ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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‘Choice,’ Caste and Consumption

The Bitter Aftertaste of Beef Ban

Responses around the beef ban have focused on the anxiety of the liberal middle class which construed the ban as curbing its consumption choice. But absent from this was the voice of the Dalits, who have come to be defined by what they consume, and whose relationship with beef is marked by caste, poverty and hunger. An exploration of the practice of beef consumption through the prism of destitution, and its relation with the poor to whom it provides the bare minimum.

The Maharashtra government’s recent legislation that bans beef has evoked a range of responses. The ban was ridiculed, discussed and debated on social media sites. However, not surprisingly, the responses arose specifically from the anxiety of the liberal middle class, which construed the ban as a curb on its exercise of choice—as a limit to what it eats—at a time when what one consumes has come to define identities. Missing from the discourse was the voice of the Dalits, who too had for long come to be defined by what they consumed and whose complex relationship with the consumption of beef is marked by caste, poverty, and memories of hunger.

Reflecting on this relationship and the crucial role played by B R Ambedkar in seeking to end the practice of the consumption of dead cattle is not an attempt to condone the ban, but to highlight the centrality of meat in the life of the working-class Dalits in Maharashtra. Doing so, in fact, makes us engage with the ban not merely as a curb on choice, but allows us to think about the practice through the prism of hunger and destitution, and what it means for the poor to whom it provided the bare minimum.

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