Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Political economy of beef banning campaign

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The ‘gautmata’ brigade had started its march to Parliament Street once the new government took over in May 2014. Jantar Mantar saw large number of Babas and Sadhus with their cows and carts until one fine day the NDMC officials had to act and forcibly evict them from the place. The matter is not whether they remained there or not but the realization that their ‘own’ dispensation is there now and hence it was important to rake up the issue.  A trip to the rural hinterland of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar will give you a glimpse of how the ‘cow protection’ is being converted into an electoral issue through polarizing the society.

Soon after it different offshoots of the Sangh Parivar started raising issues, which are the ‘heart’ of the party and thought that it is the right time to raise them. While the politicians know it well that even if they get huge majority the issues the party is emphasizing will only disintegrate the country. India can’t afford another partition and its wounded psyche.  The issues like Love-Jehad, Ramzade verses Haramzade, vande-mataram, Ram mandir, Bangladeshi refugees, cow protection started cropping up again and again. The government on its own never tried to assure people of these ‘agendas’ and things became clear with BJP’s choice of leaders in different states where party came to power. In Jharkhand, it chose a non-Adivasi to lead the party in a very similar way as Chhattishgarh’s adivasis are being ruled by another non aadivasi Raman Singh. In Haryana and Maharastra two Sangh Parivar persons without any administrative experiences were handed over the charge of their states.  Both Mohan Lal Khattar and Devinder Fadnavis came from active RSS background and cleared their intentions in the very beginning. Khattar is unable to control communal riot in Haryana and implementing the Sangh agenda dutifully while Fadnavis too is focusing the Sangh agenda to polarize things.

Cow beef is banned in India and known to every one but what is disturbing now is that Maharastra act brought into it the progenies of the cow family. Therefore slaughtering and killing of buffaloes, bulls, oxen too become illegal. The thought behind these things are very clear to push Muslims and others engaged in the business to virtually workless. There is no alternative provided by the government and more than the government agencies it is the Shiv Sena , the partner of the BJP in Maharastra which is ‘doing’ the work, making allegations against Muslims and threatening people with dire consequences.

The fact is that Maharastra is already reeling under severe drought and the government has failed to provide them any support. A huge number of persons engaged in the business will virtually become jobless as Times of India reports quoting, ‘ Mumbai Suburban Beef Traders’ Association president Mohammad Ali Qureshi,  said: “It will affect beef traders’ business as water buffalo meat accounts for just 25 per cent of our total sale. It will render many of us jobless while prices of other meat will go up and it will also affect rural economy. The farmers, already under debt, will have to maintain useless cattle on expensive fodder. The poor will not be able to afford high-priced mutton’.   He said: “An ailing bullock or ox sells for about Rs 10,000 to 14,000 and farmers, unable to afford upkeep of such cattle, often sell it to slaughterhouses.” 
In Haryana where the economy of babas is growing like Gujarat as they get huge donation to ‘serve’ ‘gaumata’ but a farmer who met me recently informed how it is becoming difficult to control stray animals of cow family. The babas, he said, only need female cows and they leave the males as free. These male progenies of cows later become bulls and uncontrollable ‘saands’ who can enter in any field thus destroying crops and injuring and killing many innocent people. We have seen the condition of cows in Gujarat where they are allowed to roam around in the streets and in the night sleep in open. A country looking forward as modern nation of 21st century can not afford such stupidities becoming our main work of life. One fact is clear that a farmer will find it difficult to own cow and its family as what happen once she stop giving milk. Where to cremate it ? Do we need the enormous dangers of all this ? We don’t have space to cremate for human being. The bio fuel is no more available and for burial we wont have enough space in future and we are now asking for more. At home, our parents suffer and we don’t care for her mothers.  We earn, go abroad, become even prime minister but have no time for our mother. We don’t even feel her worthy of staying with her sons and daughters even when we have the capacity to keep her with us. Is not it the biggest hypocrisy of our time? Moreover, we appreciate those who cater their cattle but need to see what happen in the later years. A recent RTI revealed that Indian army gives a ‘decent euthanasia’ to its celebrity Dogs when they are out of use or say retired. Don’t these dogs have right to life after they have finished their work in the army? It is clear that army has purely a work-based relationship with these dogs and once their services are over they are killed. It shows that human relationship with animals even when we all love them is till they are useful to us. We love them even for some more years but it may not be possible to keep them for over and doing ‘seva’ of them as the Babas want us to do.  Not every one has huge funds, Land and donation to serve them as the big babas these days. All the animals can be useful to us during the life and even after the life too.

