A lawmaker from India’s southern state of Kerala has announced that he is returning to eating meat, fish and eggs after practising vegetarianism for nearly two decades.
There’s nothing unusual about a lapsed vegetarian but VT Balram said his decision was prompted by the federal Hindu nationalist BJP government’s attempt to seize the people’s right to eat what they wanted.
“I have been living without eating meat, fish or eggs since 1998. But now the time has come break it and uphold the right politics of food assertively,” Mr Balram said, while posting a video of him eating beef with friends and fellow party workers.
The BJP believes that cows should be protected, because they are considered holy by India’s majority Hindu population. Some 18 Indian states have already banned slaughter of cattle.
But millions of Indians, including Dalits (formerly untouchables), Muslims and Christians, consume beef. And it’s another matter, say many, that there’s no outrage against the routine selling of male calves by Hindu farmers and pastoralists to middlemen for slaughter as the animals are of little use – bullocks have been phased out by tractors in much of rural India, and villagers need to rear only the occasional bull.
Ironically, the cow has become a polarising animal. Two years ago, a mob attacked a man and killed him over “rumours” that his family ate beef. Vigilante cow protection groups, operating with impunity, have killed people for transporting cattle.
More recently, the chief of BJP’s powerful ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Organisation) has called for a countrywide ban on the slaughter of cows. And this week, a senior judge said the cow should be declared a national animal and people who slaughter cows should be sentenced to life in prison.
Many say this is all contributing to effectively killing India’s thriving buffalo meat trade.