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“Beef eater” has become a code phrase for Indian Muslims

It is hard to find a single phrase that captures the mood of educated Indian Muslims today.

On the one hand, there is no obvious threat to their safety. There have been few communal riots over the last three years. No Sangh Parivar leader of consequence has attacked them. There has been nothing as divisive as LK Advani’s Rath Yatra which sharpened anti-Muslim sentiment.

 

And when the Prime Minister does speak about communal issues, it is hard to fault anything he says, such as his recent reproach to gaurakshaks who resorted to violence.

 

   And yet, judging by the Muslims I have spoken to or interviewed on TV, there is a sense of discomfort, anxiety, uncertainty, and yes, insecurity. Many Muslims feel that something has changed in India over the last two years or so. And they worry that these changes, while creeping at first, will eventually transform the environment they live in forever.

 

   One obvious reason for their discomfort is the beef agitation. This is not a new issue --- it also flared up in the 1960s --- but the fear is that this avatar of the agitation has less to do with worshipping the cow and more to do with targeting Muslims.

 

   Most Indian Muslims are not great beef-lovers. Beef is not the primary meat in such great cuisines as Awadhi and Hyderabadi, and in Kashmir, beef-eating is a mark of political protest not gastronomic excellence. The people who do eat beef fall into two categories. The first is Christians (in Kerala, Goa etc.) including North Easterners. These people have less reason to worry --- the BJP has already announced that it has no desire to protect North Eastern cows.

 

   It is the second category that needs to worry: those on the margins of Indian society, the Dalits and Muslims who can’t always afford chicken or goat.

 

   And yet, “beef eater” has become a code phrase for Indian Muslims. Never before, even during the heated cow slaughter agitation of the 1960s, have Indian Muslims felt that their personal safety is under threat because of a food most of them don’t like.

 

"Is the constant abuse of Pakistan a coded way of expressing communal anger against an “acceptable” Muslim target?"

   A prominent Muslim intellectual who is a friend told me about some relatives who were deprived of meat (goat) because their butcher had shut shop. They asked my friend, who lives in an area where meat is readily available, if he could bring some for them. My friend agreed. But then, he began to worry. Supposing his car had an accident? Supposing he was stopped along the way? If they found him carrying meat and discovered that he had a Muslim name, they would assume he was transporting beef. His life and safety could be at risk.

 

   Such fears may strike Hindus as exaggerated and unrealistic. But such is the mood within the community that every Muslim I have told the story to, says they know exactly how my friend feels. Nor are these the only issues that worry them.

 

   Most educated Muslims feel no particular kinship with Kashmiri Muslims. And many hate Pakistan, holding it responsible for many of their troubles. (If there was no Pakistan, then it would be harder to say that Indian Muslims had extra-national loyalties). They despise the mad mullahs. And they believe that practices such as triple talaq are medieval.

 

   And yet, as they watch TV debates night after night, they begin to get increasingly uncomfortable. Is triple talaq really the biggest issues of our times or is it just another way of portraying Muslims as barbarians? Is the constant abuse of Pakistan a coded way of expressing communal anger against an “acceptable” Muslim target? The situation in Kashmir is tragic but complex. Do we need to see it mainly in Hindu-Muslim terms? Azam Khan is, at best, just another political opportunist or at worst, a joker who wields no political power. Do his statements deserve so much attention?

 

   Much of this has less to do with the government and more with a perceived mood of Hindu triumphalism, which the ratings-hungry media are eager to monetize. Indian news TV sees the world in black and white. So the Muslim position will be represented by some irrelevant mullah who will shout, on camera, at some equally medieval saffronite lout.

 

   All this makes Muslims uncomfortable. The phrase “a community under siege” overstates the case but some Muslims wonder if all this is just the beginning. With the public mood so ugly and the discourse poisoned beyond belief, will the attacks now move closer home? Will the focus shift from beef and talaq to the very patriotism of Indian Muslims? Already, some Muslims feel that they have to work doubly hard to demonstrate their loyalty to India.

 

   Perhaps these fears are groundless. Perhaps things will die down. But to ignore the concerns of our single largest minority would be a mistake: India is built on the belief that we are all the same.

 

   These days though, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is a Hindu country where Muslims are welcome as long as they ‘behave themselves’.

 


 

CommentsComments

  • Harshal Jain 07 Jul 2017

    As an aside, and possibly inappropriate, I need to admit that the 'slaughter ban' requested by the Jains actually was a good thing.
    Neighboring communities used to request their butchers to sell meat but only not slaughter animals during the day/s when their fast was observed.
    In a way it both legitimized and upheld the butcher shop through a small act of mutual community co-operation & fostered co-existence.
    Pity politicians & media exploited and overblew such incidents for their narrow gains

  • Yashwant 07 Jul 2017

    Its taking a turn from bad to worse. In your earlier columns you've argued that in the last six decades little has been done to bring the muslims into the mainstream. There was the movie Garam Hawa that powerfully depicted how isolated the community was
    Given that perspective its not a leap to see this shameful incidents.
    The media shouldn't convey otherwise, that Muslims were doing splendidly and only now they are being ill treated. Please

  • Raashi Sen 07 Jul 2017

    Whats happening is utterly shameful and completely unacceptable. I'd only submit that its not fair for news channels to sensationalize this and convey the impression that all Indians or all Hindus are against beef or against Muslims. If anything the Liberals and media should spend equal time in reassuring all minority communities of our support to protecting them while also protesting these atrocities

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