India's 'Beef Lynchings' Show Hindu And Muslim Tensions

India has been facing a series of changes over the last few decades that have resulted in an entirely new way of life. India’s caste system is one of the world’s oldest forms of social stratification. It’s divided Hindus into a hierarchy for close to 3,000 years. This, historically, has been the way of life for India despite international concerns and pleads for change.However, change only occurs when the majority accept it into their culture. That majority is about to change.

The Muslim population of India is rising faster than the population of any other community in India. Some studies suggest that the population will continue to increase until Muslims potentially outnumber Hindus. This is projected to occur around 2030. While 2030 is a long way away, it’s impacting India in unexpected ways in the present day. As the turmoil between Muslims and Hindus continues to escalate, the international community is beginning to take notice.

One of the main differences between Hindus and Muslims is their preference in protein. Hindus hold cows and beef as sacred while Muslims hold pigs and pork as sacred. While this may appear to be a minor difference, it’s sparking a new bloody wave of identity politics referred to as ‘beef lynching.’ What some are calling ‘cow vigilantes,’ select members of the Hindu population are targeting Muslims with threats of violence and even committing acts of murder. 

A fifteen-year-old boy, Junaid Khan, was thrown from the carriage of a train after being stabbed multiple times by a group of Hindu boys. Junaid was pronounced dead at Civil Hospital in Palwal later that day. This example, not to be confused with a general stereotype, highlights a growing concern in India. As Muslim populations continue to rise, in combination with the already alarmingly high population in India already, the issue may continue to get worse.

All of this over a choice of meat may seem a bit outlandish to some readers. But when it comes to cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding food in India, beef and beef-eating are near the top of the list. Slaughtering cows has even become illegal in most of the country- a decision that came directly from India’s Supreme Court. New rules banned the sale of beef in local butchery shops. This has directly impacted the Muslim community and its economy in addition to the violence.

Before you can fully understand the hatred between Hindus and Muslims, you have to put the issue in historical context. In 1858, the British took control over the Indian subcontinent, renaming it the British Raj. This consisted of the modern countries of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. This rule lasted until 1947 after India declared its independence. As a result, the British Raj was divided into 2 countries: India and Pakistan. The territory India ruled over looked very similar as it does today. Pakistan, however, consisted of modern-day Pakistan and modern-day Bangladesh. It wasn’t until 1971, 24 years later, that Bangladesh secured its independence. 

Pakistan was intended for Muslims to live in peacefully while India was intended for Hindus.  Before globalization and competing markets, this worked relatively well. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, which primarily took place in the Jammu and Kashmir regions along the India-Pakistan border, marked the beginning of what we see in modern times. In fact, much of that conflict still goes on in the same region today, one of the driving factors behind India’s continuing socio-political struggles.

Many citizens of India think that their country is being “taken over” by Muslims. Because the Indian government is mostly secular, the Muslim population has gotten away with things that many Hindus consider taboo. This includes divorcing a wife through triple talaq or practicing polygamy. Because of the differences in religious beliefs and the protection of religious freedom, no action can be taken- even though Hindus still hold the majority.

The issue, now called beef lynching, isn’t just about religious differences. It symbolizes the deep hatred between the two religions. Since September of last year, there have been more than a dozen beef lynchings across the country. Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India, has been unusually quiet concerning the issue. This comes to many as a surprise as Modi ran his campaign on the euphemism that the $5 billion-a-year meat export industry was inherently bad for India.  He referred to it as a “pink revolution,” pink referring to the color of beef. Despite the successful rhetoric, concerns continue to grow. If this issue continues to go unchecked, however, it will rot at the core of the Indian Republic, and may lead to conflicts as large as a future civil war as Muslim populations rise.

What has happened in India is another example of how nationalistic rhetoric, using the notion of the “good-ol-days,” wins elections but is inherently bad for the country. Many extremists, those outside the norms of the left or right, can use a nationalistic platform, long after the campaign has ended, to justify their actions. This is what has happened in India, as those committing the lynchings refer to cultural perseverance, and is happening in many places all around the world.  Will successful campaign rhetoric and political victories be exchanged for the well-being of nations in a rapidly globalizing world?  It’s beginning to smell a lot like the early 20th century to me.

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