Several Indian states recently banned the consumption of beef, following the Hindu belief that cows are sacred. This move raised many eyebrows, leading to heated debates and a surge in popularity of cow rights in India.
80 percent of the Indian population are Hindus, and 20 percent minorities including Muslims and Christians.
Some people were even convinced that the country’s legislation-making authorities were more concerned about the well-being of cattle than the safety and security of women.
Most of all, this new law rebranded India as a country growing more and more intolerant of various religions and cultures.
Strangely enough, no one really considered that India has been home to various ideas of spirituality and religious philosophy, including Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.
Well, apperantly that really doesn’t matter anymore – since religion and tolerance is all about cows, right?
Eat a cow, and you are intolerant towards the sacredness of the animal.
Ban eating a cow and you are intolerant towards other beef-eating Indians.
That’s a tricky puzzle to crack. How can one stay tolerant when cows are worshipped in the same country which produces succulent beef chilly fry and tender beef cutlets?
Well, though slightly difficult to grasp at first, the answer is pretty simple – if one understands that this is not primarily a religious issue.
The newly passed beef ban cannot be used as a one-size-fits-all opinion to claim that across all circumstances, India is an intolerant nation.
To understand why food choices aren’t the best indicator of religious loyalty, we have some interesting data to share. According to research by the latest National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), around 80 million people eat beef in India. This is almost equivalent to Germany’s entire population!
Additionally, the data suggests that about 12.5 million Hindus consume beef or buffalo meat, second only after India’s Muslim consumers. The beef ban has thus not been targeted against merely against people from a minority religion, but meat connoisseurs from a major religious community as well. This new law is thus more about the freedom of choice, rather than the practice of religion.
Muralidhar Rao, general secretary of the national Indian BJP party, tells news magazine India Today, “Killing cannot be justified by the followers of religions, which have come from outside the geographical and cultural boundaries of India, must understand and accept the 5,000-year-old civilisational tradition and philosophy of India. It’s not about following Hinduism, it’s about being Indian.”
Though this nationalistic, patriotic and probably well-meaning speech is sure to touch the hearts of those who think they know India – this is the best time to mention that the Taj Mahal – which is the contemporary cultural symbol for India, was built by Islamic royalty which more likely than not, ate the controversial meat. That’s India!
In the southern Indian state of Kerala, over 80 percent of the population consumes beef since times immemorial. Historically, it is believed that people from Kerala have descended from the Dravidian people, which was the original race to inhabit southern India. They have thus belonged within Indian boundaries since the start of recorded history, yet they savour the condemned meat.
That is India!
Maharashtra state’s Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis still supports the ban, saying, “Muslim countries ban pork and no one protests. People get used to it.”
Well, the Indian constitution clearly states that India is a secular nation, with all religions and their ensuing philosophies to be treated the same before law. India is not supposed to propagate any particular religion in its official functioning.
Since the day India achieved independence from the British in 1947, unity in diversity or ‘tolerance’ – for all religions, cultures and differences, has been the keyword of the nation’s political ideology. Growing up with friends and family living in different Indian states with their own unique traditions, I can vouch for the unity that regular people cherish, amidst the diversity of their backgrounds.
On the other hand, I would not entirely agree with people who say India is a ‘tolerant’ nation. Something that needs to be ‘tolerated’ is usually unpleasant and unwanted, and growing up with friends from different religions, I didn’t have to ‘tolerate’ them to respect and share the richness of their cultures. In fact, during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights – all my friends, irrespective of their religious beliefs, would clamour to light decorative lamps and sparklers as part of the celebrations. During the Muslim festival of Eid, the non-Muslims would eagerly wait for a dinner invitation from a Muslim friend, to gorge on the delectable rice preparation of Biryani. During Christmas, everyone hoped Santa would leave them exactly the same model of G.I. Joe’s, Hot Wheels’ cars or Barbie dolls which had begun showing up in TV advertisements. There was never any question of ‘tolerating’ a particular religion and its uniqueness. In fact, each of these different occasions gave us a new reason to celebrate. India was never meant to be a nation that tolerates differences, but instead one that cherishes and nurtures the synergy that these various cultures create. Popular media may focus on incidents which display the communal tension in India, but here is an example of unity in diversity – which will probably not be featured widely because it is not controversial enough.
During the devastation of the on-going Chennai floods in south India, people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds have joined hands to help victims. Mosques have been providing many victims with shelter, food and clothing, religious background notwithstanding. People from various faiths, castes and economic backgrounds have been huddled together in the balconies of these mosques, sheltered against the harsh floods. India is giving the world an excellent example which demonstrates why Islamophobia is unjustified, and why unity amongst various religions is the best way to salvage mankind from the damage caused by calamity.
In yet another heart-warming display of unity, a Muslim family in Pakistan cared for a deaf-mute young girl, who had wandered into the country from across the Indian border. In 2003, 11-year- old Geeta crossed the India-Pakistan land border and arrived in Lahore. How she managed to do this is unknown, but she was taken in by the Edhi Foundation, a charity home run by Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis Edhi. Once they discovered the girl was an Indian Hindu and was likely to have living parents, they took it upon themselves to reunite the deaf-mute girl with her family back in India. Amidst the strained India- Pakistan relations, the couple was able to do this only in 2015, after 13 years of caring for Geeta. On 26th October 2015, all official paperwork was finally complete and Geeta was flown to India, to be received by her biological parents. This story is so dramatic and inspiring, that a Bollywood movie based on a similar theme has stormed the box office in India.
India is spearheading the importance of having a society with multiple religions and cultures – and yet is being judged simply because of its approach to cows.
Meanwhile- as the media pushes to highlight communal tensions within India, people from ethnic minorities feel ever more threatened and decide to get their security beefed up. Pun intended.