Had the fever pitch anxiety about four day meat ban in deference to Jain community’s Pratyushan, remained confined to TV anchors and the handpicked chatterati that appear on TV debates one would have ignored it as another passing storm in a tea-cup. But when someone with the gravitas of Pratap Bhanu Mehta declares with righteous rage, "Get off the ban-wagon! Meat bans violate fundamental liberties, erode state’s secular character"(The Indian Express, September 13, 2015), it becomes necessary to ask why is it that our intellectual elite have never before felt outraged at far more draconian bans with far more deadly outcomes?
Of the numerous examples of double standards in this regard that one could offer, let me just cite just one for reasons of space. "Ban the Ban" enthusiasts don't seem to care that since late 1990s animal rights zealots succeeded in banning the traditional art and occupations of all those communities in India that specialized in training animals for art performances as a means of livelihood. There was a time when snake charmers and bazigars would be sent to international festivals as ambassadors of India's traditional art forms. But when the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 was extended to these communities it reduced them to the status of outlaws. With one stroke of pen their centuries old art forms came to be treated as criminal activity without even bothering to provide them any alternative means of survival. The Madaris who trained monkeys or bears, the Saperas that tamed and made snakes dance to the tune of traditional musical instruments like the Been, are today among the most marginalized and brutalized social groups in India. Those who tried keeping alive their inherited art are sent to jail and have their animals or reptiles confiscated. Nobody even thought of employing them in zoological gardens, or putting their centuries honed knowledge of the forests, medicinal plants and wild life to creative use in modern occupations.
Even the Nats who specialize in acrobatic performances had their art form banned under anti-beggary law. In the process of providing legal help to several such families who had their children snatched away by the police while the adults were locked up on the charge of “begging” while all they were doing is to earn money by displaying their unique art form, I witnessed from very close how pious sounding laws have been used to inflict legal terrorism on these hapless groups.
If putting animals in a zoo is not "cruelty", how can a Madari training a monkey to dance and entertain be called cruelty? If slaughtering animals for food is not a crime, how can we treat Saperas and Madaris as criminals for having preserved their ancestrally inherited art forms involving animals? Animal rights activists dare not demand a ban on animal slaughter for meat eating because the elite sections of society get outraged at the slightest restrictions on their lifestyles. But when Madaris and Saperas were banned from practicing their centuries old traditional art, not a voice of protest rose in their defence, not a tear has been shed for their plight because the ban impacted only the poorest of the poor.
It is noteworthy that the Indian Constitution (Articles 25 to 28) allows every community to practice and preserve its traditional culture. Thus, the ban on Saperas and Madaris is not only an assault on their constitutionally guaranteed "freedom of occupation" but also to their fundamental right to preserve their millennia old culture.
I don't know if monkeys, bears and snakes "rescued" from these groups have remembered to send their thank you notes to Maneka Gandhi who takes the credit for having imposed and implemented this ban with ferocious zeal and determination. But in every basti of Madaris and Saperas, one hears people curse her for having destroyed their means of livelihood, their knowledge tradition and reduced them to beggary. We the elite remember the otherwise banned Saperas whenever snakes suddenly appear in our homes or offices and poses a threat to our lives. They were put on duty even at the time of Common Wealth Games because the area cleared for building CWG village on the banks of Yamuna was a natural habitat for reptiles. But ordinary Indians still call Saperas to their homes for ritual pujas on Nag Panchami. But even that is outlawed as per Maneka Gandhi's farmaans.
Today, these tyrannized communities’ spread all over India, live in utter penury. Even if you can't go witness their plight in villages of India, I urge you to have a glimpse at their wretched conditions in Kathputli Colony near Shadipur Depot or Sapera Basti near Badarpur border.
Now that the threat of curbs on porn sites & meat deprivation for couple of days, has awakened our intellectual elite to the evil effects of bans, may one expect that they will lend support to MANUSHI’s endeavors to get the above described ban also lifted?
First published in The Indian Express September 24, 2015: (http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-selective-outrage-over-bans/)