Interestingly after the Maharastra ban, the Harayana government also acted. A number of the Sangh affiliates also jumped in and appreciated the Maharastra government’s effort in ‘respecting’ the Hindu ‘sentiments’.  The demand grew louder everywhere and Muslims were being blamed for ‘eating’ beef as if it is their sole concern. The Maharastra act has draconian provisions where police can intrude in your kitchen and dining table too and question you regarding the food. Clearly such tendencies were more political and economical in nature to destroy the business of Muslims and deny them their basic food. However, it is not just Muslims who eat beef as has been proved through many reports and arguments. BJP’s agenda on beef is solely aimed at isolating Muslim further and creating a fictitious debate related to it.

One need to understand and ask a question as why Goa’s BJP government did not ban beef as it is a state bordering Maharastra? As per Indian Express report on March 21st, 2015, the chief minister of Goa, Laxmikant Parsekar on Friday said the state will never ban beef as it does not believe in interfering with the food habits of its people. Parsekar told The Indian Express, “As the CM, I have to take care of all people in the state including its 38 per cent minorities. Christians account for 30 per cent of the population while the remaining are from the Muslim community. It is not like they started consuming beef recently; this has always been part of their daily cuisine. How can I ban it?

Later the Union Minister of State for Home Mr Kiren Rijiju also admitted that he too eat beef and that the ban can not work in the Northeast as it is the part of their food culture. Mr Rijiju’s statement came in the aftermath of a protest against the visit of Amit Shah, BJP’s president to the visit of North East. All the major political leaders of BJP actually openly said that they are not going to seek ban on beef in the Northeast.

Here lies the basic issue of beef eating, which as a habit and food culture, is accepted by the BJP leadership openly without any ambiguity. Though Kiran Rijju has detracted his own statement as a ‘beefeater’ claiming he was misquoted yet he defended that beef was part of northeastern culture. Now question is when BJP’s own leaders have accepted that beef eating is culture of many communities in India and not necessarily Muslims then why its leaders and ministers are unable to control them from raising the rhetoric of ‘gaumata’.  What forced Rajnath Singh to say that he would ‘starve’ Bangladesh of beef eating?  One respect Rijiju’s point that state should respect the ‘feelings’ of ‘majority’ community and therefore in the Northeast beef ban is unworkable as the majority community eats beef while in the other regions we should ‘respect’ the sentiments of the ‘majority’ community which does not eat beef. Unfortunately, Rijiju must understand that democracy today is not a ‘majoritarian’ rule but respecting the ‘sentiments’ of minorities too. A huge number of people in each state today, are migrants who bring their cultures and practices to those states. It is a well-known fact that minorities are not supposed to merge and assimilate their identities and cultural habits in the majoritarian cultural but allowed to develop their own. These are well-established laws internationally and respected here in India too. If majority in several states speak Hindi does not mean people have no right to promote Urdu language. If a majority of Indians are vegetarian or eat non-beef meet we respect their sentiments and not put beef in their plate. Nobody ask for beef in the house of those who don’t eat it. Nobody offer beef to any one who does not eat it and that is what we call ‘respecting’ the sentiments.  The cultural respect is powerful in India more than anywhere else and people respect vegetarian people’s habits too.

The Central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan were more vegetarian in nature but there too it depended on communities. And communities too don’t have the same food habits everywhere. It is not that upper castes don’t eat meet or beef. There are so many of them who eat and there are hundreds of Muslims who are vegetarian but they is because of their choice and not of compulsion.  Even among Dalits and Aadivasis the food habit is not the same. A number of communities used to do the skin tanning work in the north but did not eat beef but at many places they ate it. And it is not beef alone, the forest dwelling working masses of this country depended on forest and hence forest produce were part of their food culture. They used the entire edible meat as protein and that is why physically all these communities were stronger and hard workers. Hence it is a conspiracy of the power elite to deny people rights over their resources and ensure that they continue to fight for their basic needs too. The reason for BJP not shouting beef ban in Goa and Northeast is the low population of Muslims which will not give them chance to communalise the issue and gain politically. One must keep in mind that it is not just Christians who eat beef in Northeast but Hindus too hence BJP and Hindutva’s moral police can’t implement its brahmanical agenda in the northeast and hence keeping quiet and respecting the ‘sentiments’ of the people.

Food habits are part of our long nurtured cultural practices. It depends on the geographical environment of the region also. Vegetarianism actually grew with places where farmers kept cattle as pet and agricultural help but it is also a fact that aadivasis, Dalits and all those nomadic communities who lived with nature used to eat them. Today all the communities and their food producing resources are ironically in the hands of powerful corporate in the name of ‘development’. It is not just beef eating which has been denied to India’s indigenous people but they are also fighting for access to natural resources.  Understand the economic reasons of India’s ruling brahmanical class using religious taboos to unleash its agenda for profit through business.

