Tuesday, April 17, 2012
In Defence of Meena Kandaswamy
Meena Kandaswamy is not new to abuse; physical, verbal or psychological. She has lived out and outlived several stories of severely tortured women not only in India but all over the world. A crusader against gender discrimination and social ostracism of castes, Meena is a towering model amongst the young women who these days are more concerned with a puffed up, well contoured and fair vagina. Meena Kandaswamy must be laughing when she reads the arguments for and against a fair vagina as she is reminded of the puffed up cheeks, swollen eyes, broken teeth and dignity shattered like a crystal glass.
But there is always something that people cannot take away from you; your own self/mind. That’s why Meena Kandaswamy walked out of her abusive marriage. In a country like India that puts one leg in a ruthless tradition that endorses female foeticide and honour killing, and the other leg in cyber revolution and dreams of super power status living a woman's life is seriously a dangerous thing. The more we move ahead in our cyber revolution the more we become intolerant to independent women. That’s why Meena Kandaswamy is verbally abused publicly in the internet space for her opinion on beef eating.
Meena Kandaswamy welcomed the beef eating festival celebrated by the Dalit Students at the Osmania University and condemned the attacks on those students by the Sangh Parivar (Right Wing fundamentalists in India) outfits. This opinion of her triggered the anger of a few young men who started hurling verbal abuses at her in social networking sites like facebook. When these young men say that Meena should be raped and the act should be televised live, they actually bare the fangs of fascism that has been slowly but steadily growing in our country.
Look at the equation; those who support beef eating are liable to face rape and public telecast of the same. Beef has gained such importance in the Hindutva ideology that the followers do not even mind to rape or kill a human being for protecting a cow. The irony is in Vrindavan in Mathura, where these people believe Lord Krisha was born both cows and widows are treated alike. Perhaps, cows get a better treatment than the abandoned widows.
Beef eating is one’s right and nobody can deny it. Nobody barges into a place where bhel puri festival is conducted or a fish festival is conducted. Nobody even questions when innumerable chickens are murdered in each passing moment either to celebrate the Hindu upper caste religious and secular festivals and events or do some secret religious rituals. Nobody questions. However, beef eating is prohibited and protested because it is generally eaten by Muslims and Dalits. Denying the rightful food to them is the fundamentalists’ ploy to keep them inferior to a so called superior and misinterpreted world view called ‘Hindutva’.
Hindus started thinking about protecting cows when the Aryan nomadic tribes were depending cows not only for milk but also for meat. As the nomads settled in places and started cultivating the land, along with the increase in cultivable land and in population, the number of cattle had to be increased. Thanks to over consumption and increasing demand for cow meat, they wanted to put a break somewhere to protect the species altogether from extinction. The taboo on beef eating was carefully placed in order to save the economic interest of the growing societies, which later got connected to religious dictums so that the taboo is perpetuated systematically and systemically.
In today’s world, people have diversified eating habits. All the people are not beef eaters or chicken eaters whereas most of us are herbivorous. Considering the number of human beings in the world who eat plants and forest products along with agricultural products, there should be a blanket ban on vegetarianism by now. That does not happen because food products are often from agricultural lands, which are re-usable so that further production of vegetable products is sustained. Similarly today beef also is a sustainable product. We have found out scientific ways of breeding cattle for beef. Beef eating in India has never thwarted the survival of this cattle race in this country.
Seen against this context, those people who raise voice against beef eating are doing this because the very argument has become a part of the Hindutva ideology than having a scientific basis for itself. As beef is eaten by Muslims and Dalits, denying their food becomes a part of the socio-political power game also. There are Hindu families who eat chicken and fish regularly in their meals. There are Hindu families who eat beef regularly or occasionally. I could tell you for sure that in Kerala, most of the Hindutva boys eat beef and porotta with or without the consent of the Shakha Pramukh because it is a staple diet for many, especially those boys who do a lot of physical work or who want to develop a good physique. At the same time, one could see several Muslim and Dalit families subsisting purely on vegetables.
In short, age or caste or religion, in today’s world does not determine one’s food habits. Coco Cola does not have caste written on it. No food item has caste inscriptions. Denying one’s opportunity to eat the food one wants is a fundamental violation of his/her constitutional rights. If the Hindutva people do not want to eat beef they can prefer to abstain from it. They don’t have any right to say no to beef to anyone else. Often these people give an analogy: Will you eat your mother? But who said cow is my mother? Cow is not my mother. Cow is calf’s mother. Through clever symbolic and ideological juxtaposition, the Hindutva was successful to fuse the notion of motherhood with the image of a cow. It was again a religious ploy to keep people from killing a species that was facing extinction.
Let me come back to Meena Kandaswamy. When someone says that she should be violated and televised, I see the farcical deconstruction of cow and mother. Meena is a woman and in the Hindutva parlance she should be treated as a sister or mother, if she is not your wife or daughter. The Hindutva ideologues when they bray for Meena’s blood, forget they split the unified imagery of cow and mother. For cow’s sake, they are now not only able to rape a woman but also televise it nationally, live. What a tragedy! And the violence inscribed on the very words reflects the catastrophe of a religion many times severer than the act of decapitating a cow.