‘Panthibhojanam’ in 1917 & ‘Beef Fests’ in 2017 – Nithya S. Shobha & Praveen Pilassery

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Beef violence took 28 lives in India (among them 24 are Muslims) and hundreds injured in the riots occurred recently. These violence were framed on the basis of rumours. More than 90 percent of these attacks happened after 2014 general elections. The forms of violence are diverse which include mob lynching, murder, harassment or gang rape. All these attackers are associating with Sangh Parivar in one way or other. It was in 2012, Bharatiya Gau Rakshak Dal was registered and it affiliated around 50 local level organisations around the nation and presently it has membership strength of around ten thousand. In addition to VHP and Bajrang Dal activists, these small organisations wildly spread violence across nation on beef issue.  Even though there exist a stay, the declaration and implementation of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulations of livestock markets) Rules 2017 need to be reconsidered at this context. This led to massive people’s upraise in the form of beef fests particularly in states like Kerala.   

The decision to perform ‘beef divide’ just before the Holy Ramzan cannot be coincidental but most likely a well planned one to test the water. Timing is one of the most important factor that determines the success of any campaign, whether in market or in politics. Ramzan evenings are celebrated with community dining where people in neighbourhoods irrespective of their religion are participating. Beef is a normal item of menu in these dinning. The public display of anti-muslim sentiments of the rightwing Hindhutwa brigade and its representative in ruling party meant to scare (not provoke) Muslims. Hence it is a political message (if not warning) to those criticise cow politics of BJP. There is a rich political economy behind ‘cow politics’ in the diverse sub-continent, India. Still it does not give expected dividend to the right wing-Hindu politics which demands nasty political penetration in the private-public life of the individual with hidden agendas. 

Cow is considered sacred for a long time in India. It is irrelevant to consider whether there existed a similar approach in Vedic period or not. But it is to be pointed out that only some communities in this ‘loose religion’ Hinduism consider cow as sacred; for others killing or eating cow is a normal affaire. If so, will it be appropriate if a State/society consider protecting an animal for a single reason that a minority treat it as a sacred one? If so, it would be an open declaration of religio-nationalism as a common policy to be administered at all levels. Controversies aroused on both the silence and support by the central government on beef divide. But it is not considered incidental as distorted information in the public space.

Victims responded to beef divide with beef fests (particularly in Kerala, southern state of India). Immediately, Gau Rakshaks branded Kerala as Pakisthan. That did not restrain the Kerala community (where Marxists are very influential) from holding such non-violent, symbolic protests against beef divide. The state of Kerala had always historically stood against all kinds of ‘divides’ within society. Through beef fests, they were making a stand against beef divide and violence. It would be foolish if Gau Rakshaks ignore the slogans raised from streets. They should not get blind towards the wall posters of ongoing ‘freedom movement’.

These beef fests can be considered similar to panthibhojanams of 21st century against the communal hatred. It was in 1917 May 29th Sahodharan Ayyappan organised Panthibhojanam. It was a planned act in order to break the in-depth caste divisions existing in Kerala society. In a society where even seeing or hearing a person in other castes considered enough to make an uppercaste impure, dining with a hierarchically different one was not just sin but even unthinkable. Ayyappan is a social reformer and under his leadership, a group of 12 people namely K.A. Achuthan, P.N. Achuthan, K.C. Kesavan, K. Kumaran, A.C. Karthikeyan, A.T.A. Aandy, K.A. Krishnan, A. Raman Pillai, T.K. Kittan, Kooni Raghavan Master & Krishna Seeri Vaidyar organized a meeting at Cherai (near Cochin), Kerala on 29th May 1917 declared an oath, “Since I am thoroughly convinced that caste discrimination is against sastras and is prejudicial and uncalled for, I myself declare with all intentions and knowledge that I will do whatever I can to eradicate it in ways that are not illegal”. Subsequently they assembled at the house of Raman Pillai, the nephew of Ayyappan in order to take food with a downtrodden caste member. Unfortunately, many people who took oath enthusiastically left the scene. Korasseri Ayyaru and his son Kannan of the Pulaya caste were those who came forwarded to break the iron walls of caste. The dish prepared was rice with a semi-fried curry of jack fruit nuts and kadala, and it was served on a banana leaf. Even though these ‘rebels’ were boycotted by the whole society, Panthibhojanam created a metamorphosis in Kerala history. The history stood with these revolutionaries and those who hunt them were eliminated in the flood of progressive thoughts later. 

We learn history essentially for making our future better. The masses of Kerala are inspired by Panthibhojanam; that’s why when the Rightwing Hinduthwa came forward with its communal beef divide, the people of Kerala publicly and collectively dined with beef. They all have private religious sentiments but they stood together for a common cause. They were making a new saga in the movement for freedom for justice.

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