The below catalogue of crimes and the accompanying punishments currently trending in the social media alleyways of the Indian subcontinent sums up what a vast number of Indians are saying on Facebook and Twitter: that Indian women are half as important as the holy cow in the eyes of the Indian judiciary.
The juxtaposition of ‘steak’ and women may well be beyond the comprehension of a western audience and therefore needs some background information on what led Indian men and women to make the uncomfortable comparison.
It all started with the absolute ban on beef (and anything and everything borne out of beef) by the western Indian state of Maharashtra. “Thanks a lot Hon President Sir for the assent on Maharashtra Animal Preservation Bill. Our dream of ban on cow slaughter becomes a reality now,” tweeted chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on March 2. The assent of the president meant the killing of cows, bulls and bullocks was banned completely, punishable by a maximum penalty of INR 10,000 (approximately AUD 200) or imprisonment of up to five years or both.
A step such as this which undermines the liberalism guaranteed by the country’s constitution was sure to generate some heat of its own. But somehow, amid the wild fire of digital gossip, the subject was linked with another pressing issue facing the nation – the epidemic of rape in India. (According to dnaindia.com, 300 cases of rape and more than 500 cases of molestation have already been registered in the first two months of this year, in Delhi alone.) As soon as the chief minister announced the approval of the bill, social media exploded with people questioning its severity (five year jail term) on people for whom beef (steak) was a cheap source of protein, in comparison to the relatively lax punishment for sexual harassment of Indian women (two years only).
Angry Bombay Girl @shadymumbai, (who has nearly 69 thousand followers on Twitter), said, “Good to know in India is more safe for cows than women (sic).” Another twitter by Rahul Bulbule @baba_bhatkanti expresses similar discontent, “Cows are more important than women in India.”
Abdul Sattar Edhi @EdhiAbdulSattar tweeted on March 3 to say that cows could now ‘step out after dark & wear what she likes & women have to wait another 100 years for their safety’. He was referring to comments often seen in the media that blame rape victims for how they dress. Some claim that this can incite would-be rapists to act, and therefore, the logical deduction is that the rapists would not have violated the victim had she not dressed that provocatively in the first place.
Ruben Mascarenhas @rubenmasc asked on Twitter if consumption of beef was more ‘dangerous than sexual harassment’ because the former carried a 5 year jail sentence while the latter only 2 years.
Sonika Mehta @sonix15 from New Delhi said on March 3, “And in other news, safer to be born a cow than a girl in India.” Dhriti Menon @DittyIsOnFire on the other hand remarked, “I love how governments get their priorities straight.”
The nationwide outcry against rape got additional momentum when the Indian government banned the broadcasting of India’s Daughter, a BBC documentary by filmmaker Leslee Udwin about the horrific rape and murder of a bright, young girl. The 23 year old student and her friend were attacked on a New Delhi bus as they returned from an evening movie show in December 2012. The Government of India banned the documentary on the basis of ‘objectionable content’ and alleged Udwin broke her contract with the prison authority by airing the interview of one of the rapists, who has already been sentenced to hang.
The ban did not work. Millions watched it on Youtube, with tens of thousands of comments posted on social media both in support and against the Udwin documentary. In effect, the censor was rendered null and void by the inquisitive Indian public.
One of many strong supporters of the broadcast was Pranay Purohit from Goa who voiced his frustration through his Facebook status on March 6, “Thank you very much, for showing us the pathetic state of the largest democracy in the world that we live in.” He then goes on to put an emotional question to the world’s largest democracy, “I hope no woman gives birth to a woman henceforth, why should she? So they can curse her, torture her, taunt her and then one fine day find out that her daughter has been raped and killed ?!”
As the hair-splitting discourse on beef, the holy cows and women’s rights continues on social media platforms, a 24 year old student from Mumbai named Madonna Rozario Jansen has championed an online campaign to establish a registry of sex-offenders. The change.org campaign, which petitions the National Crime Records Bureau and the Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs of India, has been covered by the likes of the Times of India and Indian Express. “India must have a National Sex Offender Registry (publicly accessible) which will have names, photographs and details of people who have committed sexual and violent offences and who are living in or who are returning to the community,” the petition says on change.org. Nearly 800 people had signed the campaign as of the 11th March.
There has been considerable media reportage on the pros and cons of the ban itself. Whereas many have supported the move of the Maharashtra government based on the fact that India is predominantly a Hindu nation, the possible side-effects have been widely discussed too. Some media outlets in India have commented that the ban may constitute an encroachment on the liberalism which is the bedrock of the Indian constitution. A liberalism which is guaranteed by the word ‘secular’ which appears in the preamble to the Indian constitution. Also, a huge economic impact will be felt because of the death of the beef industry, many recent reports indicate. It will affect the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people associated directly and indirectly with the trade. The ban also calls for consideration of the freedom of choice of food for the estimated 30 percent of the Indian population that eats beef.
“Breaking news!! State government started arresting all cows for possession of Beef,” @DeepuD_84 humoured his fellow-Tweeters on March 10.