The Beef-Eating Controversy in India


beef 1Where is the real problem?
Many noted intellectuals, authors and film makers have returned their national awards to the government, to protest the communal and religious intolerance that has resurfaced in India.
It is true that India’s BJP government is run by people, many of whom are anti-Muslim and anti-socialism (and very capitalist), and they have had their lifelong allegiance to RSS, Hindu fundamentalist organization (where I also began my political and organizing life — I have written a book about them, since quitting). Prime minister Modi, finance minister Arun Jaitley, and cultural affairs minister Mahesh Sharma are three examples. Jaitley and Sharma are also former ABVP leaders (RSS’ student wing, where I was the state secretary of West Bengal).

Prime Minister Modi praying at RSS meeting. U.S. once revoked his visa, but that was before he became a friend of Obama, Clinton, and Wall Street.
Prime Minister Modi praying at RSS meeting. U.S. once revoked his visa, but that was before he became a friend of Obama, Clinton, and Wall Street.

I have written and talked so much against their Tea Party or Christian Coalition-type politics over the years that I do not need anybody’s permission to do it anymore.
However, as much as I despise and condemn their fascistic ugliness, including killing of free thinkers and progressive human rights activists, I can’t help but pointing out the fallacy in these “Beef Protests.” First, even though BJP/RSS is largely a bunch of bigots, and Shiv Sena in Bombay is a xxx-variety (allegedly created by CIA), the so-called liberal Congress’ hands are also blood-stained. They have fomented communal and caste violence across India, to win elections and keep in power. Congress thugs killed thousands of innocent Sikhs in 1984.
In Bangladesh and Pakistan, Islamic extremists’ anti-Hindu, anti-intellectual violence has been going on for decades, with no international outcry. And in India, because of its enormous, unprecedented, open, voluntary slave market, USA, Obama and Clinton are not saying a word to stop either the beef violence or violence on women — both of which are now rampant.
Basically, politically marginalized, corrupt Congress and irrelevant left parties are desperately fishing out of troubled waters to return to power.
Free thinker and blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in Bangladesh by Jamat Islami. His wife was gravely wounded.
Free thinker and blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in Bangladesh by Jamat Islami. His wife was gravely wounded.

I am totally against any violence, bigotry and racism — anywhere in the world. But I do believe, the real focus of the protests must be on the economic issues, because U.S. powers, IMF, World Bank and the global 1% are completely colonizing India and destroying the Third World democracies, beyond recognition.
It is a massive neo-colonization, and it is silent and bloodless.
They have found BJP and Modi as their ally in India, and if in the next elections, some Congress-led coalition throws BJP out of power, the same economic destruction and neoliberal colonization will continue.
The 1984 Sikh massacre by Congress party thugs is still raw wound for many.
The 1984 Sikh massacre by Congress party thugs is still raw wound for many.

Congress, since the CIA-led dismantling of India’s socialistic governance and killing of Indira Gandhi, has embraced global corporations and IMF, and the result has been disastrous for the poor — one billion Indians. Labor unions were killed off. Environmental movements were crushed. Voices of dissent were murdered. Monsanto farmers are committing suicide, and cricket players and Bollywood stars are not paying taxes.
Politics in South Asia now is ONLY about making money, using cycles of voting. Black money — unaccounted for billions — rules. Unthinkable in the land of Gandhi and Tagore!
Liberal intellectuals protesting now, many of whom are affluent, do not want to come out against the economic colonization, corruption, and new slavery. They only speak out when their safety is in question.
I must give credit to the left parties who have rallied around the economic demands, but I do not believe only the left have any power to put together a meaningful resistance. They have NOT evolved, and embraced the new, global reality.
In fact, I do not believe in the left-right divide in the first place. Only a broad coalition and bridge building across the 99% — of moderate left and right — can make any serious changes in the political and economic landscape.
Beef protests by the elite, including film stars and such famous personalities, are hollow, meaningless, and often hypocritical. Protests must be at the roots of the catastrophic economic destruction.
Thanks for listening.
Partha Banerjee
Brooklyn, New York
Hundreds of thousands of farmers are committing suicide in India because of Monsanto and their collusion with the Indian powers. Unprecedented in human history!
Hundreds of thousands of farmers are committing suicide in India because of Monsanto and their collusion with the Indian powers. Unprecedented in human history!


