Glory to the Cow: Cultural Difference and Social Justice in the Food Hierarchy in India
South Asia, Vol. 31, No. 1, April 2008
18 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2007
To intervene in debates on the consumption of beef in India is to partake in complex inter-connected discourses on the sacredness of the cow in dominant-caste Hindu India, its centrality to a largely agrarian economy, the attendant taboo on the consumption of beef, as well as the significance of the cow as a symbol of difference between communities. The consumption of beef also finds a place within anthropological and sociological literature on caste and the ethnography of food, where it stands as a marker of pollution and low status, along with the impure associated occupations of removal of dead cattle and leather work. In this paper, the author is interested in retrieving the value of naming the injustice of the dominant-caste Hindu ethic against cow slaughter and the attendant taboo against the consumption of beef in India by engaging with the associations made between the consumption of beef and the violence of untouchability, as well as the arguments that Dalit communities use to disrupt and subvert such violence. This paper contextualises the ethic against cow slaughter by locating both the explicit and implicitly violent forms of expression that it has come to take on. Further, it locates the broader food hierarchy in a Hindu India that sustains an order of superiority of food conception which goes down from vegetarianism, meat-eating (no beef) to beef-eating. In analysing the various critiques that Dalit communities make to disrupt the hierarchy and the violence associated with the consumption of beef, the author asks whether the tensions between these differing claims can be understood as an example of the recognition-redistribution dilemma that Nancy Fraser has developed in her analysis of claims for justice.
Keywords: Cow slaughter, sacredness of the cow, beef, food hierarchy, vegetarianism, Dalit politics, untouchability, Nancy Fraser, politics of recognition, politics of redistribution
JEL Classification: D63, J71, K10, L66, N55, Q18, Z00
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