Why social media declarations that you eat beef are an earnest (but futile) idea

By focusing on beef, protestors are playing into the narrative that the Dadri lynching was about meat. It wasn’t – it was about communal polarisation.

The mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri last week has generated enormous outrage. Demonstrations are being organised all over the country and, on social media, beef-eating parties seem to be all the rage. After public figures like retired judge Markandey Katju and writer Shobhaa De challenged the "killers” to “come and kill them” because they too eat beef, pictures of people enjoying beef delicacies have become a popular form of dissent.

Amplifying the protests, a young law student from Delhi, Gaurav Jain, last week created an event page on Facebook called “Beefy Picnic” and asked people to come out to eat meat in front of the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in Delhi on Sunday. Though well-intended, this act, as well the photos running with hashtags like #‎trykillingmeieatbeaf‬, #ieatbeefcomeandkillme, #ieatbeefkillme, #killmecowisnotmymom, seem to be a case of misdirected outrage.

It isn’t just about the beef

The event and others like it are displacing attention from the larger agenda of communal polarisation to the act of eating beef. Just like so-called love jihad and the myth that Muslims are having more children so that they can take over India, beef is a bogey to foment communal hatred, subjugate a community and instil fear. Beef is the convenient trigger here, but it could have been anything: miscreants also desecrate mosques and vandalise churches to whip up communal frenzy.

Despite the efforts of BJP leaders to portray the anger in Dadri as spontaneous, the mob did not get incensed merely because they believed a cow had been killed and someone had eaten beef. There was a context to it: the atmosphere of hatred had been carefully cultivated.

But beef-eating protests and social-media postings about meat play into the BJP's carefully constructed narrative by failing to challenge the larger communal design now in operation. On being asked why he decided to organise the event, Gaurav Jain told The Hindu, “I decided to do a beef picnic in particular because a picnic is marked by sharing food. It is a way of expressing love and friendliness. We need to stop pedestalising beef and restore its original status as a simple food.” Such protests let the people responsible for vitiating the atmosphere off the hook too easily.

They also fail to send a message of solidarity to the vulnerable community. It isn't clear how the Muslim community in Dadri will feel any safer knowing that a bunch of people tried to eat buffalo meat in front of the BJP office or posted Facebook pictures of themselves eating steak.

It must be acknowledged that the Beefy Picnic event was a daring initiative and the organiser braved the barrage of abuse unleashed on him by online trolls outraged by the disrespect shown to the cow. No doubt, it had symbolic value. But at a time when people are being beaten to death by mobs and a majoritarian ideology is running rampant, we need much more than symbolism. Meaningful social intervention needs wide consultation, on-ground campaigning, mass mobilisation, and a clear political strategy. Otherwise, we might as well eat beef and shout slogans in our own rooms.

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