Ours is a democracy in name only. As in, we vote in an election and whoever we empower with our votes forms a government and rules over us. The day the results are declared, our democracy ends only to be replaced by the autocracy of a majority or by the audacity of a minority which assumes the role of ‘king maker’. King makers in a democracy? Once the government takes office, it assumes dictatorial powers. Either it dictates policies or its ‘support’ does or as in Maharashtra, there is a remote. So in Governance, the people’s voice is not heard, or it is ignored.
On assuming office, the new BJP government in Maharashtra immediately promulgated a ban on beef — not only on slaughter of cows or its progeny, but all trade in beef and beef products along with making even possessing beef for personal consumption a crime. So when I return from abroad with a jar of Bovril or a cube of Beef Bullion in my luggage, I would be arrested and prosecuted. I could get away with smuggling gold but not beef.
Now I hear the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation has banned all slaughter in consideration of the four days of the Jain festival of Paryushan. The Jains are offended by the violence of slaughter. Not an unacceptable sentiment. But what about those who are not Jain and are habituated to eating meat. Every time around October 2, social media is awash with people moaning about the fact that they will be deprived of their drinks and everybody rushes to stock up on liquor as it won’t be available for a day.
But on October 2, the government does not enter people’s homes and prosecute them for imbibing. At least, I have not heard of private parties being raided. I am sure even politicians must not be foregoing their ‘One for the evening’ on Bapu’s birthday.
With the meat ban, they have deprived people of one — a food source and the other the right to choice. I believe that in Thane they have extended the ban to eight days. Now this not only deprives people of a choice which is a fundamental right, but it also deprives persons of the right to livelihood.
If the trade of meat is prohibited for eight days, herders will lose revenue. The meat industry has daily wagers who will also be deprived of their livelihood for eight days. Will they be compensated? The restaurant trade will be hit too. The poor will as usual suffer. Apart from the fact that many of the absolutely poor go to slaughter houses and buy the offal and the discarded scraps of meat for Rs 10 or Rs 20 and survive on that with onions and chillies going out of reach. Now they will be denied these scraps too. All mixed eateries will be forced to close down.
These are the monetary ramifications of this ill conceived action which also reflects on the authoritarian trends in our democracy. And in this, all are equally guilty. It was the Congress government which promulgated a two-day ban, even though the implementation was lackadaisical. I believe this time they are strictly going to enforce it.
I remember the time when Shiv Sena-BJP was in power in Maharashtra and Narayan Rane was the CM. The Jain festival of Sanvatsari and Eid ul Fitr or Bakri Eid coincided. Bajrang Dal and VHP took an aggressive stand and demanded a total ban on slaughter since it hurt the sentiments of the Jain community. The Jains too wanted a ban on slaughter. Muslims were equally adamant about offering Qurbani, according to their religious practices. It was too soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the riots in Mumbai. The Muslims were apprehensive about their religious rituals being curbed. After a lot of diplomacy, and a bit of firmness from the Government, the situation was resolved. I must say that then the Jains deserved to be praised for their tolerance. Muslims also showed restraint and were discreet in their ritual of Qurbani. Now that the Mumbai and Thane Corporations have promulgated slaughter bans what will they do if Bakri Eid someday coincides with Sanvatsari or Paryushan? Did the corporators think of this?
In this age, the ideology of banning goes against the grain of the belief in freedom and when bans interfere with issues of food and drink, they irritate. In many areas of Mumbai, where vegetarian Hindus dominate, an unofficial ban on ‘Non Veg’ is strictly enforced. The Veg vs Non-Veg issue has taken political tones too. It is an irritant to both sides. But banning isn’t a remedy.
Has the BMC and TMC also banned the trade in fish during the Jain festival? Will the Kolis, the original inhabitants of both Mumbai and to a large extent Thane, be forced to stop harvesting and selling fish? Will the sale of frozen meat and chicken products also be prohibited? Will eggs be considered vegetarian or non-vegetarian?
Finally, isn’t enforced denial a form of violence too, even though it is passive in practice. In a democracy, banning is unethical and undemocratic and when it is done without consent of people, it becomes dictatorial. Not eating meat for four or eight days will not kill people, but this tendency of banning will definitely weaken the fabric of democracy.