India Is Tearing Itself Apart Over Eating Beef
In the wake of a man being murdered over rumors that he ate beef, a Hindu nationalist organization has claimed that "the Vedas order the killing of anyone who slaughters the cow."
Photo via Flickr user calgaryreviews
In the wake of a Hindu activist group beating a Muslim man to death over a rumor he slaughtered a cow, violence and furor relating to killing cows and eating beef continues to rise in India. According to the BBC, within the last month two other Muslims have died when Hindus attacked people for eating, slaughtering, or smuggling cows, and another two were killed over other issues relating to cow slaughter. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi struggles to establish order, some within his own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are excusing or condoning violence against those who slaughter cows. Critics say Modi isn't doing enough.
Beef is a very controversial for India's 1.3 billion residents, 80 percent of whom are Hindu and consider cows sacred. However, many poor people in India—Muslim and Hindu alike—rely on beef, often water buffalo but not always, as a cheap source of protein. Last March, India's second most populous state and home to many Muslims, Maharashtra, made selling beef illegal, and slaughtering or consuming cows is illegal in much of the rest of the country. In Upper Pradesh, where a man was beaten to death under suspicion of eating beef, local BJP officials say Muslims are stealing cows at night and taking them to secret slaughterhouses. Seeing a lack of enforcement, groups like Save the Cow are taking things into their own hands.
On October 9, a 16-year-old died after a Hindu mob attacked a truck with a gas bomb in northern India's Kashmir valley. A local lawmaker had thrown a "beef party" featuring kebabs and burgers to protest a local beef ban, drawing the mob's ire.
Senior members of the BJP condemned the attack and those within the BJP who condone beef-related activism, a cohort known as the "beef brigade." But at the same time, other members in the BJP and the BJP's ideological affiliate, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were undermining their efforts. An article in the RSS's in-house magazine evoked religious doctrine to justify the attacks. "The Vedas order the killing of anyone who slaughters the cow," it said. "Cow slaughter is a big issue for the Hindu community. For many of us it's a question of life and death."
Many say Modi isn't doing enough to stop the spread of hostility, and it isn't the first time he's been criticized for failing to quell Hindu-on-Muslim violence. In 2002, when he was the chief minister in the state of Gujarat, a series of deadly riots occurred under his watch. At a train station, a fight broke out between Muslims and Hindu pilgrims who arrived at the station on a train. The train ultimately caught fire. Hindus blamed Muslims for setting the blaze, and afterward mobs raged through Muslim communities for days, setting fire to buildings, raping women, and beating people to death. Nearly 1,000 people were killed. Though Modi was eventually absolved from blame, many people questioned whether he could have done more to halt the bloodshed. He was even banned from entering the United States until just last year, when he was Prime Minister-elect.
After Mohammed Ikhlaq was beaten to death and his son critically injured by Save the Cow under the suspicion his family had eaten beef—the meat found in his fridge appears to be goat meat and is undergoing testing—ten men were charged with murder. However, local BJP officials condemned the charges, saying the killing was an "accident." Some point to politics as the reason that people are getting away with cow theft, and say the local police are turning a blind eye because the state government needs Muslim votes. Modi's lieutenant, Amit Shah, had to call in one local BJP official who had made statements calling for the death penalty for cow slaughter.
Despite the reprimands, the New York Times says that the sentiment expressed by the RSS and Modi's failure to promptly condemn the recent attacks have led to backlash. Prominent writers have returned their state-awarded honors in protest of the violence and the threat to secularism under a Hindu nationalist agenda that is bringing religious mandates into law.
Even though beef is a deadly serious issue in India, it should be noted that India is the world's largest exporter of beef, albeit mostly water buffalo beef. The country is expected to export roughly 2.4 million tons of beef this year.