Hindutva State

How Narendra Modi helped spread anti-beef hysteria

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s communalism around the Dadri beef lynching is directly buttressed by the prime minister's politics.

The phrase “the buck stops here” was popularised by the American president Harry S. Truman. Truman famously had the phrase painted on a small wooden board and kept on his desk in the Oval Office. He often invoked the words in his public speeches.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been compared to many Western leaders but it is quite apparent that Truman will never be one of them. Right now there is a veritable chorus of voices whose sole aim is to prove that the buck does not stop with Modi – and those voices have gone into overdrive in the wake of the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri last Monday by a mob that claimed to be acting on rumours that he had killed a calf and stored its meat in his home.

Stoking the embers of Dadri

Post the Dadri killing, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and members of Modi’s own government are clearly trying to stoke the embers of this conflagration for political gain. Shrichand Sharma, the vice-president of the BJP’s western Uttar Pradesh unit, wanted the victim’s family booked for cow slaughter right after Akhlaq had been bludgeoned to death. BJP legislator and Muzaffarnagar riots-accused Sangeet Som has threatened to give a “befitting reply” if “innocents were framed” for Akhlaq's murder. Modi’s minister of culture, Mahesh Sahrma, absolved the killer mob altogether, declaring their act to be an “accident” and wanted everyone to be grateful that the mob had only killed Akhlaq but not molested his daughter.

Even after this, the prime minister's admirers couldn't bring themselves to blame Modi. Consider, for instance, the response of noted commentator Tavleen Singh. Assigning a curiously passive role to the prime minister, all Singh could say was that Modi “has done nothing to stop them [his bigoted ministers and party members]”.

Modi’s history of gau raksha politics

Not only has he failed to stop his colleagues, Modi had, until not very long ago, enthusiastically joined them in vitiating the atmosphere. When it comes to Modi’s views on cow slaughter, we don't even need to second guess his minister’s statements or his own enigmatic silences. Before taking office as prime minister, Modi had spoken extensively on the matter and his views are on the record.

In fact, one of the major themes of the 2014 General Election campaign was a supposed “pink revolution” that the Congress was promoting, an insidious plan to help slaughter more cows and make money off their meat – a theme that fitted in neatly with the BJP’s evergreen charge of minority appeasement.

Pink revolution

Here’s a translation of a speech delivered by Modi on April 2 in Nawada in Bihar, as part of his 2014 election campaign.
"I am coming from Dwarka city and Dwarka has a direct connection to the Yaduvanshis [referring to Bihar’s Yadav caste]. And because of this connection, I feel at home here. I am therefore shocked that the same Yadavs who worship Shri Krishna, who keeps cows as livestock, who serves the cow, it is their leaders who are in bed with the same people who proudly massacre animals.

We’ve heard of the Green Revolution, we’ve heard of the White Revolution but today’s Delhi sarkar wants neither; they’ve taken up cudgels for a Pink Revolution. Do you know what that is? [points to crowd]. That’s their game; they’re keeping the country in the dark. I want to ask Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav: do you want to support the people who want to bring about a Pink Revolution?

When you slaughter an animal, then the colour of its meat is pink. This is what they call a “Pink Revolution”. And the Centre said with pride that, last year, India has earned the most from exporting meat. Across the countriside, our animals are getting slaughtered. Our livestock is getting stolen from our villages and taken to Bangladesh. Across India too, there are massive slaughterhouses in operation. And that’s not all. The Delhi sarkar will not give out subsidies to farmers or to Yadavs keeping cows but will give out subsidies to people who slaughter cows, who slaughter animals, who are destroying our rivers of milk, as long as they set up qatlkhanas [slaughterhouses]."

The next day, Modi flew to Ghaziabad, where he made the same speech, drumming up a sinister conspiracy to slaughter cows. Ghaziabad is less than 20 kilometres away from Dadri.

An old campaign

This theme of cow slaughter was repeated again and again through the 2014 campaign. But of course, the genesis of this brand of politics is much older. Whipping up religious passion by raising the bogey of cow slaughter was a part of Narendra Modi’s politics even when he was chief minister of Gujarat.

Addressing the Jain International Trade Organisation, a worldwide body of Jain businessmen and professionals, this is what Narendra Modi had to say in 2012:
"It is the Central government’s dream that they will bring about a Pink Revolution in India and export meat throughout the world. This year, the Centre has itself announced that India is the world’s largest beef exporter. Is this what we pride ourselves on? Brothers and sisters, I don’t know whether this saddens you, but my heart screams out at this. I am unable to understand why you are silent, why you are taking this lying down?"

The same year, his speech on the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap, one of the foremost historical icons of the Hindu Right, was even more fervent.
“Rana Pratap dedicated his life to gau raksha (cow protection). He fought wars and sacrificed young men to protect the cow. But what is happening today? Even the Supreme Court has said that we need a national cow protection law. But due to vote bank politics, the Central government is refusing to bring in such a law. Brothers and sisters, I recall Maharana Pratap today with pride because my government in Gujarat has brought in a cow protection law.

While we talk of the White Revolution or the Green Revolution do you know what the Central Government is up to? Go to the Internet and read up on it. The Centre’s dream is to bring about a Pink Revolution....To make money, plans are being made to slaughter gaye maa [the mother cow] and it is at moments like this that you remember Rana Pratap (thumps lectern angrily).”

Narendra Modi, therefore, thinks that fighting wars and sacrificing young men over cow slaughter is an example to be emulated. He built a massive – and successful – election campaign that had the ominous “pink revolution” as a key theme. Though Modi is now silent, his party is merely saying the same things he was till 16 months back.  As commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta put it, “Modi should have no doubt that he bears responsibility for the poison that is being spread."

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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.