Several years ago, I was invited to a sit-down media lunch by a politician and among the guests was one prominent leader from New Delhi. He had a very Vedic name and had brought along with him his friend from Uttar Pradesh, introduced to us as a BJP leader of some consequence in that state.
I was seated next to this leader and opposite me was the UP leader’s teenaged son who was then studying at an engineering college in the city. As we ordered lunch, the teenager asked for a beef steak. My eyebrows rose for he was seated next to his father and the older man was looking upon his son with an indulgent smile. I had expected at least the father to pull up his son for the lack of sensitivity to the vegetarians around them but imagine my surprise when the man with the Vedic name seated next to me, asked the boy, longingly, “Can I taste a little bit of what you are having?”
I almost fell off my chair as he leaned across to cut himself a generous piece of the meat on the boy’s plate and chew on it in absolute delight. It was as though some long-lasting desire had been satisfied, and he said, “Bada hee swadisht hai. Agli bar hum yeh hee order karenge.” The boy’s father said, “Haanji, hamein bhi bahut swadisht lagta hai,” making my jaw drop for I had expected the BJP leaders to at least practice what they preach (for even then cow slaughter had been one of their major electoral planks).
Now I am a vegetarian by choice and have no objections to anything on anyone’s plate. I gave up non-vegetarian food nearly 20 years ago as a personal decision under no pressure - my pure vegetarian mother never raised objections to anything on my plate at clubs and other dinner parties though she was delighted when I turned satvik. But during my non-vegetarian days while I studiously avoided beef steaks in my travels abroad, it was not always possible to throw a tantrum over food. Those times I consoled myself with Veer Savarkar’s argument when he had consumed the cow in Britain — it is not an Indian cow and thus cannot be holy.
My position on this now is, therefore, somewhere between that of fellow journalists Swaminathan Aiyar — a self-confessed beef-eating Hindu Brahmin — and Shobhaa De. Aiyar has very logically, and with historical evidence, argued for beef being presented as an offering to Brahmins in ancient India and De, who, as I am, is so angry at the lynching of Mohammad Ikhlaq at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh over what he ate, beef or otherwise, that she has thrown a challenge to his killers, determined to go out and get herself some beef in a state that has made even possession punishable by imprisonment.
In my early years as a reporter, the anti-cow slaughter agitation was one of my major assignments and I wonder how many people know that slaughtering the cow is banned in most of the states for decades now. What gets slaughtered is the bull or uneconomical animals and what India exports majorly is not cow or bull meat but water buffalo meat. Agrarian economics and low milk yields from desi cows are such that it is mostly the water buffalo that is reared by gwalas and she does everything today for the economy that is attributed to the cow. Modernisation of farming means the tractor has largely replaced the bull but while both the cow and bull may still have a place in Indian agriculture, I wonder if anybody has bothered to check that it is the water buffalo which has made India the leading exporter of beef and goes by that name in most non-vegetarian kitchens round the country.
So there is not just a lot of hypocrisy about beef but also a lot of ignorance. And shame on the Maharashtra government for starting the regression into what was not even followed in ancient Vedic times.