Osmania Beef Festival: A mouthful of controversies – Swapan Dasgupta

Osmania University

Swapan DasguptaThe organisers of the Beef Festival in Osmania University lost sight of the fact that accommodation is a virtue. It is not that anyone objects to them enjoying beef kebabs but that they take umbrage at their flaunting it and wilfully trampling on the sensitivities of others. In pressing for the radicals to avoid such public displays, what is being advocated is not food fascism but good civic sense.” – Swapan Dasgupta

The inclination to be wilfully outrageous and even iconoclastic in a bid to challenge orthodoxies is a part of growing up. To that extent, it is possible to avoid getting too worked up at the so-called Beef Festival that was recently organised by some students and politically-inclined staff at Hyderabad’s Osmania University. Although the move was calculated to be provocative, it is fortuitous that the carnivorous festival passed off with only a localised tremor. Puerile expressions of bravado often have the potential of triggering large-scale disturbances. Many of the vicious communal riots in post-Independence India have their origins in seemingly innocuous affronts such as the sprinkling of coloured water during Holi.

Kancha IlaiahThose familiar with history may be inclined to draw an analogy between what one writer has described as the challenge to “hegemonic cultural formation” in Osmania University and the defiance of taboos by, say, the foot-soldiers of the Young Bengal movement in early 19th century. Inspired by the European Enlightenment, a minority of impetuous students from upper-caste families in Calcutta embraced Christianity and took to beef-eating with gusto. In their enthusiasm to proselytise, they often took to confronting orthodox Hindus with slabs of beef, thereby hoping that the resulting social stigma would force the defiled to embrace Christianity in despair.

The outcome was not exactly as the young converts had hoped for. Social ostracism and the threat of violent retribution actually forced the upper-caste Christians to leave Bengal. Far from being perceived as points of inspiration, the rebelliousness of Young Bengal was mercilessly mocked by mainstream Bengali society. “And what shall I say”, asked the Bengali writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, “of that weakest of human beings, the half-educated Anglicised and brutalised Bengali babu who congratulates himself on his capacity to dine off a plate of beef as if this act of gluttony constituted in itself unimpeachable evidence of a perfectly cultivated intellect?”

It took the uprising of 1857, triggered, among other things, by the revulsion of the East India Company’s sepoys to bite cartridges smeared in lard, to firmly convince the authorities that dietary taboos cannot be dismissed as issues of personal choice: they had a bearing on public policy as well.

OU Beef FestivalIn the aftermath of the kerfuffle in Osmania — seen by the latter-day versions of Young Bengal activists as an act of dalit self-assertion — it has been suggested by a writer in a weekly magazine that “there is no point getting offended if someone enjoys beef in all its juicy glory. Since nobody is being force-fed, tolerance means digesting the idea that just as cows are meant to be milked, cows are also meant to be meat.” Underneath the needlessly hurtful language is the importance accorded to the principle of personal choice.

That an individual has every right to enjoy a dietary regime of his/her own preference is not in any doubt. The problem arises in the public flaunting of these preferences to score a larger political point. That many dalit communities in India have no problems with either beef or pork isn’t in any serious doubt.

Ironically, in their disdain for religion-based dietary taboos, the subaltern classes may actually have a great deal in common with a section of the well-travelled cosmopolitan classes who look down on those who prefer a “Hindu vegetarian” meal on international flights because they are unsure of either the meat or the cooking medium.

Whether out of religiosity or upbringing, most Indians tend to be simultaneously both liberal and conservative in their food habits. Their liberalism lies in not giving a damn about what their friends or colleagues eat at home and being experimental when eating out. We are all familiar with people who maintain a vegetarian kitchen at home but are willing to devour an occasional meat dish at restaurants. I personally know many people who identify themselves as believing Hindus who eat chicken and mutton at home but are willing to devour a beef steak overseas.

PorkIndians are inclined to be very accommodative when it comes to other people’s preferences. This is because they are aware of the many taboos that govern communities. They may not necessarily agree with these but they are forever willing to respect them. More to the point, at public functions where food is served, there is an unwritten rule that non-vegetarian means mutton or chicken, and never beef or pork. To the ultra-radical, this may seem as a needless genuflection to food fascism and a deliberate attempt to stamp down on the preferences of disadvantaged communities. To the pragmatic, it means respecting what the philosopher Roger Scruton called “ordinary decencies” and taking care to not wilfully offend those who view the cow as sacred and the pig as unclean.

The organisers of the Beef Festival in Osmania lost sight of the fact that accommodation is a virtue. It is not that anyone objects to them enjoying beef kebabs but that they take umbrage at their flaunting it and wilfully trampling on the sensitivities of others. In pressing for the radicals to avoid such public displays, what is being advocated is not food fascism but good civic sense.

India has survived as a plural society because exceptional care has been taken to combine liberty with restraint. When a consensually arrived, unwritten Lakshman rekha is violated, social harmony is threatened. This is why care must be taken to ensure that the Osmania experiment isn’t repeated. – The Asian Age, New Delhi, 4 May 2012

» Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist.