According to reports India was widely tipped as the topmost beef exporter in the world leaving behind Brazil and its beef exporter will record breaking this year as Russia too has approved India’s beef for its consumption. So beef i.e. buffalo meat, has actually left basmati rice far behind as far as exports from India is concerned.

A report in Times of India suggest that beef meet has recorded 13% increase in value of Rs 26,965 crore and its expected to cross over Rs 30,000 crore by the end of the year 2015. However there is a slight slow down as per the report but it is not due to any policy of the government but due to turmoil in the international market.
"The devaluation of Brazilian currency and problems in the re-export of buffalo meat from Vietnam to Hong Kong have affected Indian exports," said DB Sabharwal, secretary of All India Meat & Livestock Exporters' Association. Vietnam is the largest buyer of Indian buffalo meat, while Brazil is India's main competitor.’

The fact is that ban on slaughtering is not going to affect the export the buffalo meat as many in the market believe even today. We have to understand that the Sangh Parivar campaign is not to finish and eliminate 30,000 crore beef export business, many of whom may be their financiers.  In fact, it is a careful strategy of the powerful companies owned by Jains and Marwadis who are in the business to promote this hysteria in India so that they can earn billions through exporting it. As per Times of India, Priya Sud, partner of Delhi-based Al Noor Exports feel that the Maharastra and other acts would be beneficial for exports.

 "It could bring an end to illegal slaughter and raise the price for buffalo meat, thus proving to be beneficial for companies like us who are engaged in legal slaughter and export of buffalo meat," said With prospects of purchases from a big market like Russia and several countries like Egypt buying more Indian bovine meat, the company will have to increase the production to full capacity, she added.

The glaring facts are open now. India registered a growth of 44% in meat export mainly the buffalo meat and is exporting meat to over 70 countries with demand coming mostly from Russia, China and other South East Asian countries. As per Times of India reported on April 1st, 2013, ‘Uttar Pradesh is the top buffalo meat-producing state with 3 lakh tonnes in 2011. At least 70% of the buffalo meat is exported. "Our meat is lean and cheaper. We supply halal meat, which is preferred in Gulf countries," said Surendra Kumar Ranjan, director of Uttar Pradesh-based Hind Agro Industries’.

Bovine meat export is a huge business like any other export as it gives you big income. In India it remained food of the underdogs as they can afford to pay for it. Unfortunately it is not like sugar or onions where export created shortage at domestic level became an election issue and therefore government had to stop the export of these essential commodities. The underdogs of Indian society are not the Brahmins, Marwaris or Jains whose ‘sentiments’ the government is too much concerned about, but the poor Muslims, Dalits and Aadivsis who have regularly faced state ‘abduction’ of their resources. Years ago the aadivasis had access to minor or major forest produce like Anwala, Mahua and bambooshoots but now they cant have that. Most of these produce have gone to private corporations making the lives of indigenous people more miserable. As a child of the mountains, I enjoyed eating vegetable of fresh bambooshoots which was one of the most delicious food in Uttarakhand known as ‘banskils’ apart from many other local forest produce but today the forest department will now allow to access these. Our life has been snatched by the big corporations in the name of ‘development’ and poor people are being pushed to believing in ‘Gods’ for the ‘ill-fate’. So snatch people’s resources, hand them to crony capitalists and suppress people’s voice through either sending religious pontiffs to these regions or if they too fail to curtail the rebellion then the armed police to kill. It is not without any reason that Madhya Pradesh government has stopped providing eggs in the mid day meal to school children since the Jain community complained against it. It is shocking as this country has diverse people and much more than the Jains and Marwadis. Why should the government deny the eggs to Aadivasi children? How are Jains getting offended with Aadivasi eating eggs?

