I attended the Beef Bachao Andolan: An Open Protest Meet, held at Lamakaan, Hyderabad, on 24th May. The open invitation on the official Facebook page of Beef Bachao Andolan was as follows:
“Progressive literatti, poets, writers, scribes, journalists, singers, balladeers gather today to sing, dance, talk, and express their solidarity on the increasing insensitivity towards the cultures and life habits of ‘lesser’ voices. We will make them hear loud and clear today.
In the wake of Maharashtra’s ban on beef, Lamakaan hosts a host of these voices to send a message across.
Speakers include K.Srinivas, Kancha Ilaiah, Joopaka Subhadra, Jilukara Srinivas, Sangishetty Srinivas, Ambati Surendra Raju, Chamaar Sharath Naliganti, Pasunuri Ravindar, Gudipalli Ravi among others.
All are welcome.”
I tweeted live from the event but unfortunately my phone battery ran out of charge and also I had to leave before the meeting concluded. This is a compilation of what I shared live from the event and a summary of what all the wonderful speakers had to say.
The powerful Telugu writer, poet and activist Joopaka Subhadra was the first to speak. Here is a wonderful English translation of a powerful Telugu poem by her.
(And here is a video of her speaking to Dalit Camera (in Telugu!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJXGcTD4UDc)
Excerpts from her speech at the event: “Although the beef ban bill in Maharastra was recent, there has been an unofficial ban in India on cow slaughter, from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, as it can only be done by getting a prior certificate. There has been a ban in Kashmir since 1932. These bans are a violation of the fundamental human rights of Indians, forced upon us by RSS and their offshoots. The RSS has been spreading false propaganda that all Indians are Hindus and that they do not eat beef. But it is mentioned in the Rigveda that Hindus ate beef. Contrary to the lies being spread by RSS-BJP, all Hindu history proves that Hindus ate beef. Even the Muslim leaders in BJP are asking beef eaters to leave India. All Hindu leaders have been spreading these Hindutva lies, since 1932. Adivasis, Dalits and Sikhs are not Hindus. Sikhs opposed this move by RSS to claim all Indians are Hindus, by saying they’ll organize a beef fest near a Gurudwara. Beef is a primary and cheap source of protein for various Indian communities. They are not Hindu. Beef keeps them strong. People all over the world eat beef. We all need to condemn this anti food democracy and anti fundamental rights bans and bills and ordinances by the BJP. We need to protect our food democracy and the fundamental rights of more than half of Indians.”
Mr. Sambasiva Rao spoke next. He started with a song in Telugu, which roughly translates to, “Lovely people who eat beef. Not very strong, people who don’t eat beef.”
Excerpts from his speech: “Once, when we planned to have a beef fest in EFLU (English and Foreign Languages University), the beef ordered for the EFLU beef fest was damaged by the Hindutva agents. They urinated on it and mixed broken glass pieces in it. So we ordered beef biryani packs and ate at the same place where the beef meant for the beef fest was destroyed. There is a difference between the old beef ban since 1932 and the recent ones by BJP. Many BJP states banned its sale and consumption. It is against humanity to try to prevent people from eating what they want. We should link this ban to caste, not just religion. We should probe the link between this Brahmin need to protect the cow. They want to link purity to not eating beef. The caste link is important. Food habits are linked to the caste ladder. In this caste ladder, it starts with vegetarian Brahmins, meat (not beef) eating Shudras and BCs and beef eating dalits. I am a BC. Many BCs don’t eat beef, I want all BCs to join dalits in solidarity and eat beef. The ancient norm for protection of cows was a move made by Buddha was to protect agriculture and livelihoods of entire villages which were dependent on cattle. He only opposed the meaningless killing and waste of hundreds of cattle at a time, as sacrificial offerings for Brahmin homas. Buddha did not oppose the killing of cattle to feed the people.”
Ms. Sajaya spoke next. She said: “Food democracy is respecting others’ food habits. Respecting cultural diversity. We must fight for food as a cultural right. I remember a nutrition research by nutritionists on food habits of pregnant women in Hyderabad hospitals. They were confused that women from the old city have no anaemia and are stronger than women from other poorer parts. There was no question in their survey about beef eating, but questions on all other food were present. This is a nationwide disrespect and ignorance of poor people’s food culture. We see it in all schemes, even in mid-day meals. There is a cruel habit of ignoring the food habits of the poor and thus the governments don’t care to get them healthy and nutritious food. We need to discuss this government’s indifference to the food culture of poor, which is depriving them of even basic food.
