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Humane slaughter?

January 17, 2007

By a coincidence that is entirely explainable, the Arabic word Baqar, meaning cow or ox, gets fudged into the word Bakra, originating from the Sanskrit varkar.

Thus in India, Baqr Id, the festival commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice, quite often becomes Bakr Id. As I noticed this time round, even as Bakri Id, it makes absolute sense of course, since it is goats that are the primary object of sacrificial affection, and mutton is the prized meat anyway.

Through another onomatopoeic twist, in the purabiya region Baqr Id is also known as Barki Id — the big Id. People would sometimes enquire whether this is the big Id or the small Id or whether it is the sewain Id or the meat Id. For youngsters, though the fixating charm of watching animal slaughter is leavened by the disappointing fact that as far as Idee (or tyohari) — the money gift that is customarily doled out to them by seniors — is concerned, they come off much the worse on Baqr Id.

Rational capitalism

There is, therefore, more to Baqr Id than simple disgust at this wanton, and public, loss of life and blood. Just as halal meat has become a by-word for wanton cruelty, recently a High Court judge used the word to describe torture committed by an accused, Baqr Id has come to be known as the occasion when Muslim fanaticism displays itself in resplendent indifference. It appears particularly galling because it is presented as a sacrifice. Why must a helpless animal be killed to please caprices, we ask.

The issue really is not about killing animals, but killing them for a motive that seems highly irrational. It is far more rational to rear and breed animals, in billions, on an industrial scale, and in warehouses where they may never even see the sun only for the purpose of eating them. That is rational capitalism.

Slaughtering

It is the same with halal as a mode of slaughter, if the thing has to be killed, be nice to it and kill it in one fell swoop. There is, it seems, a humane way of taking a life and a barbaric way of killing an animal. Isn’t this a debate that we are familiar with in the context of hanging people, whether we should gas them or hang them or give them a lethal injection.

Which is the most humane, and scientific way of doing this? Underlying this debate of course, is an idea of pain, of physical, bodily pain, as well as the psychological trauma of facing a slow approaching death.

I don’t particularly enjoy the sight or sound of thousands of goats being herded and paraded around, well aware of their imminent end, bleating and crying, sometimes for days. I don’t enjoy either the sight of blood flowing in people’s houses, of intestines and other rejected effluents, collected in heaps, sometimes for three days as the festival runs itself out. For some reason the hides of the slaughtered animals are always the preserve of fundraisers from Madarsas who collect it and display it in heaps at street corners in the area where I live.

But I also recognise the superficiality of the criticism that is mounted on both of these practices. Even if each and every Muslim household sacrifices an animal on Baqr Id, the total number of cattle involved would not be a significant addition to the number of animals that are slaughtered everyday in our world. The real cruelty and industrial sacrifice of animals happens not in these parts but in the western hemisphere, where the real horror lies.

Cultural imperialism

I will conclude with a longish quotation from Anthony Bourdain, the celebrated chef and food writer. He says in salon.com, which I got through the Sarai reader-list, in the context of foie gras, a French duck delicacy, being banned in the United Sates because of its ‘inhumane’ mode of preparation — “Telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat is cultural imperialism — and deeply disturbing.”

That a group of people could say, “You know, how you eat and how you’ve been eating for hundreds, if not thousands, of years — traditional Jewish cuisine, Western European food since Roman times — that is wrong and should not be allowed,” I find that offensive, ethnically insensitive, jingoistic, xenophobic, anti-human and disrespectful of the diversity of cultures on this planet, and for human history. But that’s just the kind of law that has been passed — in Chicago, our second city, no less. It’s a win for the forces of darkness, willful ignorance and intolerance.”

And so, unless we ban the consumption of animals in any shape or form, and we can do that only after we have defined what animals are, which must include the Jain definition of jeev, and once we have banned all cruelty and harm to animals, we may reserve our disgust at Baqr Id and at halal. Being humane towards animals may be a good idea once we have made sure that we are no longer human to them.

[First published in Mid-Day on 5 January.]

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 17, 2007 12:45 PM

    Your piece is quite… be reflected it in many ways:

    1. Camel meat too is one such thing that is culturally relished on a festival like Idd. Now see what happened in Kashmir once- as we know there are no Camels in Kashmir. So a clever man purchased it from Jammu and traveled all the odd 350 miles with his animal to reach to his village ( south of Kashmir ) to sacrifice it. He managed to do it in time, and people say one Kg of camel meat was sold for Rs.150/- when mutton was just around Rs.40/- or so. Many people rushed from neighbouring villages and managed to get a small ‘ tabaruk ‘ from the sacrificed animal. May be jokingly, but people say that even his teeth were sold. The animal was sick and next day there was epidemic of sorts in all those villages and medical teams from Distt. Centre rushed to save people.

    2. In Jammu, immediately after the mass migration from Kashmir in 1990, I went to a orthopedic consultant with my mother to show the x-ray of her hip. She had fall in Kashmir just before we moved and was quite bed-ridden. While seeing the x-ray, I remember so vividly- Dr. Pachnanda ( a hindu from Jammu ) told me humbly but very sarcastically that why Kashmiri Hindus are insisting on Halhal meat even after being so badly treated by their Kashmiri Muslim brothers. I had no answer. Kashmiri Hindus still prefer to eat Halhal meat.

    3. In Budhist Ladakh, of J&K, the meat is certainly a part of food. But, in theory they are not allowed to spill anybody’s ( jeevs ) blood on the earth. So, a Ladhaki Buddhist ensures it by not using the knife on the throat, but suffocate the animal. This way they kill two birds with a single stone. They finally cook even the blood of the animal. Fleece helps them to keep warm in the chilling winter. In the end, almost nothing touch the mother earth.

    4. Once a representative of goats went to God and conveyed him their displeasure of being so badly treated by both Hindus and Muslims. The representative argued that had they been a pigs – at least Muslims would spare them and if cows- at least Sikhs and Hindus would not eat them. But being a goat/sheep both Hindus and Muslims are after them. So why this injustice. God, after a little pause, requested the representative to leave the place, because his mouth was watering too.
    5. They say, Buddha used to criticize Ananda for not curbing his sexual drives. Ananda, was helpless and could not suppress his urges, but paradoxically, revealed Buddha’s wisdom to the masses after his death, perhaps single-handedly. There is no tilt in my argument. It is almost impossible to describe the true nature of human being. Ghalib comes to my mind here, once again. Bas ki dushwar hai har kaam ka aasan hona, Aadmi do bi moyasar nahain insaan hona. in a Piece by Taslima Nasreen in outlook… She criticized Shabana Azami ( I guess rightly ) for declaring that there is no mention of Burqa ( veil ) in Quran. Taslima quoted and quoted from Quran, and explained how burqa system was imposed on women during medieval times. She reminisced that how her mother used to wear burqa ( cotton jali ) helplessly and at the same time used to cover meat with jaili ( iron net to keep flies away ). She is right, but what about ruthless consumerism. The past is no answer. What is the answer ? Perhaps, a sensitivity, a refreshed one, towards ‘the other’, which I feel your text piece hints about.

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