India is a signatory to all International treaties related to eliminate hunger, poverty and malnutrition. In 1996, at the World Food Summit in Rome, Heads of States of various countries adopted a definition of Food security, “Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient,safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”

This definition is again refined in The State of Food Insecurity 2001:

“Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

The loud noise over beef issue is basically an attempt to hide the dirty fact from public life that on the one side it is an issue to keep the politics of polarization continue in the election so that all the non Muslims are kept ‘united’ under one umbrella and their contradictions gets eliminated under the big umbrella of Brahmanism while helping the ‘exporters’ to peacefully engage in their ‘work’. The question we ask why beef is a stick to beat Muslims saving the powerful beef exporting lobby ? Who are these beef exporters and its powerful lobby ? I hope I need not to write things here as I have already provided you their ‘statement’ about why the ban help them ? One thing is clear that beef may be a food habit of Muslims and many others like Dalits and Aadivasis, it’s the business for those who most of the time claim that they cant even kill an ‘ant’ and are absolute ‘vegetarian’. Its important for them to know that vegetarianism is not synonymous to ‘goodness’ as they think. If they are so much faithful to their ‘religion’ and ideology then they must leave their ‘export’ of beef and other meat product. Why should Muslims and Dalit face the tyranny of the Indian state when the leather shoes are not produced by them but by Batas, Action,  Mesco and other companies who are definitely not ownedDalits or Aadivasis. Definitely, this leather is not of lion or goat. Let the anti beef campaigner do campaign against all kind of leather product and start a dharna at the business houses of these people who produce them. Its not possible as here lies the reality of the corporate religion nexus. Habits, culture, principles, ideologies are meant for poor but for these ‘sellers’ it is profit even if they have to sale the sentiments of the people and lit a fire to kill people if that give them business. The right wingers in India will never touch an issue which is ‘economically’ as well as politically loss making. Beef ban and the noise subsequently help it both the way, a booming business of export and rich crop of hatred to harvest during the elections. Shame.

Vegetarian Vigilantism

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vegetarianism is basically considered to be a ‘nonviolent’ approach towards nature and our food habits. People who did not like ‘animal slaughtering’ and ‘cruelty’ on them would often turn vegetarians. Many people are vegetarians because of their taste for the food others are because of basic cultural values they inherited but it is a fact that a majority of India is not vegetarian and that vegetarianism is basically belong to the values of caste Hindus in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan regions. Mostly vegetarians in India are becoming highly illiberal and contemptuous towards those who are ‘different’ than them in food habits. It was not true several years back. My mother was a devout vegetarian but she did not stop us eating meat. Many of my friends even today may not eat non-veg but they are cook non veg and perhaps delicious than others.

The war in India is not just being vegetarian and non-vegetarian but gone further. It is a well thought action to isolate Muslims and Christians on the basis of their food habits even when the facts are that not all of them eat it. Contrary to this, a very large number of caste Hindus eats beef.  It was never a taboo with communities of Dalits and Aadivasis. But the politics behind the whole debate actually intend to communalize the matter further for ulterior political profits.

The debate now is not between vegetarianism verses non veg loving people but it further aim to divide the non-veg lovers and hence those who eat beef are sought to be isolated in this entire game plan. Frankly speaking cow slaughter was banned in India since 1947 and various states too had enacted different laws towards cow protection hence raking up that issue is nothing but purely political. Fact right now is that they have further expanded the ‘cow family’ and hence decided that they are not just contend with cow slaughtering but even beyond that and hence the slaughtering of buffaloes and others animals of cow family is legally prohibited in Maharastra and other states. The hidden agenda of the Sangh Parivar and its various offshoots is visible with state after state amending their laws and including more ‘progenies’ of the cow family, which was not there earlier. So, it is not merely that you are satisfied with Cow but now the Maharastra act has extended the ‘protection’ to the progenies of cow. In fact, India’s home minister openly said that he would ‘starve’ Dhaka of its basic diet, as police would be more vigilant to stop smuggling of cows and its progenies.

So the distortion of the news is that we are talking against cow slaughtering, which is already prohibited under the law, but its progenies, which was never, and no religious sanctity was given to them at any point of time. In fact, slaughtering of buffaloes has been one of the major rituals in Nepal as well as in several temples in Assam and Uttarakhand in India. 

Historically cow and its progenies were useful animals for people for not just milk and other produces but also for the purpose of farming. There are proofs of Brahmins eating beef as said by Prof D.N.Jha in his famous work. The Dalits and Aadivasis too eat beef and other wild animals, which were the biggest source of protein for them. There is no Yjna in the ancient text without killings of animals. The gods and goddess that are displayed in today’s time have a violent track record and non-talked about nonviolence. Hence it would be a travesty of truth to suggest that vegetarianism is part of India’s culture.

