It had been a custom every year, when I visited home for Bakrid, for my mother to pack the festival meat for my younger brother and friends in Delhi. Muslim and non-Muslim friends alike would wait expectantly for my meat-laden return and there would be opportunities for many a convivial gatherings in Delhi. Last year, however, I refused to carry the packets my mother had made for me – this one mutton chaamp, that one girail, dry, fried chicken, shaami kebabs and so on. However, I was reluctant to ferry these goodies from Supaul, a small town in Northern Bihar to Delhi – a train journey of nearly 1,300 kilometers. Who was to know when groups of men would turn up in my coach and demand to check my bags? Who would stop them? Who could possibly reason with them that the meat was not beef but mutton and chicken? The vision of Akhlaque rose before me and I ignored my mother’s insistent pleas.
I decided that I did not want to risk being lynched by vigilantes, nor harassed by the police. However, when I broke this news to my friends through Facebook, informing them through a post that I would not be bringing meat because of the ‘Dadari effect’, many thought that I was plain joking. Some even felt that I was getting paranoid unnecessarily because the Dadari incident was an exception and that it shouldn’t demoralize Muslims from their cultural and religious practices. But a few also felt that it was a necessary precaution on my part, going with the lines of “precaution is always better than cure”.
What I feared in October last year turned out to be a reality this year. Early on January 13, a Muslim couple was beaten up in Madhya Pradesh while travelling in a train over suspicion of carrying beef. According to the state police, the “couple was among passengers assaulted by at least seven members of the Gauraksha Samiti at Khirkiya railway station, in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh, when they objected to their luggage being searched on suspicion that they were carrying beef”.
So, bizarre as it sounds, the news of Biryani testing by the Haryana Police, did not surprise me. It was nothing but a visible legitimization by the Haryana state government to what was being practiced for long by vigilante groups, better known as Gau Rakshak Dals. It is a well-established fact that over the years, especially in states like Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, the State has nurtured the Gau Rakshaks in the name of protecting Gau Mata. A detailed report published in the latest issue of Caravan Magazine establishes this thoroughly.
In fact, the only real change has been that the state has now taken it upon itself to play the role of vigilante, thanks to draconian legislations like the Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan (Cow Protection and Development) Bill 2015 passed by the Haryana Assembly on March 16, 2015, which not only bans the slaughtering of cows and the sale of beef in the state but also its import. The amendments in the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 also require special mention here. Fortunately, unlike Haryana, later a ruling by Mumbai High Court allowed consumption and import of beef.
The fundamental problem with laws like these is that, they especially target those belonging to religious minority communities, Dalits and Adivasis. Naturally, these laws have also created a sense of fear amongst these communities, apart from rendering lakhs of people whose livelihood was/is dependent on it, jobless in some way or the other.
The recent report of two Muslim women being allegedly gang raped in Mewat (Haryana), and one claiming that the accused asked her if she had consumed beef hints at the extent to which vigilantes can go. Moreover, news about pervasive sense of terror and fear has taken hold of Muslims in Mewat area of Haryana, with a shadow looming over the Bakrid celebrations.
But Haryana is hardly an exception. It is no different in Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal as well – with even North East not spared. If you ask me if I would consider carrying meat this year, my answer would be a big no. The situation, instead of improving, has only worsened. It is ironic to note that those vulnerable are not protected and those committing crimes are given a free hand and state patronage. In short, the law is the problem more than anything because it criminalizes food habits and preferences of a large section of Indians.
Hence, as long as arbitrary and archaic laws and provisions like these exist, there will be a reign of terror, killings, harassment and others forms of subjugation. Unless we get rid of these, no dramatic changes are going to take place. It’s a red herring to appeal to or even to chastise ‘bad gau rakshaks’. As long as the perpetrators are assured not only of political backing but also served through law, things are bound to get only worse.
By the way, let me wish you a not so Happy Bakrid ! Not so happy because what is Eid if I can’t feed my friends meat prepared by my mother. What is Eid if Kashmir is under curfew even on the day of Eid and bleeding continuously…What is Eid if many areas of Bangalore are under curfew…
May peace and justice prevail soon, Aameen !
An edited version of this article first appeared in The Quint.