Our think about things
Think Stream

Meat bans in Mumbai: Rethinking protest

When it comes to dietary habits, one would expect the State to concern itself with matters of nutrition, adequate or otherwise, among children, women and the poor. As the first year of its being the Government of Maharashtra comes to a close, the elected representatives of the people seem to have developed an unhealthy appetite to exert control over its people’s dietary habits. In fact I do not recall a single instance of any significant media coverage related to ‘nutrition and health’. We have however, seen the beef ban and more recently, the proposed meat ban for four days of Paryushan in Mumbai.

While the two separate bans, one permanent and the other for a period of four days, effects different groups of people and communities, they do seem to suggest a line of thinking on the part of the powers that be. In order to understand this line of thinking, let us look more closely at the two different acts of state control over the everyday dietary habits of people.

The beef ban does not just restrict traditional dietary habits of Muslims, Christians and in many cases even poor people as well as people from lower castes. What it actually does is it legitimizes the notion of a second-class citizenry. It whispers to us that it is okay to not respect the rights of people who are at a numerical disadvantage. Here the reigning political ideology finds resonance among a class of people who are dictated by a burning desire for supremacy, even if it comes at the cost of their humanity. This is a class for whom the weak and the downtrodden are a problem and a menace. The other, silent ally is an unsuspecting middle class, who are continually reminded by the current establishment of the untold horrors and indignities they’ve had to suffer. This is accomplished by renaming roads, rewriting history and reviving forgotten acts of violence that instead of soothing old wounds, keeps them festering, only to erupt into something gory at an opportune moment.

Interestingly for a state that has often stumbled trying to implement its civic improvement schemes with catchy slogans and mega ambassadors, has been able to bring to bear all the required might and machinery to make sure this ban was properly implemented. Nobody believed this would be the case. Bans have a way of being subverted by the twin forces of necessity and resourcefulness, which have displayed their collective genius on many occasions. Last drink orders happen well past the 1:30am deadline in some Mumbai bars. But this was important and it had to succeed on the ground. A few early reports of meat seizures followed by arrests have ensured that the ban for now is well and truly in effect in popular consciousness. Also by allowing the sale and consumption of buffalo meat the statement that gets made is not one of wanton pursuit of discriminatory politics against minorities but a reasonable demand, resulting in the demarcation of a false middle-ground.

The objects of the rants on social media against the beef ban were primarily the state actors and its ideologues. It was possible to take that position with ease, since it was against a partisan policy and against the secular fabric of our national imagination. Much of that ease has been taken away by the more recent ‘meat-ban’ for four days during the Jain festival of Paryushan. The same voices that were against the anti-minority position of the beef ban, are today accusing a minority community of being appeased. The State is lambasted for its blatant pursuit of double standards and a resumption of beef sales for the festive days of Eid are being demanded. The difference is, this time its not just minority communities and the poor from low castes who are being restricted, it’s also the mainstream meat-eating Hindus who are being asked to make a sacrifice. Much of Bombay Maharashtrian middle class consumes chicken and mutton, not to mention the swathes of migrants from Bengal, Bihar and other states where meat is common, if not central to their dietary habits. However, meat eating is rarely a daily affair and it is not uncommon across India to find days that have been marked off for self-regulation, through observances of vegetarianism and temperance.

As of today, the Maharashtra based political parties have declared they will not allow this ban to be implemented. Overnight, the Jain community in Mumbai find themselves in an unenviable position. What indeed is the Government trying to do here? The strategy seems to be, to continuously divide us?—?the people, into communities of conflicting interest. This approach depends on the anger of people denied some part of their everyday life, turning their anger on those who are seemingly being rewarded by the bans. Imagine this as an ongoing process that eventually goes beyond dietary choices. The moment we protest the ban against meat sale or consumption during a few sacred days for the Jains, we become the narrow, self-serving people policy makers want us to be. Where all we seek is the right to assert our choices, our freedoms without consideration for others. This is a brand of politics that seeks to break down the larger community of our cities, through acts of punishment and reward that reinforce the idea that we can only win when someone else is losing. That might be true in the case of politics but it cannot be the driving philosophy of a community or humanity as a whole.

How do we determine the right way to respond to such strategies that seek to reward one group of people by placing, what seems like small punitive demands on another? The Sena are surely not going to let go of this opportunity to win points with their voter base and in the process make the Jains the new enemies of the Maharashtrian community in the upcoming BMC elections. What kind of a stand do we take as a people?

The state wants us to feel and behave like insular entities shorn of humanity and the capacity for understanding of the sentiments of our fellow beings and when we protest the Paryushan meat ban we aid them in this misadventure. It becomes important to understand that while the beef ban needs and must be actively opposed at every given opportunity the meat ban presents a different challenge. This is not the time to vent our frustrations at the Jain community. They are merely following their own belief, which is being politicized with an agenda that they themselves probably are not party to.

If the people of Mumbai could unite in pledging meat free days voluntarily, for not four but all eight days of the Jain festival we would send this government an important message. That we are a people and community with big hearts, capable of a little sacrifice for the sake of our friends, colleagues, neighbors and lovers, who follow different faiths and customs. That we will not be fooled by these policies of enslavement that works on the principle of punishment for one as reward for another.