  1. It is a very balanced as well as impassioned (often the two don’t go together) call to rethink our stand. The first point I disagree with, though mildly, is that the right-left distinction is no longer relevant. In a sense I understand that in the light of the past actions of the established “Left” one can very well question their self-proclaimed difference from the Right. But if we seriously want to progress towards less inequality, less bigotry, better environment, less consumerism and more open worlds of knowledge, we cannot but go back to the core ideas of Leftism that challenge the fundamentals of a Capitalist system. As long as unbridled Capitalism and the idea that the “market is the best distributor” rule the world, there is nothing in our future but further degradation. How to put these core ideas into practice is what the committed Leftists must seriously think about now.
    The second point I disagree with — or more accurately speaking disagree with its absence — is the glossing over of the human-non-human conflict which the title of the piece “The Beef-Eating Controversy of India” alludes to. In this conflagration of ideas and identity, one identity that goes unspoken is that of the animals. Without belittling the tragic significance of the two photos accompanying the piece, may I point out that it will appear incongruous to most readers if instead of these photos we had photos of a grieving mother-cow whose calf has been snatched away or cattle being dragged towards the slaughterhouse. These issues are circumscribed within a space called “animal rights”, as if it has got nothing to do with “human rights” and thereby implicitly drawing a conceptual distinction between one single specie and ALL the rest of the species on this planet. Let me briefly state my case here. Liberals in India are holding open “beef-eating” sessions to assert their liberty, a liberty that is bought at the cost of the life of another specie. As we the liberals know, liberty is no liberty unless we accord the same liberty to others. That is why in our laws liberty always comes coupled with responsibilities. But we have not given much thought to the meaning of the word “Other”. We have unreflectively confined it to mean other “humans”. The rest are not Others, they are Things. This life of the Other specie is central to the health of our environment as well as the consumerist culture that has engulfed all societies now. Space doesn’t permit me to go into great detail about how farming (as well as wanton destroying of) animals for eating and wearing is at the heart of, our environmental crisis. To the interested reader I would suggest a book called “Farmageddon” that lays bare the hidden cost that we the “humans” are paying for eating and wearing “animal” products on a scale large enough that it calls for farming animals and creating “products” out of their bodies at a rate high enough to satisfy our consumerist culture (to mention only very few: dairy products, fur coats, leather shoes, feather pillows, fois gras …).
    If we can probe into the “Beef Eating Controversy” deeply enough we will understand how laughable our Hindu-Muslim battles are when we think of the health of the planet we live on. We are all missing that chance by confining it to a liberal-conservative, Hindu-Muslim, Left-Right debate.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I do not believe in left and right divide, because it is artificial and largely non-existent. Moderate left and moderate right must come together, focusing on their commonalities, and sorting out their differences. I have linked my paper with that statement in the post now, and I hope you look it up.

  3. Present day protests in India may not be targetting the main issue of neo-colonialism, but nevertheless is worth supporting for guarding whatever little space of self-expression or freedom of speech we have here in India till now. Otherwise soon we may face diktats regarding simple personal choices like whether to wear pyjamas, dhotis, pants or lungis. Every institution including IITs are being systematically dismantled to suit a particular agenda, roads carrying names of mughal kings are being changed, history books are being re-written to include myths of a particular community, literary pieces by urdu writers are being removed from kids’ books, dissenters are being heckled & advised to “go to Pakistan”, and to top it all, right-activists and writers are being killed. One may argue all these had been there earlier in isolated cases under other governments also, but those were not so planned and well co-ordinated and fall short of the recent drive of saffronization in its sheer range & destructiveness. Let protests be there for preserving that space of freedom. Again it may be argued. and rightly so, that there is no such space for the poor & downtrodden, and that it is only being enjoyed by the educated elite & midleclass people. Still that space is invaluable for taking proper progress (not the type involving economical growth only, but the one encompassing pluralism in its true sense of all social & economic shades) onwards.

    • Yes, sure. Civil liberties are precious. I have worked a lot of years to defend mine. Yet, Indian elite’s cry and outspokenness are only for the individual and not for the collective. Without an outcry against the economic destruction, the elite liberal’s protests are opportunistic. I have no sympathy for fascists. I have known them inside out, sacrificing fifteen years of my life.

