Outlook published ‘Prime Cuts’ with the byline ‘An air thick with innuendo and contempt produces a new stigma: meat-eating’. Amit Chaudhery wrote a rebuttal that Outlook refused to publish. It is published on ‘The Voice of Stray Dogs’ in its entirety.
“You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Perspective is everything and reality is the servant of perception. A simple premise which spawned this rebuttal to the cover story by Saba Naqvi in Outlook magazine (October 20th 2014) entitled ‘Prime Cuts’ in part. The whole idea of a rebuttal, is the fact that a magazine entitled ‘Outlook’ ought to be balanced ; expectedly. A balanced, candid and equidistant outlook offers opportunity to form informed and correct opinion. A lopsided outlook achieves the opposite. I do not bother with the editorial position or the deliberate obfuscation of fact by the writer of this story who is the magazine’s political editor and a fairly familiar face. That is not my business and this is not a rant. Therefore, the case for a balanced outlook supported not by agenda or opinion, but by fact and reason. It cannot be the midnight at high noon the writer tries to create.The case of meat. Much like the proverbial question which has confronted Hamlet and everyone else before or since, ‘to be or not to be’ and to ‘do or not to do’ is a matter of personal deliberation and choice. It springs from several fonts which are finely defined by individuality, intellect, reason, knowledge, comprehension, just as much as by conditioning, nurture, situation and circumstance. What lies behind us and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. It is a very wide swing indeed.
The article rests on half- truths and twists to present a picture which begs freedom from the on-going or impending terrorism of the far right and/or the vegetarians. It underscores the ‘plight of poor Muslims’ who are ‘harassed’ and ‘prevented’ from practising their religious obligation of killing kine as routine and sacrificing them during festivals seeped in blood. The argument is sought to be built around the fact that cattle are treated poorly in India and forage garbage, so we just as well may eat them. In another attempt to build her biased thesis, the writer offers the fact that India is the world’s second most populous country, has the single largest count of cattle in the world and “we are an impoverished nation where many people are malnourished”. Beef, therefore, is necessary if we are to grow “tall and strong”. “So, isn’t the current anticow/beef/livestock tirade an assault on the cultural rights of the tribals too ? …It is time to realize that survival is linked to meat and its consumption. For many of our countrymen, it is a necessity”. What warped nonsense, especially the ‘necessity’ part. The narrative of perceived ills laments at a point “…pamphlets had been distributed for the past two years in Muslim localities across Gujarat, saying that cow sacrifice is now illegal……in his latest Vijayadashmi address, telecast by Doordarshan, the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said that ‘we feel it necessary to put a ban on meat exports, beef in particular and cow smuggling in the immediate future….Mostly, it is fuelled by hatred and stereotyping of the minority community…Just two weeks before the RSS chief’s Vijayadashmi address, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi had expressed concern about India being the world’s largest beef exporter and claimed that money from illegal animal slaughter was being used to perpetrate acts of terrorism”.
So, what’s wrong with this ? It is indeed a fact that beef / cow slaughter is illegal in most states. Advising people not to slaughter them is a sensible and well meaning action in a state which forbids it.
The overarching ethos, the bedrock of our Indic civilization and culture is liberally layered with religious, cultural, emotional quotients of cow being revered. To the extent that clans, communities and surnames reflect the centrality of kine to their origins and mainstay. Even the scientific name of this ancient animal which descended from the Zebu, Bos indicus Linn, harks of India. Kine appear on seals of the Indus valley, amongst the proto historic terracotta figurines, on rock paintings, in the Hindu religion. Not just Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains hold the cow sacred or special. Our gotra (the entire Khap argument, now twisted, centres around it) resonates the importance of the cow : gau/go. One’s ancestral family name is the gotra (cow pen) within which the family lived with its cattle. The sancity of the cow is so great for us that even Babur in his counsel to Humayun advised him to respect the cow and avoid cow slaughter. Akbar banned it. And the Deoband seminary has advised Muslims to desist from killing cows. From mythical cows like Surabhi, Kamadhenu, Nandini, Sabala to Krishna, the cow is central to India’s collective subconscious.
