When the demon Hiranyaksha stole the earth and hid her in the primordial waters, Vishnu appeared as a varaha (wild pig) to rescue her. Varaha slew the demon and retrieved the earth from the cosmic ocean, lifting it on his tusks, and restored the planet to her place in the universe.
This, of course, is a myth. Much like the belief that the ongoing battle over beef in India grew out of the love hardline Hindu groups have for the comely cow.
Ask them the reason behind their reverence for the gentle creature and, customarily, “mum’s” the word.
But empirical evidence is stacked overwhelmingly against the mushy “cow is our mother and we treat her that way” spiel. And then the BJP’s Giriraj Singh, sure enough, had to drag the wife and sister into the mess, turning it into the worst family drama since the Twilight franchise.
“How we bleed her to take the last drop of milk from her. How we starve her to emaciation, how we ill-treat the calves, how we deprive them of their portion of milk, how cruelly we treat the oxen, how we castrate them, how we beat them, how we overload them.”
This is what the father of the nation had to say about how most Indians, irrespective of faith, treat bovines. If you have any doubts, step outside and watch the lucky ones dying of hunger and dozens of others naively munching on discarded polythene bags with an agonising death an inevitable outcome.
But, while the divine bovine has in recent days hogged a lot of attention and sympathy on mainstream and social media, the poor old pig has been the subject of much ridicule and contempt for no fault of its own.
Those opposing the clampdown on beef in parts of the country are helpfully advised by the internet cowboys of the BJP and affiliated groups to chew on some pork or move to Porkistan, a derogatory reference to Pakistan, as pig meat is forbidden in Islam.
Obviously these avowed nationalists and white knights of Hinduism have never been to the dozens of Varaha temples in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country.
The deity at the Bhuvarahaswami shrine in Tamil Nadu’s Srimushnam town, for instance, is credited with many miracles and is venerated not only by Hindus but Muslims as well who call it Varaha sahib.
But to point out this duplicity in devotion before the mischief-makers on social media who drop profanities and platitudes like New Year’s Eve confetti would be akin to casting pearls before a swine.
So, if you believe this food fight has little to do with the reverence or revulsion for some animal and is more likely timed to swing the results of the Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls and the bellwether Bihar election, then you may have hit the bullseye (which could actually be illegal in some states).
A beef ban law is not new to India, but regions that have come under BJP rule since the party’s 2014 Lok Sabha triumph have been enforcing and enhancing long-dormant prohibitions with astounding urgency.
Critics have bristled against these moves, saying such laws violate individual rights and discriminate against Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus who rely on the cheap meat for protein, while they have been resisting efforts to impose a nationwide ban that would threaten thousands of jobs.
The mob killing of 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq in Uttar Pradesh over cow-slaughter rumours, a rash of violence against rationalists and the ink attack by the Shiv Sena on erstwhile BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni for organising the launch of a former Pakistan minister’s book all point to mounting intolerance in multi-faith India.
While the rot is rooted in the past, the concern is that under the NDA India seems to be turning into an ochlocracy where rabble-rousers hunt in packs and dissenters are easy meat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi won power in 2014 because many in this weary, wary country had hoped he would usher in economic reforms and create jobs while keeping fundamentalists at arm’s length.
A year later, that hope seems to be crumbling over someone’s dinner.
The author tweets by @pathikrit2sen. Views expressed are personal.