    Partha, your article gives such an incisive analysis that gathers very much in very few words! There are so many important issues here, not just for your native India but to all peoples of all countries.
    Your description of the Indian government is one of opportunistic and corrupt “leaders” promoting religious bigotry at least partially as an electoral strategy while also pushing an economic globalization agenda on behalf of corporate and financial interests totally divorced from the national interest (i.e., unconnected to the prosperity of India’s citizens). Abstracting that description from the Hindu-Muslim substance of India’s cultural divide, the form approximates a lot of what we also face in the United States. Washington too has been taken over by those same globalized corporate and financial interests, which have no more loyalty to the USA than they do to India. National and popular sovereignty are obstacles to their goals of a single “market” where they can move operations wherever labor and regulations are cheapest and/or subsidies highest, and then move the products to wherever prices are highest. The super-profits generated result from this arbitrage as much as from whatever would be generated by producing and selling in the same national market.
    The result for the 99% (in any country) is a government acting mostly as a tool of globalized interests, unresponsive to the needs of the citizens. At the governmental level, this means environmental and labor regulations are undermined, infrastructure and education and health care are neglected. At the non-governmental level, it means labor unions and wages are undermined by the permanent threat of relocation of operations and the competition with the lowest wages on earth wherever they can be found. At the cultural/ideological level, globalization becomes almost a religious faith in sacred markets as forces of nature that cannot be controlled, and an excessive individualism wherein pure self-interest is the only “realistic” ethic, destroying all patriotism and solidarity and social conscience or sense of common identity and fate with the local community or the nation on which we depend for shared institutions promoting stability and quality of life.
    Obviously such atomized existence is spiritually and emotionally hollow and so real people seek added dimension through cultural and group identities that have been made devoid of economic solidarity. In India these seem to be mainly religious identities, reaching at a more granular level into caste identity or other traditional identities. In the USA, the religious identities are mostly Christian, much of them in a culture war against the secularism and gay rights and general sexual and intellectual liberations of modernity. Christians of course range across the liberal-conservative spectrum of attitudes towards these modern changes in family structure and sexual ethics, and in their degree of religiosity v. secularism. The largest religious minorities in the USA are the Jews and Muslims, neither of which seems to generate significant political or social conflict here but are political constituencies (of obviously disproportionate strength) interested in shaping American diplomacy in the middle east in ways that are not rooted in the American national interest, however much they may try to present them as such.
    Here in passing I observe a similar divorce from our national interest motivates the very secular 1% in their extremely disproportionate strength in defining American diplomacy, especially in the Free Trade treaties replacing national and popular sovereignty with global governance increasingly beyond any accountability to or influence by the citizens and their elected legislatures. And is this not the same exact problem you describe behind the malignant economic development in post-Indira-Ghandi India? At the largest scale, corporate globalism undermines national institutions of a social and socialistic nature because the private sector engines of wealth-creation (corporations) are repelled by the required taxation and perpetually move to wherever starker wages (both social and hourly) can be paid.
    And so perhaps most fundamentally our economic problems in any country grow out of politicized identities devoid of economic solidarity, which should be at the national level to be most effective. Economic patriotism is necessary because globalized banks and corporations will never build the infrastructure needed to support wealth-creation and they will never build the national institutions that bring stability and security and quality of life to citizens of the countries in which they operate. The national level seems to be the largest possible and most effective for making trade and industrial and regulation policies that promote sustainable and equitable economic development. Such development requires accountability not to shareholders but to communities and nations, to constituencies with democratic control over the rules of the market, tailored to the long-term prosperous development of the whole society. In other words, we need capitalism to create wealth and we need socialism to ensure that wealth benefits all people. Capitalism and socialism should not be opposed but rather seen as 2 equally essential aspects of the same system. Real democracy is already strained at the large national levels of India or the USA, and certainly is impractical and beyond any democratic control or accountability at any supranational level of governance.
    Economic patriotism in the USA is undermined on the right by libertarian ideology of rugged individualism, unreal and even delusional in denial of the interdependence and non-economic motives in human behavior that are masked by the cash transaction. Economic patriotism is undermined on the left by fears of xenophobia and militarism, and to some extent by the shameful legacy of imperialism by which weaker countries were exploited and their economic and social development perverted by the influence of powerful western corporations and banks. But that age of economic imperialism seems to have mostly passed away from the relations between nations and been replaced by a globalized 1% whose financial and industrial organizations are no longer connected to nation-states. Politics and especially electoral contests must therefore be run on culture war issues in order to motivate and distract the citizens away from their near-total economic abandonment by their governments. This seems as true in the caste and religious conflicts of Indian politics as it is in the abortion/contraception and gay rights and gun-control battles in American politics. The economic content of politics, at least in America, centers around attacks on and defense of entitlement programs (especially Social Security) that become increasingly untenable as the productive economy continues to be off-shored due to Free Trade policies.
    Finally, to briefly address the inter-species relations of concern to “dulalinag” in his comments (and of course I write from a thoroughly western perspective without Vedic traditions), I think there will always be a conflict between the carnivorous beasts from which we evolved and the sentient compassionate beings we sometimes prove ourselves to be. I write this as a vegetarian motivated by compassion, but recognizing that the natural world is full of carnivores and that in the human mind there will always be an individual judgement on how far compassion extends. So many people are still treated barbarously in this world, and violence is ubiquitous, so I admire your advocacy of universal compassion but I despair of it even in human relations and do not expect it will ever triumph in all our relations to other species. It is not just food but habitat destruction, and at the biological level all species are in competition and tension and balance with each other, even acknowledging the interdependence and symbiosis that is inherent to that balance.

    • Thanks for your very thoughtful comments. I have written a lot about it, and I ask you to look up some of my posts on the above here in my blog, if you have time to do it. Briefly, the elite is crying because their interests are in jeopardy. Not because they care how the poor live in India. Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood superstar, only appears in Slumdog Millionaire the fiction movie, and not in real life, to save the destitute. It’s a travesty.


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