Thursday, August 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Cow slaughter ban rings alarm bells in North-East
A. J. Philip

Shillong, August 20
“The humble cow stood between the tribals in the North-east and Hinduism”, wrote the well-known anthropologist Verrier Elwin in his autobiography. Today the animal stands in the way of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s planned growth in the region.

The BJP’s proposal to introduce a Bill to ban cow slaughter in the entire country has set alarm bells ringing even in the BJP units in the region. The chief ministers of Nagaland and Manipur were the first to request Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to exempt the Northeastern states from the purview of the proposed legislation.

Taking a cue from them, the president of the Meghalaya unit of the BJP, Dr W. Kharshiing, has made a request to Mr Vajpayee to review the government’s decision at least in the case of the Northeastern states.

Dr Kharshiing reminded the Prime Minister that beef-eating has always been the traditional food habit of the tribals of Meghalaya. If a ban is imposed on the slaughter of cows, it will disrupt their way of life. What’s more, it will render thousands of butchers without a source of livelihood.

More than the concern for the welfare of the butchers, what worries partymen is the fear that the tribals whom the BJP has been cultivating ever since it came to power at the Centre may leave the party.

Of immediate concern is the byelection for the Laban Assembly constituency to be held on September 26. The seat had fallen vacant following the death of the BJP member, T.H. Rangad. The party is now trying to persuade his wife, Mrs Jopsimon Phanbuh to contest the byelection on the BJP ticket. Among those likely to contest is former Chief Minister E.K. Mawlong.

Though Mr Rangad had a virtual walkover in the last election against a Congress candidate, the BJP fears that the proposed ban on cow slaughter would upset all its calculations. It would not be difficult for the non-BJP parties to push the BJP to the wall on this issue. This explains why the BJP leaders like Dr Kharshiing have been frantically pleading with the party’s Central leadership not to apply the proposed ban to the Northeastern states.

In any case, a vegetarian Khasi is as eccentric a number as a teetotal Welsh rugby fan. A tale is told of the Diko people, a cannibal sub-tribe of the west Khasi hills. The first missionary to beat a path to their remote fastness near the Garo hills was also the first white man they had ever encountered. The Welshman, having been shown to what he took to be the seat of honour in the centre of the village, tried to engage the Diko chief in conversation, but he was distracted by one of the villagers who kept the prowling round, unable to take his eyes off him.

The missionary is reported to have asked, “Why is that man staring at me?”

“Because”, said the chief, “he is the food inspector.”

The story may be imaginary but in downtown Shillong, plenty of meat is available - hocks of cow, slabs of pig, streamers of gut, oesophagi, brain, liver, tongue and what a wag calls, the shit pipe, a highly popular dish. It is in this milieu that the BJP leader has to seek votes on the virtues of cow protection. Small wonder that the BJP leaders are now a worried lot in Meghalaya, the abode of the clouds.

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