Slaughtering a cow and eating beef is your religious freedom. But you cannot make a public spectacle of cow slaughter with a grand beef party in the Srinagar MLA hostel or anywhere. Hindus revere the cow. You cannot celebrate cow killing and hit the Hindus where it hurts. If you do, expect and accept the repercussions.
Before I take the argument further, I ask you, and I ask all of Kashmir: If Hindus had deliberately indulged in a similar public spectacle to outrage the religious sensibilities of Muslims, would Kashmir lovingly forgive them?
You organized a spectacle in the MLAs hostel with your beef party. Do you think Hindus will look at you in a benign, loving manner? Engineer Rashid, if you violate the code of public conduct, expect a payback in return.
Let us talk about your enthusiastic beef party. Is it the responsibility of Hindus alone to maintain peace and communal harmony? Were the Hindu MLAs coming into your kitchen and looking into what was cooking?
Nobody is supposed to invade a citizen’s kitchen and see what the family will have for a meal. Nobody was doing it. But no, you had to stick it in the face of the Hindus. It had to be publicly known that at the party at the MLAs Hostel in Srinagar, Engineer Rashid served kebabs, rista (minced meat balls) and patties – all made of beef. You struck it too close, Engineer Rashid.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was quick to draw a parallel between the assault on Engineer Rashid and the Dadri lynching. There is no parallel. The Dadri lynching is a shameful, painful blot on the contemporary history of India. Engineer Rashid deliberately and publicly provoked the religious sentiments of Hindus. He invited retaliatory action.
Abdullah questioned whether he would beat those who consumed liquor or ate pork.
Engineer Rashid, please answer Omar Abdullah’s question. What would be your reaction if Hindus announced a grand pork and liquor party at the MLAs Hostel, and called all legislators and civil society members for a celebration? Would you preach tolerance, and hug and forgive them all?
About Engineer Rashid’s charge of bottles of liquor found at the MLA Hostel, the high consumption of liquor is an open secret in Kashmir. The illicit sale of liquor in Kashmir running into crores of rupees cannot be attributed to heavy drinking by the small percentage of Hindus or Sikhs there.
Coming to cow slaughter, all rational Indians are alarmed by the growing political belligerence over the issue. All responsible Indians know this can tear the country apart.
The rabble-rousing of some BJP and Hindutva leaders on this issue is deplorable, and must be rejected outright. The BJP leadership is trying to deal with cow slaughter politically and administratively, in the best of national interest. All sensible Indians know that hate talk over cow slaughter must be stopped, or it will kill their homeland.
Where the cow is concerned, we have been living with some social and economic realities. India is the world’s largest beef exporter. The beef is evidently not coming from buffalos alone. The top beef exporters of the country are Hindus.
We also know Hindu farmers sell unproductive cattle for slaughter, and we accept it. The farmers do not celebrate cow slaughter. This is an economic necessity of the farming sector. Equally, the government must deal strictly with the cattle mafia which is now terrorizing farmers and extorting money in the name of protecting unproductive cattle.
In Indian cities and villages, cows roam the streets as strays, but it is not a sight that Hindus like. Many Hindus happily pay for a well-run gaushala (cow shelter). Many Hindu households lovingly serve rotis to stray cows.
All this does not mean I will interfere with your religious freedom to consume beef. I will not support any intent of the government or right-wing groups to curtail your religious freedom. I respect your religious freedom, but do not hit me where it hurts. Do not make a public spectacle of a beef party.
Engineer Rashid, also do not assume that I am a right-wing fundamentalist that I am expressing my anger at your beef party. You may refer to my writings in the columns of this same paper over the last few weeks. In my column, I have categorically stated that the Indian state does not have the authority to circumscribe simple individual freedoms regarding what its citizens eat.
I have called India “an increasingly intolerant state” because many states have now ruled against beef consumption and slaughter. I am opposing the restrictions on cow slaughter and beef consumption to protect the individual freedom of those who want to consume beef, or sell unproductive cattle.
The Supreme Court has correctly suspended the beef ban order of the J&K High Court for two months. SC has done this not because it wants to please Muslims, but because India is a secular republic, and must remain so. It is not for the state to dictate what each family will cook in its kitchen.
Even in the midst of my anger, I am amused at the words you use to describe your action. The Indian Express quotes you in these words: “By this (beef) party, I want to tell them that religious affairs cannot be kept subservient to judiciary or legislature.”
The irony is priceless. You say “religious affairs cannot be kept subservient to judiciary.” Considering national interest in politically volatile Kashmir, the Court may do away with the beef law altogether. All Hindus should, and will, abide by the Court’s decision. But you did not wait for such wisdom to prevail, since religious affairs cannot be subservient to judiciary.
Further, you add, religious affairs cannot be subservient to legislature.
Well, right in the hall of the J&K legislature, the BJP MLAs abided by your words. They did not keep religious affairs subservient to the Legislature. They paid you back in kind, without waiting for the political correctness of the Legislature to play out and condemn your action in carefully chosen, appropriate words.
If the BJP MLAs gave you a taste of their anger, they are being labeled uncivilized and barbaric. I ask you and the whole of Kashmir: Was the deliberate brazenness of Engineer Rashid in consonance with the civilizational traditions of this beautiful land?
Despite my condemnation of your actions, Engineer Rashid, I will state this in black and white: The Hindu lawmakers should not have assaulted you. Taking law into one’s own hands is against the spirit of democracy. When we give up faith in dialogue and resort to action instead, we take the first steps on the road towards barbarism and fanaticism. In the ultimate anaylsis, I wish the BJP lawmakers had placed faith in the constitutional institution they are a part of. They should have unequivocally condemned your action in the Assembly, and should have let matters rest there.
As for you, Engineer Rashid, I wish you had harked the wise words of Kashmir’s most hardline separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani. On the eve of Eid, he urged Kashmiris not to deliberately offend the religious sensibilities of any community. He was referring, of course, to cow slaughter. He did not want anybody to make a public spectacle of it.
In schools across India, children begin the essay on the cow with the words, ‘Gaaye hamari mata hai’. The cow is our mother. Hindus imbibe this cultural reverence for the cow in childhood.
Some ultra-liberals are fond of labeling the reverence for cows as a racist Hindu approach, questioning why the black buffalo is not worshipped equally. This is a fancy Westernized argument thrust on Hindus. Krishna, our beloved God, was raised in a village of cowherds. As a child, he played with his friends amidst cows. As a lad, he was a cowherd himself. Krishna and the cow are inseparable. We revere the cow.
For you, the cow is an animal to be killed and eaten. I accept your freedom to do so. I do not want India to be a Hindu fundamentalist state. Your freedom must be upheld.
Engineer Rashid, eat beef at your home if you want to. Enjoy it with guests in the privacy of your house or at a private party in a hotel. Do not make eating beef your political ammunition. If you do so, be ready for the political fireworks.
Author is a senior journalist and Director Lehar, a non-political NGO