The writer takes umbrage at Ms Maneka Gandhi’s linkage of the meat trade to terrorism, but has no cogent rebuttal to offer. Ms Gandhi in her address at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO) a few weeks ago in Jaipur presented objective data to buttress her charge. Ms Naqvi offers nothing except a bald statement. In my own experience of resisting and preventing cow slaughter, I can vouch for very organized, well oiled machinery which lifts cows from the NCR area, kills them in Ferozepur Jhirka in Mewat and Meerut / Baghpat. The blood money of meat dealers is reportedly hawala money, as the case of a certain Moin Quereshi currently under investigation, is proving. Can Naqvi prove that Maneka is wrong ? Can she counter Bhagwat on logic ? Since she cannot and has no intent of doing so, she lobs these odds and runs across the page. The entire slew of arguments cloaked as objective, third-party and absolute are cleverly presented half-truths which serve a loaded agenda. The agenda is to portray ‘poor Muslims and meat eaters as terribly persecuted in Hindu India’. To attempt a rationale for the hugely lucrative, expanding and flourishing beef business as nothing but a matter of nutritional necessity, “religious freedom” and “personal liberty”. And turn the tables if it were, on the intolerant, bullying Hindu extremist. Peppering this hyperbole, is a subtle style of affliction which the writer employs to distract. Pointedly, a column by a corpulent meat eater starved of flesh by his oppressive Brahmanical family before his joyous pink redemption. This silly biographical ramble makes no point except narrating irrelevant experience of transition and his overactive and highly indulged dietary fibre fed on “…anything that runs, swims or flies…sadly, it is difficult to get good beef”.
The appearance of (almost) all descriptions worth a hundred tournaments which joust with the idea of diverting the reader’s mind as much as possible from the principle action. The principle action, the heart of the matter, is the untold aspect of ‘Prime Cuts’. Simply put, the truth is far more complex and inherently multi-layered than the attitude of indifference Ms Naqvi puts to it. It raises questions which are at once ethical, moral, religious, cultural, legal and environmentally sustainable. It presents impact on society, the Indic civilization and on the environment. In her eagerness to paint monochromes the writer obfuscates everything. The cow is not just an animal and certainly not beef for the vast majority of Indians since the dawn of mainstream Indian civiliation ; D.N. Jhas of the world notwithstanding.
Yet, the cow remains the starkest symbol of Indian crookedness and hypocracy and a mean, servile Janus faced character. Nowhere in the world is such dichotomy to be seen. In this, we are unique. The cow has for centuries in scripture, tradition, myth, religion and decreasingly in practice been revered. The cow is intrinsic, innate and integral. Kine have been emblematic of India in form and manner no other animal has been. The writer makes a one line reference to Kamdhenu, the celestial cow of myth and contrasts it with the pitiable state of cows in contemporary India. In that, I agree with her. Perhaps the cows are better off dead. They die anyway, from hunger, the plastic and polythene they eat, the road accidents they suffer. That reflects the general apathy of this country and inexplicable behaviour which points at a societal bi-polar disorder. We profess to hold cows as sacred, whilst subjecting them to the most degraded treatment possible. At a very granular level, in one of the several banes of democratization and the consequent rise of petty minds, every upstart colony in every shabby parvenu neighbourhood is intolerant of animals. Roaming cows are a very obvious victim of this condition. Robbed of grazing land and clean water, forced to subsist on filth, walk this country’s pathetic roads only to be killed by callous drivers, beaten and shooed away by people, administered painful oxytocin injections to extract milk, compelled to deliver calves on streets, administered dhoomdev and phooka to draw every drop… the litany is painfully long. The lot of male calves is worse, they are thrown out at birth. All cows are traded by the Janus faced Hindu for slaughter by the Muslim. Everyone knows this. It is decidedly and definitely better to kill them. I concur. For, it shall spare them the consistent cruelty and bewilderment they face. But kill them humanely. Kill them swiftly. The lot of kine in India is what it is because we are, who we are. In the inner recesses of our hearts we cannot deny our hypocrisy, callousness, cruelty and pettiness to ourselves. Unless, of course, we have degenerated to a level where we delude and deny the stark and the experiential. The writer only reveals personification of Indian duplicity and hashes it with a loaded agenda. She takes great pains to make a feeble case of dietary choices, quotes academics, offers a smokescreen which portrays slaughter (horrific in India) as redemption from persecuted existence, et al. There’s nothing wrong in that. The writer and her proponents have a right to their belief and opinion. It is the dishonest twist and half views that I protest.
