Jul 10, 2009

No Beef with Ban By JUG SURAIYA

No Beef with Ban

I like beefsteak, and frequently eat it when I happen to be abroad. At the same time, I agree with the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Gujarat law banning cow slaughter. My reason has got nothing to do with Hindutva. Nor am I guilty of hypocrisy and double standards when I permit myself to eat beef abroad, but argue against cow slaughter in India. It’s merely that I recognize the special role the cow has long played in the social dynamics and the unorganized political economy of the country. In his book Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture, American sociologist Marvin Harris has formulated a persuasive, secular rationale behind the Indian mystique of the scared cow. According to Harris, the cow represents the only capital that the landless in India can hope to possess. By deeming the cow to be sacred, we protect this literally grass-roots capital: The poor, landless man’s cow can with impunity graze on the rich man’s fields and yield milk and biofuel for her master and his family.

The trespassing cow represents social justice and a seminal beginning of the redistribution of wealth. This holds true in urban as well as rural areas. Cows meander through our city streets like perambulatory traffic islands, much to the amusement of foreign visitors. The cattle forage at will, without fear of harm, from the refuse bins of vegetable markets and roadside eateries, relieving their owners of the financial burden of having to buy fodder. If, in addition to its employment guarantee scheme, the UPA government enables every Indian below the poverty like to own a cow, we could witness an economic sea change in the country. On the other hand, Bangladesh is a cautionary example of what can happen to a country which has depleted its cattle wealth. On a visit there some years ago, I was intrigued to discover that there were hardly any cattle in the country, almost all having been butchered for meat. The result? Bangladesh have to import vast quantities of powdered milk from Australia and Europe, a luxury it can ill afford. Even the humblest village tea stall has tins of Nestle. Operation Flood? Forget it. So tuck into your filet mignon, if you fancy it. Just make sure it’s from a foreign cow. Spare the Indian cow, the great white hope of the dispossessed.

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