Sunday Levity: New Delhi BBQ

Freedom at steak

Mark Straub says he came to India in search of greener pastures. It was okay as long as it was just the pasture. The difficulties began when he wanted to eat cow.

First of all, the concept of a “barbeque grill” does not exactly translate into vegetarian Hindu culture. When you say “barbeque” here, people think Tandoori. There is, however, something called an anguiti (pronounced like “on guillotine” without the “n” at the end), which is essentially a small steel box used by Muslims for cooking kabobs. Forget trying to buy a gas-powered Weber here; they don’t have them.

So tonight on a poorly paved road half way to the airport I visited a small vendor who was selling kabob anguitis and other metalworks that he had scattered alongside the street. My driver helped me negotiate down the price for two anguiti boxes from $25 to about $14 and then we went off to find charcoal.

At the same time I was fielding phone calls from my meat man, Salim, who was recommended to me by a meat-eating colleague at my office (only Muslims will sell you beef here, and you can’t just pick it up in a super market, you have to “know a guy”). Salim apparently catches static from Hindus who find out he’s dealing in beef, so you have to call him on a cell phone and arrange special pickups and deliveries, and when you are given his name and number by a reference, you are asked not to share it except with potential customers (you’d think I was trying to buy crack). And of course, he doesn’t work on Fridays (the Muslim holy day) so on Saturday he has a full day of deliveries – this means you have to work your barbeque timing into his schedule. [BankerinIndia]

The Acorn shares Mark’s anguish: they who have not eaten a nice juicy steak on a Friday evening have not lived!

62 thoughts on “Sunday Levity: New Delhi BBQ”

  1. Nitin at #45:
    “.. Only those restrictions on personal freedom follow from the “harm principle” are justified. ..”

    Would you support the consumption by humans of human cadavers provided that the humans were not deliberately killed by the would-be consumer.

    Does this violate the harm principle? The guy is already dead.

    regards,
    Jai

  2. Gaurav,

    Do read my comment again (#49). I’ve got nothing to add to that.

    Jai,

    We are at the frontiers here…but depends on what the person decided while he was still alive. The ethics of this are still being debated, in the context of organ transplants. But if a person decided that he would not mind his cadaver being eaten after his death, then I suppose it can be allowed to be eaten. If he had expressly denied assent, then it can’t. But most people die without giving instructions in their will, but it may be reasonable to assume that they’d not will it.

    In general, taking the argument to the extreme with wildlife and cadavers makes for an interesting discussion, but distracts us from the main argument, about restrictions on eating beef.

  3. Closing time, folks

    I invite all participants to offer their concluding arguments. No new points. Summarise your key arguments & counter-argument as cogently as possible (few people have the patience to read long comments so late in the discussion). This thread will close by March 30th.

  4. Philip, the protagonist in W Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage makes himself a provisional rule on how he ought to behave. It was: “Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman round the corner.”

    India is de facto a fairly liberal place even though de jure it is illiberal, puritanical, and restrictive. People generally live and let live. Thankfully theocratic oppression is largely absent given that an overwhelming majority are non-monotheists. Compare India to its Islamic neighbors and you will see what I mean. Sure, some Indians would not look upon your favorably if you were to disregard their religious and cultural sensitivities and consume beef. Indeed, a significant percentage (but not a majority) would even disapprove of any non-vegetarian food. But they will not go on a rampage and harm you if you do go out and get yourself a nice juicy beef steak. The worst they will do is to ostracize you. Big deal.

    For Mr Straub, beef is comfort food and he has every right to consume it at home, and abroad if the laws of the land permit that. Writing about the difficulties he had in finding a good steak on his personal blog is not a crime either, although one may consider it in poor taste (pardon the pun). Civilized sensitive behavior may require that one does not unknowingly offend one’s hosts. Note, I write “unknowingly.” If the intension if to provoke deliberately, that is a different matter altogether.

    Though cliched, doing as the Romans do while in Rome is a pragmatic principle. It may not be illegal to eat beef but it may be culturally insensitive to rub the faces of your vegetarian hosts into the grill. Sometimes a distintion is made between being right and being correct: Mr Straub is right but may not be correct. Different people would make different calls on this entire subject and they may all be right.