Let us meet the meat. And I can lay modest claim to knowing the underbelly of the cow trade by virtue of working on ground for years now. So it’s not from the soft comfort of desk research and Google that I tell you what I do. It would be a fair wager to bet that any person, regardless of religion or orientation or politics would be appalled at the conditions under which kine in this country are ‘harvested’. At birth all calves are separated from the mother and allowed just enough milk to survive if they are female and none if they be male. Enterprising cowherds sever the heads of calves and tie them just near the rump of the cow to create the illusion of her calf as she turns to watch while they milk the udders. The pashu melas at Fatehabad, near Hissar in Haryana and Sonpur in Bihar among several other places present this common and sadly acceptable sight. Infact men ply the severed heads, renting them out by the hour. Between garbage, polythene and severed heads India gets her milk and milk products. I have commonly found male calves with legs precisely broken at the joints (they cannot be mended) and rendered immobile so that in the wee hours butchers can lift them into cattle trucks. These trucks are packed tighter than sardine cans. One atop the other, legs broken and tied, groaning from internal and external injuries sustained in loading them. Now that trucks are a giveaway, the traffickers use dumpers and containers. The suffocation, heat and darkness multiply in the new mode of transport. It takes days, weeks really, for the cows to reach from point A to point B. Upon reaching destination, they languish for upto three days in the carriers before the live meat tumbles out (mostly dead or dying) from the vehicles. National Highway VIII is one of the major points of this trade. The journey culminates at Malegaon and Deoli in Maharashtra and other places where they wait in extreme climate to be killed. Cattle trucks running between Andhra/Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra culminating in the Devil’s Own Country, Kerala, are a mirror. The flesh loving Iyer in her article who rues the open availability of beef would do well to try Kerala’s chilli beef freely available in that state. Marination is perfect ; it starts from the eyes, nostrils and anus when the animals are still alive. At frequent intervals during transport the cattle are administered liberal dozes of the chilli through these orfices in order for the additive to mix with the bloodstream and settle in the skin tissues. It promotes the aftertaste. Slaughterhouses outstrip any descriptors of fire and brimstone Hell. Dozens of animals are lined up, and killed with blunt blades in the intensely cruel practice of halal. It takes several minutes to die. It takes several hours to wait your turn in full sight of others being dragged, punched, and ripped open as many men hold you down after tying your limbs together and sitting on you. Spontaneous abortions are not uncommon in these places. It is good veal for the trade, minus the effort of carving open a live cow’s stomach. The kine who wait outside the sheds for their turn are forced to run towards the killing sheds by iron rods inserted into anuses and vaginas, chilli powder rubbed in, eyes gouged out, fires lit under them. They are beaten, kicked and dragged with ears, udders, penises horns ripped. Another aspect cloaked in religion is animal sacrifice. It goes on in backyards, street corners in all Indian cities, and in town squares. The animals butchered in extreme cruelty after mental, emotional and physical torture include a sizeable number of cows. The writer points accusingly at the Government of Rajasthan and its ban on sacrifice or killing of camels. One does not expect her to bother with trivia like the vastly increased scope for abuse and suffering in the case of large animals or the sheer incapacity of slaughterhouses to make a meal of them or the hours it takes for camels to bleed to death by jabs and cuts and thrusts in festive sacrifice of religion. One does expect a serious, and in this case, senior journalist to scan the facts. Camels in Rajasthan have fallen sharply in numbers from 500,000 in 2003 to less than 200,000 today. They are taken from all over Rajasthan through Pataudi and Jhajjar in Haryana to Baghpat and Meerut right in the backyard of Delhi. The qurbani is spread over hours and a thousand cuts. The animal takes woefully long to die slowly cursing its tormentors.
The fact that India is an overpopulated and malnourished nation has everything to do with government, governance, people and politics. It has nothing to do with any animal. The flippant and implausible argument which the article seeks to further, is that we must eat up all animals in order to escape malnutrition, grow tall and grow strong. Since this country’s infestation of people is not going to abate at any foreseeable stage, Ms Naqvi’s inverse thesis argues to produce more meat, rear more animals, kill more animals, produce , more methane, perpetuate more horrors. In short promote not only further desensitization and strife in an already ill society but to also foster an idiotcracy. She laments Mr. Modi’s ascription of the pink revolution to the UPA government’s institutionalized qutalkhanas with blood and bone in drains. This is fact. A simple half-minded Google search throws up data in the public domain which points at exponential jumps in meat exports. The fact that the government had institutionalized it is not incongruous either, especially when you consider the fact that union ministers like Mr. Kapil Sibal own one of India’s biggest slaughterhouses and is a prominent beef exporter. His business of blood is called Arihant. Ironically, if not deliberately named after a Jain Tirthankara.
So what is the writer’s key message in a convoluted article? I cannot tell, except to say that it is something between a rant and balderdash. The mere fact that the Hindu is cowardly, disunited, insincere and double-faced. Eager not to offend what must be one of society’s great evils. The situation is ironical because the Hindu is often the killer slow motion or with the blade. This, therefore, is not Hindi Vs Muslim. It is the ideal of India Vs the reality of India. Between posture and practice lies the truth. Discomforting, offensive, but true. It reveals deeper, truer schisms in this country’s foundation and its indefensible denial of stark reality. We excel, afterall, in deluding ourselves on most things if not everything . It is inverse logic and an underline of the abject, Janus faced, ethically bereft population of this country. As banal and impossible as the ongoing Swacch Bharat Abhiyan which pegs photo-ops to brooms. The brooms we need first are virtual, we need to clean our heads and our hearts. Impossible in the Continent of Circe.
- Journalist, Naturalist & Activist
- President, People For Animals-Gurgaon
- Honorary Animal Welfare Officer (HAWO), Animal Welfare Board of India
- Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, Nominee to IAECs