Hindu-American Perspective On Beef Controversy In India
By Ela Dutt
Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in May 2014. That intolerance many say, is antithetical to the basic tenets of Hinduism.
Before the beef incident and after it, there have been a series of violent incidents revolving around religious beliefs or lack thereof. A leading rationalist was murdered reportedly by Hindu fundamentalists at the end of August in Karnataka; two Dalit children were killed in a house fire set by Hindu upper castes in Haryana this week.
These incidents have spurred massive public reaction in India among those for and against eating beef. Some in the intelligentsia believe minorities are becoming fearful, and also decry what they see as the one-year old government’s overreach into everything from changing school curricula to looking the other way in violence against minority religions; Those who are pro-Modi say matters are being overblown by “secularists” and “progressives” as well as an irresponsible media.
Some experts say there isn’t enough data to support the contention that there’s a rise in religious violence. Some argue the seeming rise is a function of the Internet that catapults hitherto hidden acts of violence in small villages and districts in India, to the scrutiny of the world. Ironically, this serves both fundamentalists and those against religious fundamentalism.
Ved Chaudhary, founder of Educator’s Society for the Heritage of India, and co-founder of HASC, called the killing a “senseless act.” Even if beef eating was banned, which it was not in Uttar Pradesh, Chaudhary said, citizens should report a violation to the authorities. He blamed Akhlaq’s killing partly on lack of police protection. “This was a mob which wants to impose its religious belief on others,” Chaudhary noted, but said 900 million Hindus don’t all think the same way.
Sankar Sastri, founder of the Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, said Hinduism was meant to promote love and compassion in a violent world and “This incident has nothing to do with that.”
Any incident where a mob decides to take the law into its hands, is worrying whether it is rape, murder, or caste violence, Suhag Shukla, founder and legal counsel at the Hindu American Foundation. Shukla said she was at a loss on what could be done to prevent flare-up of mob violence in India, and indicated that lessons could be learnt from a multicultural country like the U.S.
Conditions On Beef
The solution may lie in making laws that accommodated the majority, Shukla said. Shukla blamed the media and politicians for politicizing the beef issue. In America, she noted, Hindus had adjusted to the majority, just as Jews and Muslims have. Just as minorities in the U.S. such as Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, had adjusted and adapted to food habits of the majority in a Judeo-Christian setting, the same could be made into formal laws in India. Dog meat is looked down upon in the U.S., she pointed out, something that Chinese-Americans as well as those of Vietnamese or other East Asian descent could object to, but adapt to. However, she conceded that the majority not eating dog-meat was not a religious belief but rather a cultural norm, different from the violence against beef eating in India, which was driven by religion. Yet she argued, “Why don’t we make dog and cat meat a deprivation for the minority here?” She objected to other religious hallmarks that minorities have to adapt to here. “Why do I have to take a week off for Christmas and have to make adjustments during Diwali for my child?” she questioned.
Bhargava said Hindus, Muslims and Christians had each followed different food habits side by side in India for decades. But perhaps there was a need to make some rules about humane treatment of animals. “If you are going to kill an animal, have rules of engagement,” she said harking back to ancient Indian texts like the Mahabharata.
Ancient Indian Palate
Her views were echoed by Professor Wendy Doniger of University of Chicago, an expert on Hinduism, whose book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, was pulled off shelves by Penguin India when it was threatened with a lawsuit by a school teacher on grounds it hurt religious sentiments.
“In the Vedic periods, cows and bulls were sacrificed and you had to eat them as part of the ritual. And Brahmins were the ones who did it,” Doniger said. Later, as the Laws of Manu began to influence practices, the movement centered on vegetarianism, something that was followed by Jains, Buddhists and some Hindus, she noted. “After the Vedic period there were some Hindus who did not eat beef or meat, but that was part of the tolerance of Hinduism,” she noted. “So (anti) beef is part of an anti-Muslim agenda,” she contended.
Kalburgi’s killing has led to more than a score of Indian writers and thinkers returning their Sahitya Akademi awards, citing his death as well as what they see as a spreading environment of religious intolerance in the country, including Akhlaq’s killing a month later Sept. 28.
Fundamentalism, Doniger contends however, is a global phenomena – ‘infecting’ countries like Israel and the United States, not just India. While village-level fueds against Dalits, or intermarriages, etc. were always there, she said, “What’s different now is these things at village level get broadcast and become pan-Indian events.”
In India, “There were always those who ate beef or didn’t, but the idea of violence against them was not happening in the past. There’s not a history of attacking writers in India,” she added. She accused the media as well as the rise of the BJP as part of the reason for what seemed like a rise in religious violence.
“All acts of violence and all banning of books is bad and all political parties have to come to that conclusion,” Andersen said. At the same time, he said, there was a “Tea Party” element within the BJP, which could not be controlled by the Center. “They don’t like being told what to do,” even by their own party bigwigs.
“Modi has to take action, fire people,” Andersen said, for what is essentially, “a law and order” problem. Similarly, the Chief Minister of U.P. should arrest all those responsible for the killing of two Dalit children, burnt to death Oct. 20, by a group of high-caste Hindus in Faridabad, Haryana, he said. Only 2 people have been arrested so far.
He said liberals had taken the wrong approach in India. “Every such act should be labeled a crime. Once you get partisan, the argument loses its moral standing and quality.”
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