Tolerance. Because TINA
The Republic of India is a massive territory with diversity in equal measure. The osmosis of regional endowments with cultural bearings, reflected in ordinary life styles and popular notions, lend India its vibrancy. The stark contrast between societies and communities bears testimony to this heterogeneity. Our history is replete with narratives that affirm the need for varied methods of governance for addressing essentially similar anomalies in different parts of the country. Hence, beyond a case for reference, there is no one-size-fits-all ultimate tactic to tackle a gnawing Indian problem in an objective manner.
A politically motivated move of the same kind made for better governance has different impacts in different states – as is the case with prohibition. There is a simple reason for prohibition being effective in Gujarat and not anywhere else. The largest minority group in Gujarat is Muslim (over 9 per cent) and it has the third largest population of Jains in India (after Maharashtra and Rajasthan). Besides Marwari community, the majority of Hindu population in Gujarat is known to follow Vaishnavism. The native population here have one thing in common: their respective cultures do not make room consumption of alcohol.
Interestingly, a 2009 amendment to the prohibition law [ Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Bill] was prompted by numerous deaths resulting from the consumption of spurious liquor. Gujarat is the only state with a death penalty for the manufacture and sale of homemade liquor that results in fatalities. Instead of being a deterrent, this only legally adjusts the clandestine sale and consumption of genuine alcohol, which, by itself, does not result in fatality. The cosmopolitan cities are but two: Ahmadabad and Surat, and they are not known for hosting a sizable number of non-Gujaratis from various cultural backgrounds. So no special changes are made to accommodate them to their convenience. Hence, prohibition in Gujarat is no achievement but its official status is only a formalised definitive character.
Other states have different narratives regarding prohibition. From the need to cater to tourists in Kerala to renewing liquor licences of canteens in cantonment areas, military, and air force stations for 2016-2017 in the 'interest of soldiers' in Bihar, or a state-owned company being granted monopoly on the wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu, or to simply reverse the decision of a previous government in Manipur, prohibition is not met with compliance. Reasons may vary, and however unjustified they may be, a social trend like alcohol consumption cannot be uprooted with the passing of a bill.
Beginning with the most basic requirement for survival, food has lately been a prickle of 'national' concern. It seems rather too obvious to be heeded that food habits of a place or people came long before any politics that seeks to regulate them. The sudden outbreak of extreme cow vigilantism and the apparent targeting of certain sections of the society point to an ideology-driven frenzy. It also points to where such ideology can be played out. Lynch mobs are not just a thing of community but also of class. They are from the lower rungs of society who are mostly poor and uneducated.
This mob mania is but a very narrow perception of what is indoctrinated to be a religious matter. Since the time Hinduism is known to have started taking shape (in the Vedic age), although cow was a very valuable animal, its meat was consumed to mark a special occasion. It was never a desecration originally. Beef is a staple food particularly in non-Hindu majority states, so, obviously, there is no taking chances with violating the right to freedom of choice (regarding food) of people on the grounds of an ideology that they don't even subscribe to. Therefore, beef proudly remains in Kerala, Goa, and the northeast.
In a country plagued with malnutrition and undernutrition, depriving people of an affordable source of important nutrients – without providing for any alternate source – is a Constitutional sacrilege! Moreover, cattle slaughter and meat consumption are more than a matter of personal choice of food. It is an economic sub-system which sustains livelihood, trade, commerce, employment, and other associated industrial activities such as leather and hide. India being the largest exporter of beef (although it is buffalo meat because India does not officially export cow meat), this international trade ought to be organised better for optimum economic benefits and, in turn, help mitigate the contrast between the prospering and the surviving.
As far as the concern for cow goes, the animal requires more than sectarian sentiments to survive respectably. In stead of being abandoned for no longer giving milk and feeding on anything from rotting vegetables to discarded plastic, it is pragmatic to cull stray cattle for meat and hide before it becomes a pitiful sight. Somehow, the enthusiasm of animal rights activists takes a backseat when dealing with abandoned cattle.
BJP has emerged as a party of the masses against the formidable Congress that has the elite as its most prominent figures. The independent growth of BJP, not due to TINA (there is no alternative) factor, can come only from change in terms of adaptability, from a shift from its hard line ideologies that is seen as dogmatic and radical, making it look like a 'Hindu Taliban', as the western media put it. With the top four posts in the Government under their control and a spreading influence across the nation, BJP is expected to widen their horizon in many ways.
As the same party has had different approach to the same issue in different states (viz beef and slaughter in Kerala, Goa, and UP), instead of double standards, it can be viewed as flexibility and adaptability with regard to specificities of the area governed, allegedly for electoral appeasement but ultimately to the preference of people governed. Respecting and assimilating contrasting notions and practices across the country is the need of the hour. Tolerance, thus, is the only way forward.
(The author is Editorial Consultant and Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal.)