    I am sure that he would be much more circumspect about eating a pork tenderloin in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Even if by any chance he did have one, he would dare not publish his experience. That he has that freedom in India, I am immensely grateful for. Though India is not entirely free, it could have been much worse.

    I want India to be a country with the maximum degree of freedom consistent with a liberal society. Fortunately, it has a lot going for it to become that — the greatest of which is that ethically and culturally it is Hindu. I note that it is not a Hindu country (unlike say England which is a Christian country) and it does not have to be one since it is de facto a Hindu nation. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation).

    The guest is considered a representative of god by the dominant ethic of the land. So if Mr Straub is reading this, please feel welcome in our country and may you have a very agreeable stay.

  5. Note to self: Proof read for msspelling before posting. Avoid typing fast.

    Note to others: Please disregard the typos.

    Note to Nitin: Please fix the typos — pretty please!!

  6. Nitin,

    Before we close,

    “In general, taking the argument to the extreme with wildlife and cadavers makes for an interesting discussion, but distracts us from the main argument, about restrictions on eating beef.”

    Now let us recapture the chain of events.

    1. You link to a post on beef
    2. It annoys some of your readers. (Hence to be referred as YAR)
    3 They argue beef should not be eaten in India, citing sanctity of cows for Hindu.
    4. You (and others) counter (Hence to be referred to as YAO), saying “Individual freedom can not be restricted, unless this impinges on freedom of other individual”. By stating this you are establishing a criteria, which is very generic, not specific to situation (viz. consumption of beef).
    5. YAR put forward further test case (viz. about eating a tiger).
    6. Then YAO modify your criteria, saying (essentially),”Individual freedom can not be restricted, unless this impinges on freedom of other individual and results in death of a member of endangered species” .
    7. YAR wish to know why the new restriction that YAO are stipulating(viz “death of endangered animal”) is more “logical” than what YAR were stipulating (viz “death of a revered animal”).
    8. You ask YAR to refer back to 6., this causes a infinite loop and YAR’s CPU gives up the ghost.

    Now to me events from 1. to 8. seems very logical, and to call them “distracting” is misrepresenting the debate and more seriously YOA’s opponents (YAR’s) opinion and (not to mention displaying ignorance of how logic works). But if you want to have your say then the real distraction occured when YAO applied a “generic all encompassing rule” (in 4.) for a “specific situation” (in 2.)

    (I hope you wont delete it, because you find it “distracting”)

    Regards

  7. Cow slaughter has been banned in many Indian states in a clear case of the ‘appeasement’ of the Hindu votebank.
    On a more serious turn ,Hindu-Muslim Riots have started off over the issue of cow killing (or for that matter throwing dead pigs in Masjids) .Also does anyone remember the Jhajjar Dalit case ?
    So one needs to tread carefully over religious sensibilities .

  8. History,

    Yes it is a case of appeasement and yes cows and pigs have cause many a riots between Hindus and Muslims.

    Nitin,

    My closing arguement,

    1.Logic and reason are not my strong points, luckily being an engineer I can work with rule of thumb .

    2.My first rule of thumbs is to live and let others live as long as the others are not harming (with malicious intent) my nation, society, ethics, religion, individuals, or language.
    Since eating beef does nothing of that sort, I do not favour interference of state.

    3.My second rule of thumb (being a believer of “organized” religion)is to observe the practices and traditions if they make sense to me. Respect to cows (or life forms in general) is a practise I have grown up with, and which makes sense to me, and killing of cow (for consumption of beef) offends me, on the other hand belief in astrology doesn’t make sense to me.

    4. 2. & 3. imply that I am not in favour of state ban on beef consumption, however as a private citizen I am at freedom to take all steps which discourage the practise in 3. without violating 2. Now it may be buying only those products whose manifacture does not involve cow slaughter, refusing to rent my house to beef eaters, refusing to socialize with them, refusing to employ them.

    5. In practice I have lived long enough with beef eaters (almost all of them Hindus). That is not a problem because they keep their dietary habits to themselves and I keep my counsel to myself.
    This behaviour is called politeness, which is also a practice we learn, there is nothing logical about politeness but it reduces the friction and makes life bearable.
    But yes if someone decides to get all “Aym Gramd” and decides to rub my face in name of “freedom to offend”, then I will react, by doing what I can do to ostracize him/her. Rudeness begets rudeness.

