Scarfing down a shitty fast food hamburger or munching on a late-night diner Reuben is sometimes inadvisable, but in most of the world, it's almost never a crime. The same cannot be said in the Indian state of Maharashtra, where it's now illegal to sell or eat beef. Violators of the law, signed into effect yesterday by Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, would face a fine and up to five years in prison.
So why the beef with beef? Last week, we reported on the fraught nature of the meat in India, where the slaughter of cows and the sale and consumption of their flesh tends to bring the nation's often-buried issues of Islamophobia to the fore. In the Hindu-majority country, the processing of beef had been limited to the western state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located and where a large portion of India's 138 million Muslims live. Previously, beef processed in Maharashtra's slaughterhouses was sold to local Muslims, or else exported to other Asian countries. But increasingly, slaughterhouse employees and beef vendors have complained of being attacked by members of Hindu nationalist groups. The Hindu-majority government didn't exactly seem to discourage such attacks, with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi previously criticizing the country's former, more left-leaning United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-led government for promoting a "pink revolution to butcher cattle and export meat."
Last month, in the face of such attacks—both verbal and physical—on their industry, Maharashtra's beef dealers announced an indefinite strike, and beef was removed from many area stores and stalls. The response of many of the country's Hindu nationalist groups? Meh, we pretty much don't give a fuck.
With the president's outright ban on the slaughter, sale, and consumption of cows, the government's previously veiled anti-Muslim stance seems pretty clear. Of course, the ban is not without its detractors: beef traders, who say it will leave thousands jobless, plan to appeal the new law, and others have expressed concern for India's poor, for whom inexpensive beef is a key source of protein.
Within hours of the ban's announcement, many Indians took to Twitter both in support of, but more often in opposition to, the new law: the hashtag #BeefBan has become one of the most-used terms on the site, appearing more than 22,000 times in less than 24 hours. Many anti-ban tweets carried a thick sheen of sarcasm, questioning how such a targeted law could go into effect in a supposedly secular country.
"Eat what we tell you to eat. Watch what we tell you to watch. Wear what we tell you to wear. Don't complain. We are a democracy. #BeefBan," user @lindsaypereira wrote.