crucial elections, but the beefs have already begun. At least that’s what probably got this Jharkhand-based Adivasi professor arrested over the weekend.
A well-known Adivasi activist and professor at the Government School and College for Women in the village of Sakchi in Jharkhand’s Jamshedpur district, Jeetrai Hansda, has been arrested for something he posted on Facebook back in 2017. His post spoke about how eating beef was a tradition and right for his community, but the post apparently angered an organisation so much, they decided to file a formal complaint. The arrest was allegedly made based on a complaint filed by Akhil Bharati Vidyarthi Parishad—the student wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—whose ideologies have influenced those propagated by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that he leads. In fact, the anonymous lawyer fighting to free Hansda is pretty damn sure that while the complaint was lodged two years ago, the BJP wanted to wait until election season was over so as not to anger the Adivasi community and lose out on an important votebank.
As per the First Information Report lodged at the Sakchi police station in Jharkhand in 2017, Hansda posted on Facebook about the Adivasi communities’ tradition of eating beef and carrying out ceremonial sacrifices of cows, stressing that it was an Adviasi’s democratic and cultural right to consume beef. Back in 2017, the BJP government had called for a nationwide ban on beef, leaning on the idea of cows being a sacred entity in Hinduism. This led to a backlash by many across the country, especially in South Indian states where beef is a staple food item. Ultimately, while the ban was imposed in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh among others with varying rules and punishments, Hansda’s post came in defence of the beef fest organised at IIT-Madras as a way to protest the no-beef rule. In his post, he also spoke about his unwillingness to follow Hindu customs as an Adivasi and pointed out that his people even eat peacock, which is India’s national bird.
According to his lawyer, while he was called to the police station and threatened with disciplinary action to take down his post by the University back then, the arrest only happened last Saturday night. But when the complaint was filed in 2017, Dasmath Hansdah—the chief of Majhi Pargana Mahal, a body working towards the preservation of Adivasi culture and traditions—wrote to the vice-chancellor of Kolhan University, where the professor was employed. The letter written in Hindi was an attempt to educate the vice-chancellor about Adivasi traditions, stressing that what he said was a real representation of the community’s traditions and could not possibly harm the dignity of the university or promote some kind of enmity between communities.
“Adivasis are citizens of India as well,” the letter said. “We have a democratic right to follow our cultural and religious traditions like everybody else... If the Central government brings in a law banning cow slaughter, it will end our traditions and religious beliefs.”
Not only has the beef ban been a controversial issue ever since its inception, but the arrests of activists has also reared its questionable head every now and then. Just last year, BJP came under fire for arresting five human rights activists over alleged Maoist links, with many questioning the motive and even calling it a war against freedom of speech. Meanwhile, the beef ban has led to lynchings across the country and most recently, two Muslims in Madhya Pradesh were beaten up by cow vigilantes for allegedly carrying beef.
The country’s beef with beef is perhaps one of its most infuriating issues that has claimed too many innocent lives. And it’s not just restricted to people being killed for eating a cow. The beef ban has economically affected the livelihood of those working in the meat processing industry and resulted in stray cattle, besides beef eaters being shamed and ostracised for indulging in the red meat. A friend even told me about how his society kicked out a few Korean dudes who were beef-eaters because they assumed that since they ate beef, the only logical way to dispose off the bones would be to throw it into other people’s balconies.
So while we totally get that being against animal cruelty is cool, kicking people out of their homes and arresting them for merely expressing their thoughts and traditions through social media statements kinda seems like the cowardly thing to do.
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