    Regards

  9. I guess it is time to close the thread. This is a difficult debate and people have developed opinions about it over a long time and will not abandon them over the course of one comment thread.

    I have already said most of the things I had to say, but one thing that hasn’t been brought up yet is the absence of any argument in this comment thread from an ‘Indic’ perspective, an argument that takes into account the historical experience of Hindus, the current and the past political polemics in India regarding this issue and others that impinge upon it. Even the arguments against cow slaughter cite western law and western cultural examples (a mea culpa is in order here).

    Why is it important to stop cow slaughter you ask ? try to look at the issue from the perspectives above and you shall find the answer. You may still disagree with the argument and claim that its repressive, but you will have a better understanding of where YAR’s (thank you Gaurav:) are coming from.

    For me, its extremely important to analyze Indian issues from an Indic perspective because not doing so would mean, to carry forward a discourse the basis of which is western cultural hegemony. It also means, an imposition of rules, of conversation, of culture, of law and ultimately of custom upon a populace steadfast in its beliefs by an elite thats blind to its concerns. At a utilitarian level, doing so is recipe for conflict that we are all too familiar with. At a more philosophical level, this is cultural and political emasculation of a large portion of the Indian populace, a kind of ‘brown sahibs burden’.

    This is not to suggest a xenophobic rejection of everything the west offers, rather a determination to participate in the discourse as equals.

  10. @nitin,

    >> But seriously, it’s a slippery slope. I’ve written umpteen times about competitive intolerance…once we are on that road, it inevitably ends up in a nasty place.

    But its not a slippery slope, any law that impinges on some of the greater freedoms of people should not be legislated. The fear here is that listening to one communities concerns, that stem from religious belief, will open the door to other such requests, some more execrable than others. My position is that such fears are unfounded, in part because the Indian populace is inherently liberal, tolerant, and mature enough to distinguish between the more repressive laws as opposed to those that are less so. The model for us here should be US and not the European democracies.

    >> I’ve already mentioned (in #12) that you have every right to be offended. And yes, protest too. That was never in question. Isn’t it ironic that those who seek the freedom to take offence should deny others the freedom to do as they wish?

    Wheres the irony ? Taking offence is a fundamental right, eating beef is not. 🙂

    >> You seem to imply that freedom of religion is more important than personal freedom…that if some religion somehow decided that beef eating was necessary it would have been okay to allow it. Should ask them FSMwallahs to include this in their canon somewhere 🙂

    Who are the FSMwallahs ? the rest of the argument is hypothetical.. if there is a historical tradition for a religion that considers beef eating to be necessary for its practise, the case would be different, and banning beaf consumption would be interfering with religious rights. However, its not so and hence…

    Laws are not made keeping in mind hypothetical situations. They are made realizing the situation on the ground, and even in those cases, country wide legislation remains an imperfect and blunt tool. E.g. there may be families practising polygamy that are well adjusted and a law against polygamy that impinges on their life style is clearly unfair, yet, in a large majority of cases, polygamy is not a victimless crime as you pointed out.. so is it OK to have a law that proscribes polygamy or not ? its a blunt and imperfect tool, but is the only one we have.

    >> But seriously, it is primarily an issue of personal freedom. Only those restrictions on personal freedom follow from the “harm principle” are justified. Ban on consumption of beef is an entirely arbitrary restriction.

    In an ideal world, if we were starting from a clean slate, this would have been ok. But we are not.. ignoring history and current political milieu will be a mistake when it comes to issues like these.

    @everyone
    thanks for a great discussion, we even kept it polite.. WOW !! 😀

  11. Sudeep at #59,

    Your comment is almost a perfect fit for the first part of my comment #48 with the Hindu_things_from_Western_perspective so I think I get where you are coming from.

    I hope you can agree with some of the rest of that comment about how they subjected their traditions to scrutiny and where they are with them now.

    I think we should too, not mimicking them, but from an Indic perspective yes. Nothing deserves to be preserved just because it is Indic, if it hurts the rights of anybody Indic or other. Also some change is inevitable, in the way this tradition will propagate into the future.

    Signing off,
    Jai

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