The question of meat. It is the great dilemma that has divided both India and France…along lines both social and political, with communal undertones.
The incident at Dadri involving the lynching of a man from the minority community on suspicions of beef-eating triggered a social hailstorm in India, dividing the country between those that worshipped the cow as a deity, and those that consumed it as a food product like any other.
The beef party held by a group of liberals in Mumbai was criticised for being communally provocative, not by the Hindu right, but by sections of the Left themselves, who claimed that the statement had been misplaced and in bad taste.
France too, has been divided along similar communal lines on the question of meat. Pork, the consumption of which is blasphemous to both Muslims and Jews, is the topic of contention here. Almost all public schools offer alternative food choices to Muslim and Jewish students on the days that pork is served. However, recently certain right-wing leaders have carved a campaign out of the refusal to grant such alternatives to minority students, taking a ‘pork-or-nothing’ stance.
Unsurprisingly, this has raised the hackles of both Muslim and Jewish guardians, triggering a culture-clash within the country that closely resembles the one currently ongoing in India over the beef-debate.
Protests have also cropped up over the allegedly increasing ‘kebabization’ of the country. ‘Kebabs’, a Middle-Eastern meat dish, have recently become very popular in France, with millions of kebab joints having cropped up across the country. Many cultural fundamentalists see this as the growing influence of Middle-Eastern culture on France, which they apparently feel is threatening the native food industry.
This fire of cultural polarisation has been further fanned by Marine Le Pen, the right-wing opposition leader in France who seeks to gain public support by sparking further xenophobia within the population, having promised to ban immigration should she come to power. She has also banned halal and kosher meat in the eleven towns where she has been elected to power in local elections, further heightening tensions between the communities.
Various media outlets in France had reported that the French are being ‘surreptitiously’ fed halal meat without their knowledge, which forced the then President Nicholas Sarkozy (who had been campaigning for re-election) to make it mandatory for sellers to mark all halal or kosher food products.
France follows a very strict and uncompromising brand of secularism that frowns upon the display of any religious symbolism in public – including religious food or clothing. Indian secularism, on the other hand, relies on a mindset of pluralism and tolerance. Without these, secularism in India simply cannot work, because implementing the French style of separation of Church and State in spiritually vibrant India would not only be an impossibly difficult job, but would eventually kill off the very essence of Indian culture itself – which was built on numerous spiritual and mystic movements of various faiths.
In both India and France, therefore, it is imperative that the Government stays away from the individual’s choices regarding food and clothing, if communal harmony is to be maintained. Because if they can’t do this, neither country has any right to call themselves a secular nation.