There is something deeply rotten that we butcher a calf to make a political point about a law cracking down on cow slaughter.
Four members of the youth wing of the Congress in Kerala have been suspended for killing a calf in public. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has rightly condemned the act calling it "thoughtless and barbaric." Kerala BJP president Kummanam Rajasekhera posted the video of the grisly incident calling it "cruelty at its peak".
But there is also something rotten that the death of an animal provokes a response with such alacrity from a politician while the death of a human is met with pointed silence. Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister of Rajasthan, quick to tweet her condolences for the terror attack in Manchester, maintained a stoic and defiant silence for almost three weeks about the death of dairy farmer Pehlu Khan at the hands of cattle vigilantes in Alwar within her own state. Eventually she did say, "I want to make it clear that such activities won't be tolerated in Rajasthan" but that brutal killing was not "thoughtless and barbaric" enough for a prompt reaction from her. She did condole a Bikaner road accident around the same time.
It's pointless to debate about whether the 18-month-old animal killed in Kerala was a cow or an ox or a buffalo as some are doing as if that justifies the act any more than debating whether Farooq Ahmed Dar was a shawl weaver or a stone pelter justifies using anyone as a human shield. All of that just points to the abysmal depths to which our public discourse has sunk.
"We don't regret our act. This was done as part of our protest," Rijik Makulti, a Youth Congress worker from Kerala told television channels. The animal was butchered in an open vehicle during a beef festival in Kannur while Youth Congress workers raised slogans against the new rules. The meat was distributed to onlookers.
We are rapidly shedding all pretence of an eat-and-let-eat society. We want to impose our idea of what is right on all around us by brute force if necessary.
The grisly act, done in full view, shows how easy it is to give up on politics of persuasion and embrace the more television-friendly politics of public performance. This act cannot persuade anyone that the new rules on cattle slaughter and marketplaces are draconian and unfair and oppressive. Instead they turn off even those skeptical about the government's intentions. Even as a non-vegetarian I recoil at such bloodthirstiness. "It was shocking to see these people walking around with the head of cattle as blood was dripping," said Rajasekhera of the BJP. "Will anyone with any common sense indulge in this sort of activity?" It's not just a departure of common sense. It's a departure of basic decency.
Yet it's also worth remembering that this kind of bestiality (an unfortunate word to use since the human is far more bestial than any beast) does not happen in a vacuum.
When Pehlu Khan was lynched in Alwar, a video of that attack went viral on social media. The video showed the mob dragging the men and bashing them. It showed a man thrown to the ground, his white kurta stained with blood. When the four Dalit youths skinning a dead cow in Una in Gujarat were stripped to the waist, tied to an SUV and flogged, it was done in full public view. In this case too a video surfaced of the incident. "The vileness of it is that these freelance sadists aren't just inflicting pain, they are also performing, " writes Mukul Kesavan.
Many such videos circulate on the internet forwarded on WhatsApp groups. Those who do the lynching also make many of these videos, and they make them with pride, so that the world knows about their courage and their commitment to the cause. It is their blood-stained calling card. The Gau Raksha Dal uploads videos showing their members chasing and beating up alleged cattle smugglers, on occasion urinating on them. In many of these videos one can see policemen watching impassively. Sadhvi Kamal of the Rashtriya Mahila Gau Raksha Dal said those who did the lynching were no less than Chandrasekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh.
The eco-system of brutality that's firmly in place seems to take particular relish in blood sport and vigilantes of all persuasions have a happy hunting ground whether in Kannur today or Alwar tomorrow.
We are rapidly shedding all pretence of an eat-and-let-eat society. We want to impose our idea of what is right on all around us by brute force if necessary. The annual debate over shutting meat shops and slaughterhouses during the Jain festival of Paryushan is clear evidence of that. What could have been done as a gesture of goodwill and neighbourly consideration or a matter of tradition and accommodation is now imposed by diktat and enacted by force. And when it comes to imposing one's will, size matters. Will it be four days or six or eight? The Chattisgarh government ordered a ban on meat sales for eight days encompassing both Paryushan and Ganesh Chaturthi.
Often we do not even need to take recourse to the law or a friendly state government. Mobs feel empowered to burst into someone's house and ransack their refrigerator to see what kind of meat they are keeping in it. Vigilantes assault a couple on a train in Madhya Pradesh on the suspicion that they have beef in their luggage. And the reaction to these diktats is equally over the top – beef festivals and Je Suis Steak Eater declarations and now this gory public killing of a young animal.
The butchered calf in Kerala has been called cruelty at its peak. That's unlikely. In this race to the bottom Kannur can easily be topped by another atrocity. The eco-system of brutality that's firmly in place seems to take particular relish in blood sport and vigilantes of all persuasions have a happy hunting ground whether in Kannur today or Alwar tomorrow.
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