Nonviolence was a Buddhist doctrine while Bhagwat Gita and Ramayana’s stories are not just full of violence but ‘adharma’ too as Dr Ambedkar exposed in his skillful analysis of ‘Riddles of Hinduism’. It is not a hidden fact that all the ‘rakshasa’s and ‘evils’ in these ‘epics’ are either people of black color or Dalit-Adivasis. So ‘dharma’ became a doctrine to create and impose a brahmanical supremacy over Dalit Bahujan masses.  When Buddhism was spreading in entire country and became the philosophy of life for millions of people here the brahmanical forces retaliated violently against the same and the result was Buddhism was thrown out of its land of birth. Jainism too was a nonviolent doctrine but unfortunately it has completely coopted by the Hindutva and their business interests today. The Aryan Supremacy was established ‘mythologically’ to kill the spirit of the asserting Asuras or anaryas so varnashram dharma and its ‘divine’ philosophy became the biggest weapon.

Over the period the struggle for human dignity and human rights are part and parcel of India’s social as well as mythological structure. The mythological structure that denied the vast majority basic human rights and human dignity actually continued to humiliate them till the oppression gave rise to different new philosophies of life which provided a window of opportunity to all the oppressed. Buddhism, Jainism, Sikkhism, Kabirpanthis, Ravidasis provided the opportunity further. That apart, Islam and Christianity too came as a liberator for thousands of people who were treated as untouchables. The vast working masses of Indians belonging to Dalits, aadivasis and backward communities were actually protectors of natural resources, environment and animals. But at the same point of time animal meat of any variety was a source of protein for them.

The Brahmins realized this and used ‘nonviolence’ as a tool to make these powerful communities virtually ‘vegetarian’ and ensured that their ‘assertion’ and ‘rebellion’ is dumbed through ‘divinity’ of these acts. Brahmanical ‘nonviolence’ therefore was nothing but a multipronged strategy to defeat Buddhism philosophically on the one side and develop an alternative where its supremacy remained intact. Hence throughout the history brahmanical vegetarian violence has played a dangerous game in dividing communities. When Buddhism was reaching the masses the Brahmins used all kind of violence to stop its growth but after the Mughal rule in India the priorities shifted. They were the first to compromise and adjust with the power but once the British arrived in India these same forces formed groups and associations to be associated with them. Cow Protection and vegetarianism gained currency during the British period when the Muslims were on the receiving end and Indian civil services were being replaced by the caste Hindus however the influence of Muslim remained powerful as ever and they fought against the British regime with much vigor and power. In the 1920s when Congress was attempting to bring Muslims in its fold to fight a joint battle against British, the Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangh was also taking shape in Nagpur, a land of revolution and revolt of the Dalit Bahujan against Brahmanical hierarchy. Islam and Christianity was proving to be a liberating ground for the Dalits to get rid of the untouchability and further an alliance of these forces would have made the statusquo difficult to maintain. The politics of symbolism began from here to mobilise people under ‘Hindu’ identity and for that an artificial construct of India as ‘pitrabhumi’ or father land came handy to create an impression that only those who have India as their fatherland are actually the rightful inheritor of this country. The Dusshera festival and using the brahmanical symbolism became a fashion for political mobilization as from Tilak to Gandhi all used these symbolism for their own political purposes resulting in deep division among the society.

The problem with such divisive Hindutva politics was to deliberately blame Muslims for all the ailments of India to legitimize their vicious communal agenda. Hence after the partition when we had the national government under Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, RSS continued with its divisive legacy of Hindu Rastra as a counter to political Islam. As Pakistan was created in the name of religion, RSS wanted a Hindu Rastra, which according to their own theology was ‘brahmanical’ in nature. There is no history of the RSS fighting against caste system, untouchability, dowry system and other evils of Hindu society. Their focus was Muslim and Islam so that they can cover up the whole inequality and dirty caste system of the Hindu society. Assault on Muslim was also necessary to arrest the ‘conversion’ and keep the Dalits with in the Hindu caste framework. Initially, they provided the cheap services and later with assertive Dalits with Ambedkar’s vision became the real cultural threat for brahmanical Hindutva and hence all efforts were made to coopt and assimilate them in broader agenda of Sangh Parivar.

As the Muslims and Dalits along with OBCs and Aadivasis were coming together and forming rainbow coalition to fight against Brahmanical hegemony the worries of Sangh Parivar were inevitable. While they condemn Congress party for ‘appeasing’ Muslims and not acknowledging Dr Ambedkar, it need to be checked if our memories are not faded that Dr Ambedkar was given Bharat Ratna by V.P.Singh who is the most hated figure for the Sangh Parivar and their upper caste followers. In fact, if V P government had survived in 1990, the political landscape of India would have been absolutely different than what it is today. That government fell in the house of people on November 7th, 1990 for fulfilling a constitutional obligation to protect religious place of fellow countrymen in Ayodhya. Yes, Singh acted toughly against Hindutva elements who tried to demolish Babari Masjid in October, 1990.