Naliganti Sharath, famous as “Beef Sharath”, for organizing the now internationally famous Osmania Beef Festival, spoke and sang about beef eating. He is a Dalit leader, singer, writer and doctoral scholar at Osmania University. Last September, RSS-BJP-ABVP goons burnt his entire hostel room, along with all his valuable possessions, in Osmania University for his fight against the anti-democratic Hindutva forces. Luckily he was away and escaped unhurt. (This Dalit Camera video contains more details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOV0mX9wIy4. And here is a beautiful and moving song (in Telugu) that he wrote in solidarity with Hijras and the transgender community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlrsLhT2ALI)
Excerpts from his speech: “Since BJP has come to power, RSS has become more active and is enforcing and reviving their practices. We need continuous protest against RSS. We are still only meeting as victims. We should be continuously active to protect the philosophy of Ambedkar. The RSS cadres attacked our beef movement in EFLU, while trying to protect our rights given by Ambedkar. That’s when we decided to hold a more active and now internationally famous beef festival in Osmania University. We should fight these anti-democratic moves by BJP. Doctors and nutritionists should advise on food habits, not religious leaders. Doctors and nutritionists say beef is a great protein source. I remember a doctor from my childhood advising savarnas to eat beef to stay healthy and still they didn’t. We fought in Osmania that we don’t want a Telangana state where we don’t have the right to eat beef.
While fighting for our rights in Telangana, we never forgot Ambedkar’s teachings, our culture, so we also held Ravana and Mahishasura festivals. All Christians, Muslims and Dalits should unite as a political unit and fight these RSS-BJP forces and get into power. We should get into power and ban the consumption of dal. The Brahmins and savarnas spread false information that beef eating makes you less smart. Beef is the secret of our energy.”
He concluded by singing his famous song on beef.This is an earlier but brilliant rendition of the song he sang for us all that night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYFLQgemBeM
Ms. Joopaka Subhadra later added that in our country, there are diverse food habits. She said that in our own villages people eat donkeys, rats, even toads. While we may be surprised by different food choices, we should be tolerant and respect them.
Mr Krupakar Madiga, who spoke next, said: “We should not see this as a fight for food, but as a fight for power. My village sarpanch used to eat mice. I know different communities who eat different animals, even cats. This move by the dominant castes is to stop us from eating nutritious food, to prevent us from staying healthy and strong. To prevent us from getting educated. To prevent us from even questioning the atrocities against us. It is atrocious that we grow the food and yet we should beg the landlords for food, why? This looting of our labour is not acceptable anymore. They are now attacking our food, our culture. This loot will not be tolerated anymore. I thank the enemy for uniting all the dalits, christians, shudras against them. The oppressors have dominated economics, politics and now they want to dominate our culture.”
Prof. Sujatha Surepally spoke next.
(Here are some very important educational videos of her speaking to the Dalit Camera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4aW1tkEsDg
Excerpts from her speech at the event: “I am currently reading a book titled Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture by Marvin Harris. It was Gandhi who popularized cow worship. My concern is that RSS, while propagating religion, has a plan to attack the livelihood of Dalits and Muslims.To economically destroy us for generations. This move is to co-opt BCs, who do not eat beef, by glorifying the cow. KCR is following Modi, He started Swachh Hyderabad and we shouldn’t be surprised if he soon follows Modi and bans beef in Telangana.”
Mr Srinivas spoke next: “A recent research shows that Chinese are stronger than Indians because they consume beef. As a BC I can say that many BCs eat beef too. There is a restaurant in Hyderabad where more people with tilaks come and eat beef than dalits and Muslims. It is up to individuals to decide what to eat. This beef ban because of cow’s religious status is an infringement on our rights. They even consider the Varaha (pig) as holy and they might even ban that. We must all unite to fight for our right to eat beef.
Let me summarise what the other speakers said:
They spoke about how Hinduism has a culture of co-opting other regional practices and cultures as its own. This is how Hinduism grew. They called Buddhism their own, local religions their own. And now they claim Dalits are their own. This beef ban is a move to isolate the Muslims by claiming that Dalits are Hindus and preventing Dalits from eating beef. This is the same reason for their trying to co-opt Ambedkar whom they hated a few decades back.
And that lovely song about beef eating, let me try to translate the lyrics to English from Telugu here. The song sounds and rhymes great in Telugu but I am sure its message is carried through in English too:
“The person who eats beef is a beautiful looking person.
It is the beef eaters who invented great things.
It is the beef eaters who invented trains and cars.
But what did the people who asked us not to eat beef invent?
They invented caste!”
Jai Bhim. Jai Phule.
Dharma Teja is currently working in Hyderabad. You can find him on Twitter at @dharmatejalv