Meatless days

Behind Maharashtra's stringent beef ban is a Jain trust that dreams of farming without tractors

The Viniyog Trust convinced the state government to make cattle slaughter a non-bailable crime.

For many conservative Hindus, Maharashtra’s recent extension of the ban on cow slaughter to bulls and bullocks was a landmark victory. For a small Jain trust in the Mumbai neighbourhood of Borivali, the controversial beef ban is just the beginning of a long fight for a return to an ideal world of sustainable, non-mechanised agriculture.

The Viniyog Parivar Trust claims it is dedicated to “saving the precious cattle bank of the country”. But its intervention in the beef ban legislation has been responsible for some of the most controversial aspects of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, which was amended and passed by the assembly on March 3.

In 1995, when the BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state first introduced the Act, the Viniyog Trust helped frame at least three important clauses that give it more teeth than the government had originally intended.

It is because of the Trust, for instance, that the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks is now a non-bailable offence. To ensure that animals from Maharashtra are not exported to other states for slaughter, it also pushed for the ban on the export of cattle.

Finally, it was the Trust’s idea to include a provision that shifts the burden of proving the crime of cattle slaughter from the prosecuting state to the accused.

The force behind a stronger law

“In 1995, the state government first presented a draft of the Animal Preservation bill in the assembly, but then withdrew it the next day in order to add some of these suggestions made by us,” said Rajendra Joshi, a trustee of Viniyog Parivar Trust, which has been campaigning against cattle slaughter since it was founded 20 years ago.

A revised bill was tabled again, after incorporating the Trust’s provisions, and was finally cleared this month by the current BJP-Shiv Sena government.

“The provisions we suggested bridge the loopholes in the Act,” said Joshi. “It is important for cattle slaughter to be a non-bailable offence because people usually just vanish after taking bail and are never brought to book.” Similarly, Joshi believes the prosecution must not bear the burden of proving the crime because it could be easily “manoeuvred”.


Rajendra Joshi at the Viniyog Parivar Trust office.


Joshi and his colleagues at the Trust are also working towards an extended beef ban at a national level. "We are campaigning nationally and are in touch with the prime minister's office," said Joshi, who is banking on the BJP-led government to bring about a change in national laws. "We were earlier in touch with the Vajpayee government, but the UPA government was actually against banning cattle slaughter."

Why is the Viniyog Trust so eager to have cattle slaughter and beef consumption criminalised in the state?

Joshi insists it is not for religious reasons, even though “ahimsa is a basic tenet of all religions”. “Cows and their progeny are useful for agriculture, which is the backbone of the nation’s economy,” he said. “Earlier, because people were unable to comprehend this economic reason, cow protection had to be taught to them through religion.”

An idyllic future

The Trust’s vision for the nation’s economy is grand, but starkly different from the development agenda expressed by the current government.

Joshi dreams of a time when agriculture is carried out completely through non-mechanised processes, with almost complete reliance on cattle: bulls for ploughing, dung as manure, cow urine as organic pesticide. His dream includes a return to India’s staple crops of rice, wheat and coarse grains, whose husk would serve as ready fodder for cattle to live on, so that even ageing cows and bulls are not a burden on farmers.

“When we changed our cropping patterns to grow more and more cash crops, it dealt a severe blow to the maintenance of animals,” said Joshi. Moving to mechanised farming along with rampant use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has only made food more expensive, he said, while also turning agricultural land increasingly barren over the years.

“The barren land is then grabbed by government agencies for building roads, highways and other infrastructure,” said Joshi. “But one has to think – agriculture benefits every single person in the country, while such infrastructure is only meant for some.”

For several years, Joshi pointed out, government policies have been helping to make bullocks useless on farms, like encouraging the chemical fertiliser industry to take over agriculture and allowing the beef trader industry to operate in a centralised manner.

“With the new law, more animals will be available to farmers, who will then see the value of returning to traditional agriculture,” said Joshi. “Cattle will now die their natural deaths scattered across the state, and it will help revive the traditional vocations of chamars and mochis [tanners and cobblers] across the state.”

What of the right to choose one’s diet?

Joshi’s response to beef consumers opposed to the new law is a familiar one. “People can live without eating beef – they are still free to eat chicken, mutton and other meat,” he said. “These days, even people in Western countries are turning vegetarian.”

Dismissing the argument that cattle meat serves as an affordable source of protein for the poor and has been a staple part of the Dalit diet, he claimed, “The Dalit community is not really able to afford beef, and proteins are available in cereals as well. These arguments are just being made by beef traders to protect their occupations.”

For Joshi and the Viniyog Trust, the Maharashtra beef ban is a stepping stone for a larger national campaign to protect cattle and adopt traditional, sustainable agriculture. “The important thing is to weigh your right to choose your food with the larger common good," he said.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.