Grade Crossing

Meat ban: Who is the state to butcher my liberty?

Enforcing your religious belief on others is, without doubt, a crime.

 |  Grade Crossing  |  4-minute read |   10-09-2015
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"Ban it" has become a pan-India call now. The newest trend is its application on food products, ranging as widely as items that rest on shelves like Maggi to items that hang and sway like beef. Not long ago, we witnessed bans on smoking in public, liquor, bikini, and porn, some at the state level and some at national level. A few have been good, and most not so.

Kerala, for instance, acted a little too smart. The state government rescinded the liquor license of all bars and bar-attached hotels that were not five-star rated. The state-owned beverages corporation, though, opened more outlets to slake the thirst of the public and established a liquor monopoly. The irony is that the government is not against liquor - it is the biggest retailer and beneficiary. It is only against the places where people can sit and knock back the same items it sells. The message is clear - if you are not super rich to afford the extras you are billed for at a five-star hotel, be content with drinking at your home. Your children may watch you gulping down one after the other, but then disclaimers exist only in movies.

What Kerala cannot ban is what places like Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir have banned. Kerala is known for its love for meat, especially beef, making a ban next to impossible. Unlike some other places, the cow is no "gau mata" for the powerful lot here. But tomorrow, everything can go topsy-turvy if a few people so desire. If those few, either in administrative or judicial capacity, don't eat beef and want others to emulate them, a ban is very much possible.

Enforcing your religious belief on others is, without doubt, a crime. It is akin to coercing someone to act against their will. It is worse than enticing someone to convert to a different religion. When you try to persuade someone, you at least use soft methods to win their trust in your ruse. But a ban is totally one-sided. If not nipped in the bud, an overdose of bans will slowly make the country insanely dictatorial.

Some Muslim countries proscribe public consumption of food during the month of fasting. Such interdicts are applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims. The meat ban here is no less a senseless punishment than that. Banning meat is tantamount to accepting a lopsided culture. It gives us tunnel vision, makes us sick, and will tow us away from what is acceptable, by the sheer force of wrong ideology and practices.

I don't eat beef. I am a Hindu. But these two are not connected. I don't eat beef because I don't like it. It does not have any link whatsoever with my religious beliefs. The fact that I don't eat beef does not mean that I hate beef or beef-eaters. There are people in my family who eat beef. Most of my friends too eat beef.

A ban on meat becomes sensible only if the meat comes from an endangered species or for protective purposes. For example, every year, state governments with coastal areas issue ban on trolling for varying periods of time. It is not because some Hindu festivals are celebrated during that time, but because it is the breeding time of fish.

A total meat ban exists in some places whereas only a beef ban exists in others. Why is it that those who cry for the beef ban don't ask for a ban on chicken? Is it because they tend to like it more, or because they don't see any religious connection? If they come to know that Lord Karthikeya's flag contains the image of a rooster, they might ban chicken too. I am no fool to think that the Hindu activists who respect holy symbols don't kill the pesky rodents at their houses, saying "mouse" is the principal vehicle of Lord Ganesh! Will they spare venomous snakes because they too are godly in Hindu culture?

The argument over the sanctity of beliefs and related bans is not going to end anytime soon. Food bans without sensible reasons are indicative of an authoritarian culture. Those are signs of foreboding for a democratic country. It does not matter if the order is made by the government or the judiciary. My humble submission to the government and the courts is that "liberty" and "equality" are not used as fancy words in the Preamble to our Constitution. In detail, liberty of belief, faith, and worship are not restricted to any one religion. Liberty is for all; all are equal; you choose your food, I choose mine.

Writer

Sreejith Panickar Sreejith Panickar @panickars

The writer is a columnist, researcher and social activist. He is the founder-member of Mission Netaji.

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