Beyond beef eating

Ninglun Hanghal *

Beef curry in Bangladesh, served with roasted onion
Beef curry in Bangladesh, served with roasted onion. :: Pix - Wikipedia / Mohammed Tawsif Salam

The announcement of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 has created quite a stir in the Northeast.

For one, it has come despite the BJP government's repeated assurances of there being no ban on slaughter of cows and eating of beef. The people in the region feel it is a cultural imposition, anti-tribal and have hurt religious sentiments.

The latest reaction was the "beef party" in Aizawl, where 2,000 people gathered for a feast at Vanapa Hall the largest community hall in the state upon the arrival of Union home minister Rajnath Singh in the Mizoram capital. His response has been that the "BJP will not interfere in people's choice of food". When BJP president Amit Shah visited Meghalaya in early 2015, he was also greeted with a "beef party".

The chief ministers of the Northeast states have reacted strongly. Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma reportedly wrote to his Tripura counterpart Manik Sarkar for a joint counter-move against the notification. He stated, "The state governments must assert collectively to dissuade the Union government from such actions, which will dilute the federal structure of India."

Former union minister and Congress MP from Meghalaya, Vincent H Pala, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift the ban on sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets in tribal and beef -consuming states. He said, "The formal views from all state governments should be taken into consideration to review the rules and allow implementation of the same with state-wise necessary notifications."

According to the latest National Sample Survey Office, in Meghalaya 80.74 per cent of the population eat beef, followed by Nagaland (57.17 per cent), Manipur (23.70 per cent), Mizoram (22.68 per cent) and Assam (21.70 per cent).

The BJP's Meghalaya unit general secretary, David Kharsati stated that "beef ban" is a rumour spread by "groups with vested interests". But it has not made much of an impact. The BJP office has already closed and party members and BR Marak, Garo Hills district president, have already resigned.

In Nagaland, where the BJP is part of the government headed by the Naga People's Front, BJP state chief Visasolie Lhoungu told the media, "The ban on cow slaughter, like the one in UP, won't take effect in Nagaland if our party comes to power after next year's assembly elections."

Mizoram, the Congress citadel, also goes to the polls next year. A tribal Christian state, the BJP had not been able make inroads so far. After coming to power in 2014, the Union minister of state for Home, Kiren Rijiju visited Aizawl in May 2015. There he was asked whether beef-eating Mizos should go to Pakistan. Earlier, he reportedly made controversial remarks on "beef consumption" and was quoted as having said that he eats beef but later clarified that he and his family are a non-beef eaters.

Rijiju was also reported to have said that a Hindu majority state can enact a law on cow slaughter and likewise a Christian majority states can consume beef as per their choice. Mizoram BJP president JV Hluna has also come out with a prepoll "preventive" statement. He was quoted as having said that "There would be no ban on cow slaughter in Mizoram and other states in the North-east where there is a majority Christian population."

Another preventive measure came from Manipur where the BJP is in power supported by two coalition partners. Chief Minister N Biren Singh said in a statement, "The BJP has no issue with beef- eating in the Northeast. The state BJP has no intention to dictate the food choice of its people." On the other hand, Arunachal Pradesh BJP state president Tapir Gao said in a statement that the Centre's ban on sale of cattle for slaughter could not be binding on states where animal slaughter is a religious practice.

Assam's former chief minister Tarun Gogoi, accused the BJP of "interfering" with the eating habits of people in the region, arguing that the Constitution had exclusively given powers to the state to enact laws regarding livestock, stating that it was "a move against the country's federal set-up". What really does the new rule entail?

As far as the BJP government is concerned and the subsequent anger and protest is concerned, it seems to dwell only on the "consumption of beef meat" even as the rule categorically mentioned cattle and fowls. The new rule primarily focuses on meat markets and regulation of the same, technicality of markets, monitoring of market place, slaughter house and meat sale.

The new rule under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (59 of 1960) dwells on cr uelty to animals. Besides others, the cruelty as the per the rule mentions causing injury and pain to the cattle this includes injury caused to cattle by other animals as well for protecting them from quacks and handling animals with care.

In the Northeast tribal areas, animals, particularly cattle or fowl, need no caging. Moreover, domestic animals are a part of the ''way of life' in rural tribal communities, therefore cruelty or misuse/ abuse of cattle and fowl does not arise. Of course there will be some exceptions but should not be generalised.

As a matter of fact, since domesticated animals, cattle and fowl significantly play an important part in the life of Northeast villages as the people literally feed them well and are seriously keen about their welfare. Food and food habits are not merely about culture and practice or about appetite. It is also about the economy of the people.

Majority of people in the Northeast states, particularly the tribals, are engaged in cattle rearing, poultry farming and their products, in terms of meat, hides and milk, form the economy of the region. People are dependent on agriculture where cattle play a key role in production.

Moreover, rearing of cattle and consumption of meat provides income generation for a majority of the populace. With a beef ban, many would be rendered "jobless". Also, in the hill states, where there no is large production of food grains, meat serves as one of the key staple foods. In a state like Mizoram the majority of people depend on animal rearing as their main source of food and income generation. It is not only about eating meat, the new rules will surely hit the economy of tribals.

Indeed the markets and market system in the region are basically an unorganised sector, with no monitoring or policies in place. If the BJP is looking at improving the market and its system, it should look bey-ond "food and choice of food" and look at the whole system without forgetting the larger economy of its people particularly in the Northeast.

(Courtesy : The Statesman)

* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for The Statesman which was publised at The Sangai Express
This article was posted on June 21, 2017.

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