The biggest challenge for the Sangh Parivar led brahmanical Hindutva was to break the alliance between these diverse segments. Their number increased in Parliament and state assemblies. The issue of Ram Mandir flopped and slowly Dalits have fascinatingly adopted Dr Ambedkar’s way of life and embraced Buddhism. All the Babas and corporate attempt to bring them to Hindu fold failed and hence it became essential to divide them further aliening with Muslims. Today, the Sangh Parivar is celebrating Dr Ambedkar’s birthday but don’t we know one of their ideologue Arun Shourie wrote ‘ Worshipping the False God’ in the 1990s. Sangh Parivar is trying to use Ambedkar from 1990s but it never condemned Shourie’s writings on Ambedkar and his attempt to denigrate Ambedkar and make him look a petty politician. There are many dalit ‘scholars’ at the disposal of Sangh Parivar who compared Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram. Two mouthpieces of Sangh namely ‘Organiser’ and ‘Panchjanya’ devoted its whole issue on Dr Ambedkar and his ‘association’ with Hindutva. His term ‘reclamation’ of our inheritance is being misinterpreted and his differences with Congress are being highlighted. One has to understand that Dr Ambedkar fought against Congress because he felt that it was serving the upper caste Hindus interest and is least bothered about Dalits and other marginalized. If Sangh was that powerful those times, he would have fought against them too. Ambedkar’s writings are selectively being used against Congress and Muslims. As mentioned earlier Ambedkar’s fight was against inhuman brahmanical system and he wanted a dignified solution to the issue of Dalits where they participate in power structure with their head high and ensure that benefit of this participation reach to the poorest of the poor.

The vegetarian vigilantes today have made life of law abiding Indian citizens difficult. Understand it how they are intruding in your personal lives right from your right to freedom of expression to food habits to who should be your soul-mate. They have become extra-state actors at the moment though acting at the behest of state and using its absolute freedom towards them. They started with Vandemataram and Ram Mandir movement and realized that they have to move ahead and hence used corruption as an entry point. Today in power, they want to control everything. So it is not merely what you should eat but who you should stay and who you should love.  Every day hundreds of their ‘philosophers’ and ‘guides’ are looking for new issues to humiliate and intimidate the Muslims and Christians and create an artificial threat to others. It is important to understand the designs of such forces that India will have to run through the preamble of its constitution and all the international charters that we signed.

It is important to understand their modus operandi and why beef has now become the major issues and it will remain as long as we have ‘democracy’ and ‘elections’ to win but every issue that the Sangh Parivar raises have not just politics but ‘economic’ interest too and therefore ignoring the vast business interest of their ‘client’ would be detrimental for them.


Monday, June 01, 2015

Senegal : A secular nation with rich Islamic heritage

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Senegal remains one of the most peaceful nations in the African continent. With a massive 95% Muslim population Senegal was a French colony and thousands were people were taken as slaves by the Europeans in the 17th century. The beautiful city of Dakar is a peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean with beautiful French influence on its broader roads and buildings which undoubtedly make life here fascinating with a grand mix up of French and African traditions.

As you land at the small but beautiful Leopold Sedar airport which is about 5 kilometer distance from the downtown Dakar. Leopold Sedar was the first President of Senegal after its independence in 1963 hailing from a Christian Community who went to elite institutions in France for his education and was a statesman, author and poet. So those who comprehended that Muslims will not live in a plural and democratic society as long as they are a majority will have to not only change their opinion but appreciate it after coming to Senegal how a nation of 95% of its population as Muslims is thoroughly secular as well as democratic with first president belonging to Christian community.

The fascinating part of the Senegalese culture is a curious mix of liberal democratic values as well as sticking to tradition too. While women’s are in street, at the market, in the media and in the politics talking about democracy and modernism a large number of men practice polygamy and justify that in the name of Islam. ‘ Islam permit us four marriages’, said Fallou, a fifty plus tour guide who took us to Goree Island nearly 30 kilometer from the uptown of Dakar where we were putting up and added,’ in our society one marriages is nothing. You are not a ‘Man’ if you are married to just one. I have three wives and 9 children and six grand-children.’ I ask him if he is still missing one more wife and pat comes the reply,’ yes Sir. I am planning to marry again’. I joke how does he manages when we in India feel that even one marriage is not ‘workable’ in these economically tough times and he answers with full conviction,’ ‘you may not understand our culture. We are happy. There is no problem. Two of my wives live with me and the third one live separately. Now, after marriage, my new wife will live with my third wife and there is perfect harmony’.  