8 Responses

  1. […] Osmania Beef Festival: A mouthful of controversies – Swapan Dasgupta […]

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  2. No beef in Vedas , with commentary by Tom Alter

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  3. Osmania University Professor caught taking bribe – TOI – 10 May 2012

    HYDERABAD: An assistant professor of the Osmania University, Chand Basha, was caught red-handed on Wednesday by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) sleuths while accepting a bribe of Rs 20,000 from a research scholar for ‘guiding’ him.

    Acting on a complaint lodged by Banothu Chandrasekhar, a research scholar under Basha, ACB officials laid a trap at the professor’s office on the OU campus on Wednesday at about 10.45am. He was caught while accepting a bribe of Rs 20,000 from the research scholar for guiding and giving instructions for his research work. “The assistant professor had told the student that he will make it difficult for him to continue research if he fails to give the bribe,” an investigating official said.

    Dr Chand Basha, a resident of Borabanda, has been working as assistant professor with the department of microbiology, Osmania University since 2007. Basha is an investigator of three research projects, funded by various central government agencies, worth Rs 1.5 crore. The OU professor had taken three research fellows to assist him in the projects and each of them were paid a monthly stipend of Rs 18,000. Two of them are PhD students.

    After the research scholars started getting their stipend, Basha started taking Rs 6,000 as bribe from each of them every month. Five months ago, he increased the amount to Rs 10,000. When he began pestering them to pay Rs 15,000 as monthly bribe, two students finally approached ACB sleuths. “The assistant professor started demanding Rs 15,000 from the students saying that he had started building a house and required some additional amount,” an ACB official said. As soon as the stipend amount was deposited in their bank accounts in May, Basha began demanding that they deposit Rs 20,000 in his bank account as his share. A trap was laid and the students recorded the conversations and promised to give him the money on Wednesday morning at his office.

    The assistant professor was caught while accepting the bribe. A chemical test conducted on his fingers and wallet yielded positive results while the money was recovered from his wallet. The professor had been taking bribes from several other students as well. “We will make them witnesses in the case,” an ACB officer said. He was produced before the additional special judge for SPE & ACB cases, Hyderabad and was remanded in judicial custody.

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  4. It will be nice to see a pig eating festival too if not the cocroach or frog eating. Let LeT chief be invited for the inauguration ceremony of the same. Why not? I dare Mr Iliah and his clans do it. I am a Hindu but I am not offended by such monstrosity. All those who are pretending bravados must be necessarily cowards. Kanchcha Iliah is an eccentric more than an academic. He is misguided and hence misusing his god given talent for a wrong reason.

    Why only learn English, why not French or Portuguise or German or Spanish language?

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  5. See reviews of the book
    http://www.tristramstuart.co.uk/TheBloodlessRevolution.html
    The authors web site below. He has written very good books on food waste etc. Browse thru. Please do not think this is TS publicist, but when you read foolish acts of beef festival, etc from the country India which gave vegetarianism to the world as acknowledged by TS in the bk Bloodless Revolution, one feels ashamed.
    http://www.tristramstuart.co.uk/

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  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bloodless_Revolution:_A_Cultural_History_of_Vegetarianism_From_1600_to_Modern_Times

    The Bloodless Revolution is a pioneering history of puritanical revolutionaries, European Hinduphiles, and visionary scientists who embraced radical ideas from the East and conspired to overthrow Western society’s voracious hunger for meat. At the heart of this compelling history are the stories of John Zephaniah Holwell, survivor of the Black Hole of Calcutta, and John Stewart and John Oswald, who traveled to India in the eighteenth century, converted to the animal-friendly tenets of Hinduism, and returned to Europe to spread the word. Leading figures of the Enlightenmentamong them Rousseau, Voltaire, and Benjamin Franklin gave intellectual backing to the vegetarians, sowing the seeds for everything from Victorian soup kitchens to contemporary animal rights and environmentalism.

    Spanning across three centuries with reverberations to our current world, The Bloodless Revolution is a stunning debut from a young historian with enormous talent and promise. 24 pages of color illustrations.

    It is an excellent book. Please read , It must be in all Indian Univ libraries.

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  7. One for Osmania University library

    “Emperor Akbar was immensely impressed with Jainism, specially the part about ahimsa. He issued edicts throughout his reign forbidding the killing of animals and fish and discouraging meat eating for upto six months of the year. He renounced hunting, abstained from eating meat most of the year, and officially limited the days on which animals could be slaughtered”

    http://www.mathrubhumi.com/english/story.php?id=121886
    review of the book below by Maneka Gandhi

    The Bloodless Revolution, A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern times By Tristan Stuart. What this erudite and well researched book proves again and again is that the concept of vegetarianism as a way of life was gifted to the world by India and that every philosopher who propagated it from Pythagoras onwards learnt it from our country.

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  8. Time & again they test the patience of the other religious followers !!

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