When its udders were squeezed and milked
You didn’t feel any pain at all
When it was stitched into a chappal you stamped underfoot and walked
You didn’t feel hurt at all
When it rang as a drum at your marriage and your funeral
You didn’t suffer any blows
When it sated my hunger, beef became your goddess?
[From a translation of the Telugu poem ‘Goddu maamsam’ by Digumarthi Suresh Kumar
Dr. Ambedkar in Chapters 11-14 of his 1948 text “Untouchables: Who Were They And Why They Became Untouchables?” dealt with the question of beef eating. Various reasons were provided so as to buttress the point that Dalits or “broken men” were historically consumers of dead cow meat while the others were historically consumers of fresh cow meat. When royal/religious injunctions came into force to stop the consumption of beef due to economic and other utilitarian reasons, Dalits continued to consume beef and they were not stopped from doing so for two reasons. Firstly, they never killed the cow but consumed the meat of cows which had already died and secondly, one could not stop them from having beef as they were leather workers anyway- putting them in close proximity with meat. The Brahmins and other upper castes, according to Ambedkar, banned the consumption of beef for various reasons which included political rivalry with the Buddhists and the artificial projection of a vegetarian India before Mughal and British Rule so as to mobilize the Hindus against the rest.
In a nutshell, it has been asserted by Ambedkar, Kanchan Illiah, Chandra Bhan Prasad and other reputed Dalit intellectuals that beef consumption was and is an intrinsic dietary habit of an overwhelming number of Dalit communities. Imposition of a vegetarian diet by the “manu-vadis” was symbolic of “food fascism”, “Brahmanical food imperialism” and the like. This explains my comments on the email thread kept exhorting people to see the casteist nature of the dietary routine of NLUD, or for that matter any institution in India. There is a very powerful school of thought amongst Dalits which says to Brahmins like me- if beef consumption made us untouchables, we don’t care for your validation, and/or if you truly want to make Hinduism inclusive, accept the dietary practices of the subalterns or we proclaim ourselves to be non-Hindus anyway.
Food for thought? Enough about Dalits, let’s go into religion.
There are many sources within Hindu fold of thought including the Rig Veda, Manusmriti which either explicitly don’t ban beef eating or are ambivalent about the same. Here is a sample which I found from the internet and I have proofread the same.
Manusmriti (Chapter 5 / Verse 30) says, “It is not sinful to eat meat of eatable animals, for Brahma has created both the eaters and the eatables.”
Maharishi Yagyavalkya says in Shatpath Brahmin (3/1/2/21) that, “I eat beef because it is very soft and delicious.”
Apastamb Grihsutram (1/3/10) says, “The cow should be slaughtered on the arrival of a guest, on the occasion of ‘Shraddha’ of ancestors and on the occasion of a marriage.”
Rigveda (10/85/13) declares, “On the occasion of a girl’s marriage oxen and cows are slaughtered.”
Rigveda (6/17/1) states that “Indra used to eat the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo.”
Vashistha Dharmasutra (11/34) writes, “If a Brahmin refuses to eat the meat offered to him on the occasion of ‘Shraddha’ or worship, he goes to hell.”
Having cited these sources, I am sure that the “other side” will be able to cite sources which contradict the same. Hence, let us agree to disagree and face the harsh facts- Hinduism is unclear about prohibition of beef consumption.
A study of the Oxford Sub-altern series (Volume II particularly) shows that the cow protection movement started with the Arya Samaj (est. 1875) actively setting up the same in and around 1882. Hindoos (as they were termed!) who were usually accused of rioting were bhumihars, thakurs, Brahmins or the middle castes like Ahirs who wanted to move up the varna ladder (classic case of “Sanskritisation”). Dalits did participate in the earliest Bombay riots but were not too enthusiastic as Dayanand Saraswati was the creator of an tradition which borrowed a vast majority of its tenets from the Brahmanical tradition.
A few clarifications are in order, should this article be misconstrued. I attempt to portray the Dalit point of view, the irony being that I am a manu-vadi myself. Secondly, it is not fair to impose one’s beliefs upon the rest. Attaturk’s successors are bearing the brunt of forced secularism even today. Thirdly, I am myself unsure about the status of pork from the Islamic point of view and I am ignorant about the same.
Before, I end I must exhort the readers to go through these texts before using terms like “nausea” and the like. You will find Dr. Ambedkar devoting entire chapters to explaining why certain upper castes find beef making them nauseous. We have said it ad “nauseaum” but never bothered to internalize it – those who forget history, are condemned to repeat it.