It is not that all the men opt for polygamy. Abdullah owns a small shop of artifacts with beautiful design woods in the down town. He has one son and a wife. His wife works in a company to earn and add to the family. He is a caring husband. ‘Do you feel offended with the kind of ‘clothing’ women wear here, ‘No, there is nothing wrong in it. We are a secular country and all religions, customs, individuals have freedom to wear what-ever they feel comfortable,’ he answers confidently. Now, it is this trait of Senegalese that I loved the most. Despite the well-known fact that it is a secular country yet cultural influence of Islam is visible everywhere but it is also true that Islam here has strong African resonance. So both African identity as well as Islamic identity are important and kept the country together. The beauty of this great confluence African traditions mixing up with Islam is visible at every nook and corner. There is a strange paradox here. Despite feeling in traditions, men still talk about secularism and democracy. Fallou is one of the finest narrators, as a tourist guide that I ever came across in my life. He speaks at ease in both French and English. ‘We are a secular country despite over 95% of Muslim populations. Christians and Muslims in this country live in complete harmony’, he says emphatically.

Women are the foundation of this country. It is great to see them in so diverse and colorful dresses confirming both Islamic as well as African identities. They greet you in the shops, hotels and everywhere and are talkative enough to be friend with you. At the Goree Island, which was famous for slave trade for Europeans, today represent a famous tourist spot. There is no denial of fact that Senegal is a country of absolute romance with love for art, nature and boutiques. As you enter the island through boat which are easily available on a regular interval from Dakar, the fragrance and the structure attract you. You meet warm people who have a history of being taken into one of the most heinous crime that was inflicted by the Western World on the native people of Africa. Yes, slavery tortured the soul of Africa, tore their heart and destroyed their civilization. Stories of slavery at this island can bring tears into your eyes but a salute to the people of this place that their pains and agony have not converted into hatred. That is the best part that I found here that despite so much of torment one see people moving ahead, speaking to all and not in perpetual hatred. President Leopold Sedar Senghor wrote in his appreciation for Curator who developed the Museum in Goree Island dedicated to history and culture of Senegal,’ ‘Oh Lord, Forgive white Europe. For true it is during four centuries of enlightenment, Europe threw its gross and ruthless hordes on our lands and Christians, Forbidding the light and clemency of thy heart lit their bivouacs with parchments, tortures our fellows, deported our doctors, my ministers of science.’

Slavery was practiced locally in Africa before 15th century and once the European found it they exploited it to spread their trade towards West Indies, America and other regions.  In the XXIIth century the British, the French, Dutch, Danes, Swedes and the Portuguese started coming here and started taking slaves for their business interest in the ‘New World’ which was far away in the Americas.  Their conditions were pathetic and they were kept in a place. A visit to ‘Maison tics Esclaves’ or ‘Slave House’ is a resounding slap on the faces of those who claim to civilized the world by imposing their racist perception on human beings. Young men, women, old, young and even children were kept as slave to be taken to Americas. It wounded the African self-esteem and their civilization. I could see hundreds of tourists who visit here recording the entire narration by the guide. There is a deep sense of anguish and you are filled in deep resentment and anger against those who initiated this horrific tradition. A quote here says,’ May this ‘house’ serve as meditation ground for all generations of Africans to advocate immortal humanism and tolerance’.

While in the ground floor the slaves were living in utterly despicable, inhuman and torturous conditions, on the above the Europeans had beautiful wooden crafted rooms for their stay in Goree. One does not know how they would live peacefully when just below them were people being tortured and kept enslaved to be taken to Americas. ‘Only a wooden floor separated the lustful mores of the ones from the miserable decay of the others. How could they afford living upstairs with everything that was happening downstairs’, says another quote.

Goree is a very small island and one street link to others. There is a church, a museum and hills. One thing you notice here the art work by the local artists. Sand art is very popular here and you can see artists using sands of different colors in their paintings. Climbing up the hills and you will find ‘La Castle’ from where you can see the Island as well as Atlantic surrounding it. As you walk around scores of young men and women crave for your attention with beautiful selling items made of sand, wood and stones. I can confirm that it is rare you find such smiling people compelling you to buy their product. ‘I give you special price, my friend. Its beautifully carved item of local stone’, said a dark complexioned girl when she saw me negotiating for price from another man. Oh, you don’t want to speak to me because I am dark, she said to me, virtually piercing my conscience. No, you are beautiful, I said to her but I have already brought so many things that I neither have money, nor space to buy anything’. She is determined to sale her beautiful things to me and therefore she continue with her conversation. ‘You know, I am doing my graduation in International business and I am doing this work to assist my mother and complete my studies’, she says.  ‘What does your father do’, I ask her. ‘Oh, he has got other wives to stay with as my mother does not stay with him any more’.  ‘Why don’t you object to your father marrying more women’, I tease. ‘How can we object, four marriages are permissible in Islam’, she says but add that she would not like to get married in such a family’.

