THESE ARE THE ideas that at first glance underpin the meat ban that the South Delhi Municipal Corporation mayor announced for the nine days of Navratri: Hindus don’t eat meat; Hindus are reviled by the display of meat; vegetarianism is integral to Hinduism. None of which are true even if you consider Hindus as one monolithic block. Take the basis on which the mayor makes such a decision, as tweeted by the news agency ANI after his press conference: ‘During Navratri, 99% of households in Delhi don’t even use garlic & onion, so we’ve decided that no meat shops will be open in South MCD. Fine will be imposed on violators: Mukkesh Suryaan, Mayor of South Delhi Municipal Corporation.’ The number 99 per cent is nonsense, because how can anyone know without any survey? What is the data point except for a “feel” and that too only if the intent is honest? Vast numbers of Hindus are benign in their faith; they neither observe nor disbelieve in rituals during festivals like Navratri. Plus there are other Hindu communities, like in Kerala or West Bengal, which don’t have any enjoinment on meat during Navratri. If you go by the mayor’s statement, they would eat meat but not use garlic and onion along with it.
The mayor however has a different set of motivations that is more to do with career considerations. His target is not the Hindu, but the Muslim. Visible symbols of Islamic culture that differentiate them from Hindus—the eating of beef, the loudspeaker at the mosque, the hijab—thus become fertile ground for political attacks. Except that in this case, the mayor’s weapon is shooting in all directions, including his own voters.
Most Hindus don’t eat beef, but they are also overwhelmingly non-vegetarian. This comes as a surprise to no one except the small but culturally and financially dominant castes and communities who are strict vegetarians. Vegetarians get away with their tyranny because the rest of the Hindus don’t make it a point of protest. They have been co-opted into the idea that vegetarianism is essential to Hinduism and meat-eating is the exception. But while they are willing to live with this idea, these Hindus don’t really ever give up the eating of meat unless there is some sort of a personal inner call. Everyone recognises that the religion does not enforce it. You would be hard put to find Hindu scriptures that prohibit consumption of meat for Hindus. Even in Manu Smriti, the manual to which you can trace much of Hinduism’s regressions, there are numerous exceptions to its disfavour of non-vegetarianism. Jainism’s prohibition on meat is absolute, but that makes for no spillover for all Hindus to toe that line or enforce it on everyone.
Politicians ogling the Hindu vote have no interest in these distinctions—between beef and other meat, between Hindu non-vegetarians and vegetarians—because they haven’t been punished for it. But that day might not be too far. No one likes to be told what they can put on their plate.