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Yogi's slaughterhouse ban is a defeat of the democratic state

BJP government starts cracking down on the illegally run slaughterhouses, it will amount to a direct onslaught on the eating habit of the nation. Photograph: (Others)

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Mar 23, 2017, 11.40 AM (IST) Madhumita Saha

What is in a slaughterhouse? You may ask. A lot evidently. 

Going by the pronouncements of the BJP president Amit Shah and the UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, the party is putting considerable economic import on the slaughterhouses. The desire for development and the fight against corruption have, apparently, found a new focus. In one broad sweeping stroke, the monk-chief minister has banned illegal slaughterhouses of the state in the name of economic revival. 

Arguably, too many cows have been trafficked and killed so far, and the state needs them to boost its dairy industry. 

However, it needs to be made clear that the chief minister did not make an explicit connection between the economic rationale and the ban on abattoir. The connection has been kept ambiguous, perhaps intentionally, leading to the common assumption that the ban would, in the long run, serve to revitalise the state’s cattle resources. 

More ambiguities plague BJP’s stand on the matter. For instance, is the party and its government in Uttar Pradesh only after illegal meat shops or are they, generally, after every slaughterhouses in the region? The confusion results from the fact that, whereas, Yogi Adityanath has imposed a ban on the illegal ones, Amit Shah in his interview to a national daily publicly expressed his intention to ban all abattoirs-legal and illegal - if voted to power.

And, from what is getting reported, it is evident that the Uttar Pradesh government is cracking down on outlets, selling all kinds of raw meat and fish. My husband just called me last evening to inform that the fishermen and chicken shop owners from whom we buy our regular supplies are being forced to closed down their shops. They are selling their stuff at a heavy discount because they don't know whether they will ever be able to do business again in Noida. 

This morning not a single fish or chicken shops were opened in our neighbourhood.

Monitoring the nation's diet

As the BJP government starts cracking down on fish and meat outlets, it will amount to a direct onslaught on the eating habit of the nation. And, not necessarily on beef. Beef selling is already illegal in Uttar Pradesh. Besides beef, such an act will come to impact selling of other kinds of non-vegetarian items too. A slaughterhouse, as per definition and also in terms of practise, sells mutton, chicken, lamb and fish. Closing it down would mean denying non-vegetarians an access to their staple diet.  

 

When the government closes these outlets without allowing a window of opportunity to get a permit, it amounts to an act of coercion
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Unlike the medical sector in India, the food market of the country is not as strictly regulated. Most of our vegetables and sources of protein are bought from local street-side shops, vendors and, even, hawkers. When the government closes these outlets without allowing a window of opportunity to get a permit, it amounts to an act of coercion, both on the seller and the consumer. In doing it, the government denies its very citizens an access to livelihood or to staple food.

The arbitrary nature of the act instigates confusion and panic. Unfortunately, vigillantes take opportunity of the volatile situtation to forcefully close down and, worse still, burn down outlets. As we have seen has happened in Hathras district yesterday. 

What we eat is a very personal act, with deep emotional and cultural connections. In multiple ways, it constitutes our identity, our expression of love and celebration. Altering people’s food choices to suit it to a grand but, largely, a false vision of a vegetarian Hindu Rashtra will encroach on the citizen’s civil rights, amounting to state coercion.

So, as BJP lost no time in banning the illegal slaughterhouses, it should express equal zest in clearing its position about non-vegetarian food habits of the majority of the Indian citizens. 

Aggressive Nationalism

Undoubtedly, the state administration of Uttar Pradesh is well within its purview to control the sprouting meat shops in the region. Like all public health conscious countries of the world, India needs to regulate the condition in which meat is being sold and processed. It should also take steps against illegal trafficking of cattle resources. In the name of economic growth and animal rights, these facets of the issue are fair and square.

But economic logic often veils the bigger cultural agenda of the state; one that relates to what one eats, wears and enjoys to do. Food, dresses and music look apparently trivial subjects when compared to economic and defense issues but are integral to the nationalistic agenda of the state. The goal of “one nation with one vision” often turns out to be exclusionary in its pursuit; it tries to mold its citizens who come with diverse sets of practises and habits into a homogenous category. Under the circumstance, the state tries to impose cultural norms in the name of unity, morality and improvement.

 

The state tries to impose cultural norms in the name of unity, morality and improvement.
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A singular vision of India, be it Nehruvian ideal of modernity or the Hindutva model, has continued to underlie the policies and action of the state. Over time, the project has accrued an aggressive tone which was missing in the past. Within the ambit of this singular vision, the state acts as the guardian: the well-meaning, matured, and all-knowing entity. The guardian state does not act at the same level as the citizen. Rather, it guides the people - the perennial children -  into fulfilling the role of responsible citizens. However, the responsible behaviour is always understood as one of complicity with state-led agenda. 

In love with the decisive state

Such complicity or collusion between zealous defendants of the principles of Hindu Rashtra and the state machinery is very much evident. The other day, a journalist in Hyderabad called the cops as he saw two fellow citizens not standing up while the national anthem was being played in the cinema hall. On behalf of the recently constituted anti-Romeo squads to protect “women’s self-respect”, a local woman was seen intervening when she saw a man interacting with members of opposite sex. 

The evident vigilantism in the name of patriotism, respect and decency is nothing but an intrusion into democratic space. Backed by overwhelming success in the recent election, the Hindutva ideologues think they have the electoral backing to implement their “ideas of India” into practise. Hence, no discussion or deliberation over the issue has taken place so far. And, there is little chance of it happening in the future, no matter how hoarse the opposition parties get, calling the ban a “polarisation” act.  

If social media is any proof of popular support to the ban, I should say that BJP need not fear of reprisals. At least, not immediately. What has caught the public imagination is primarily the decisiveness of the act; BJP promised and it has delivered. Unlike the other political parties, it has not backdown on its election manifesto.

 

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Some have even gone so far as to suggest why the Muslim chief minister of Kashmir has failed to ban liquor in the state. So, we witness the same fascination with an excercise of authority; the love for a strong man who is assumed to be acting on some principles.

 

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There are only a few, very few, who have expressed concern at the ban becoming a harassment too.

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While participants in the social media rejoice the decisiveness of the act, let us not forget that a democratically elected government does not function like a totalitarian state. No matter how good the idea sounds, its implementation should not be an imposition. The state should not presume to know better than its citizens.

Madhumita Saha

The writer is an academic-turned journalist. She taught history at Drexel University and New York University before joining WION.

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