Anirban Mukherjee
19 Nov 2015
Anirban Mukherjee Before moving to Futurebrands, Anirban spent 14 years in the advertising industry. Previously he was at McCann Erickson India and from 2002 onwards he led the Strategic Planning function of its Mumbai operation. His experience spans across an array of MNC's such as J&J, Coca-Cola, Motorola, Bacardi, Nestle, Lever's, Western Union, Citibank and several other Indian organizations and brands. He has addressed the Intel Global Marketing & Insights team at their DIAL 2010 seminar (Changing India / role of technology), Unbox Festival 2012 (Branding nations) and speaks at forums on fashion, changing India and design. His passion and versatility also finds a natural expression in music, which he explores as a part of his own experimental rock band.

Anirban Mukherjee
19 Nov 2015
Share this article
Related Posts

Bioscope 2: Searching for the you in you

Sometimes all it takes is an outside perspective to recognise things about yourself you never knew. That’s what happened at the Futurebrands’ Bioscope series’ first presentation, ‘Reinventing Your Everyday’, an action-packed experience workshop.  Anahita Sarabhai brought…
Futurebrands
20 Sep 2017
 

Bioscope 1: The birds, the bees, and the lush greens

It was an evening filled with exuberance: of the lawns and the powerful opinions that Paromita Vohra brought with her for Futurebrands’ Bioscope series’ first presentation: ‘Paro-Vaani.’ Paromita is a well-known documentary filmmaker, writer, teacher, actor, feminist, founder…
Futurebrands
20 Sep 2017
 

Evangelize an Idea first. Build a Brand later

Soon we will have request from business schools in India to co-author case study on Brand Evangelism as Patanjali (an Indian cross category FMCG brand) will reportedly grow to  INR 5000 ( USD 757 Mn) FY 15-16 since its launch in 2009-10, at the fastest growth rate in Indian FMCG market,  as…
Atulit Saxena
30 Mar 2016
 

Majstro-ji

Cooks in India are usually men seen in dhabas (highway restaurants) and on open street food stalls. They pick cooking skills and do not gain deep knowledge from other men in the business or perhaps just start cooking by default for livelihood. The professional and brahminical superior race is of chefs…
Atulit Saxena
29 Mar 2016
 

Real Power

Before Alexander died he asked people to display his empty hands to the world in his last journey. He wished to convey that all the power he fought for is not being taken by him but is being left behind. The warrior code of power lost to the ultimate reality and powerlessness in death. In the same way,…
Atulit Saxena
28 Mar 2016
 

The last slow-motion crawl

As the monsoon starts to fade somewhere in late August, Mumbai sets aside its umbrellas and bhajia platters and gears up up for a frenetic festive season. In every corner of India there is at least one festival that the locals claim as their own, in Mumbai it’s the Ganeshotsav, a ten day long…
Anirban Mukherjee
19 Nov 2015
 

A spanner in the anthem

Imagine seeing young men and women from all over the country, waking up with a look of square jawed determination on their faces as they put on their construction helmets, laboratory coats, overalls and even spectacles in the slow, deliberate manner in which soldiers supposedly wear their body armor…
Anirban Mukherjee
19 Nov 2015
 

Leaving hunger behind

The preponderance of food in today’s social media, rapidly multiplying food reality shows on television and the emergence of an entire cheer-leading squad in the form of food bloggers, reviewers and critics?—?can create a sense that we are living in some kind of a gastronomic golden age.…
Anirban Mukherjee
11 Mar 2016
 

The changing quest for music

An idle fantasy of mine is to be able to go back into one’s own past carrying some wondrous product from today’s time and to confront one’s earlier self with the miracle just to see the reaction. Perhaps nothing would cause more astonishment than a smartphone, but (for the sake of…
Santosh Desai
01 Oct 2015
 

The City as an idea

It is easy to lament about the nature of the city, particularly when in rains. The fissures in the city’s pretences begin to drip more visibly, as the city’s many vulnerabilities get cruelly exposed. The need for urban renewal has never been felt more tangibly, and while the government’s…
Santosh Desai
01 Oct 2015
 

Sholay: Revisiting an epic

Sholay was a tidal wave that engulfed us a little after it was released in 1975. Never before and never after, has a film had that kind of impact as did Sholay. Even today, forty years, after having seen the film only twice (once when it came out and then on television a few years ago), I can recall…
Santosh Desai
01 Oct 2015
 

Who runs the world? Twenty-somethings

The world is being run by twenty-somethings. Strictly speaking, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it would seem that in a few years time, it might well be true. Giant businesses are being built by people who cannot buy a beer in Delhi. A bunch of kids are dreaming up ideas, hiring people much older…
Santosh Desai
01 Oct 2015
 

The past as anchor for our present?

What role should the past play in our present? How important is it to reorient our sense of the past in order to shape a more meaningful present? One of the key projects of this regime has been to try and fashion a deeper connection with what it sees as a more ‘Indian’ version of history.…
Santosh Desai
01 Oct 2015