As I pass through the lanes of Goree and later Dakar, I found despite all odds and cultural issues, 
Muslims have contributed to art, culture and music of this nation. I have never found so many creative geniuses anywhere as I have seen in Senegal. The simple market of local products simply allures you to buy them. They have kept the spirit high despite international pressure. The Senegalese delicacies are simply delicious and the red chilies here are too hot to tolerate. I remained under impression that none eat hotter food comparison to Indians but Senegal proved me wrong. After the meals you are served mint tea in typical Senegalese style. At the road side eateries, many times, I greeted women with ‘asslamwalekum’ and it initiates a conversation more warmly. I asked about their colorful dresses which they wear most of the time. Burqa is not visible in Senegal though most of the Muslim women actually cover their head with diverse kind of scarfs. I questioned about this to many as whether there is any objection about their dressing or going out for work, in their families and the answer was a resounding no. The local delicacies, the long grilled fish with chutney and rice or shrimps gives you an insight of Senegalese food. La-Ghazal was the beer, which we enjoyed a lot during the trip. The cold drink named, as ‘Rani’ made me believe the influence of India in Africa.  African friends in Kenya and Uganda confirmed many time that Indians do not really get mixed up with their societies and even when slavery has ended, the domestic servants always get a raw deal in their homes but the Indian businessmen have created a niche for themselves in Africa and different soft drinks as well as hard drinks are produced by seemingly Indian companies. Of course, when I asked the meaning of La-Gazal, as I thought related to Ghazal but it turned out to be ‘sexy lady’.

One of the most fascinating things for me was the roadside singer and drummers singing something, which you don’t understand yet if you love diversity and sound of music, it is worth enjoying. I loved each moment of these very talented youngsters who gave a feeling of Senegalese music and importance of keeping these traditions alive. Unfortunately in this age of mechanism and electronic instruments the manual traditions are disappearing giving way to loud ‘noise crackers’.

Senegal is a peace loving country and also an ideal tourist destination. And for me it is so for two to three different purposes. One, obviously, it is beautiful but most importantly it will remind each one of us the dirty passed of people who used their ‘knowledge’ to abuse others. The scars of slavery are not yet over as countries are still fighting for their basic needs. So, Goree and other islands provide you a link to the dirty games of European power in exploiting people through slavery, which is definitely crime against humanity.

This country and its political structure can easily dispel myth that Muslims majoritarianism takes you to Islamic way of governance based in Sharia laws. An overwhelmingly Muslim society has opted for secular ways of life and is absolutely in peace with Islam too. Though traditions and polygamy is prevalent there but it is actually not really an Islamic issue but the old communitarian culture of Africa where bigger families were considered to be the sign of ‘kingliness’ and religious. Most of the men that I spoke to actually justified it in the name of tradition but a large number of women felt that though it was a tradition yet they felt it is every difficult for a man to love his wives equally as defined and ordered by Islam. Interestingly, Senegal saw two women prime ministers in the past and there are politicians, bureaucrats and even journalists. The oldest journalist as one my friend who interviewed me said was 85 years of age. People are adopting modernity as well as also sticking to their moral values as prescribed under Islam for them. Their religion is not coming in the way to go to school or do any kind of work. I found that absolutely great given the nature of obstruction that we see in our part of the world when women try to come of their home for work, it looked refreshing. There may be issues of polygamy but one hope with the passage of time these things will disappear slowly as education and work pressure will bring necessary changes as woman journalist who I interviewed mentioned to me that though things may not be that great yet they are changing slowly as mindset here is more open and amenable despite religious values in personal life and that is why there is no prohibition on women to join services of their choice. Most of the women that I interviewed here suggested that religion and modernism have never been in conflict in Senegal and women will always enjoy their identities of being a Muslim and African. The statue of African renaissance reminds us the glorious traditions of Africa and how women they are playing greater role in the strengthening social and political democracy fighting for not just their own rights but also seeking control over natural resources. It is remarkable that Senegalese have developed positive changes without any malice and hatred towards any one despite having faced racial discrimination and exploitation at all level from those who claim to be the most ‘civilised’ societies. Today, Senegal is actually giving lesson of tolerance and respect to the entire world.