Shinde-Fadnavis govt allowing animal sacrifice on Dussehra another instance of its hypocrisy

The BJP has been targeting the Muslim community for their sacrifice of goats during Eid al-Adha celebrations, pressuring them to give up this essential practice of their religion


Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

How does the ‘Hindutva government’ of Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis justify allowing animal sacrifice during Dussehra? 

Easy! It is a ‘Hindu’ festival, as some bigots preventing Muslims from participating in Navratri are telling us, after all. So the ‘ED government’ is going full blast on Hindutva, including flummoxing Maharashtrians in Maharashtra with ‘Marathi dandiya’. Maharashtrians have no festival of the kind – dandiya itself is a Gujarati word for sticks. The closest equivalent would be the Lezim dance, but that has no relation to any particular festival. It is closer to a musical, rhythmic drill than a dance and is practiced during physical training classes at schools across Maharashtra.

But ‘Marathi dandiya’ now is a concept newly invented by the Maharashtra government to combat the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena going all guns blazing against them for stealing jobs away from local Maharashtrians and gifting the Vedanta-Foxconn project to the neighbouring state. The Shinde government is clearly having an uphill task proving that they are not anti-Maharashtrian.

Part of the initiative to woo Maharashtrians is to allow goat sacrifices during Vijaya Dashmi celebrations which fall on Wednesday. There are several temples in Maharashtra dedicated to different avatars of Goddess Durga where goat sacrifices had been a tradition for centuries. But not just at Durga temples. There are many smaller and lesser-known deities with temples across the state that conduct animal sacrifices as a regular ritual.

In 2005, after a stampede that killed several worshippers at the Mandherdevi temple in Satara, the government had banned animal sacrifices, including some years later at the Saptashringi temple in Nashik where firing in the air after the sacrifice had resulted in pellets injuring many people (though none had been killed in this instance).

There has been a caveat from the Bombay High Court that if the goat sacrifices take place, there must be no irresponsible celebratory firing that could prove dangerous.

The sacrifice is an important ritual of Devi worship across the state. Goat sacrifice was routine for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Tulja Bhavani temple, a Shakti Peeth, in Tulzapur from where he set out for war still has the altar for sacrifices with proper drainage system and a huge pond for cleansing rituals. 

Other temples, though, may not be so well-structured – the Mandherdevi stampede occurred when the steps leading up to the sanctum sanctorum had become slick with blood and animal offal during the sacrifice of tens of goats that year, not for Vijaya Dashmi but for the Shakhambari Poornima (full moon) during January.

The BJP has been targeting the Muslim community for their sacrifice of goats during Eid al-Adha celebrations and they have been under tremendous pressure to give up this essential practice of their religion. However, goat sacrifices during Vijaya Dashmi are also essential to a large section of tribal and other nomadic communities in the state which constitute a substantial vote bank. The lifting of the ban is being seen as appeasement of these worshippers. 

However, this does not reconcile with the demand by large sections of people, particularly from the Gujarati Jain community, to ban not just the eating of non-vegetarian food but also advertisements of these preparations across the country during Navratri, including in West Bengal where there is no religious sanction against non-vegetarian food during Durga Puja.  

Some years ago, Gujarati Jains and Hindus and Maharashtrian Brahmins had clashed bitterly at a housing society in Mumbai wherein the former had demanded of the latter to desist from cooking or eating non-vegetarian food during a period of one of their festivals. It had led to police intervention to calm tempers and opened the chasm between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis across Mumbai even wider, given that Maharashtrian Brahmins, like their Bengal counterparts, are not banned from consumption of fish or meat, though beef is another ballgame altogether.

The lifting of the ban on goat sacrifice on Vijaya Dashmi this year is also being seen, in a convoluted and confounding way, as the government cocking a snook at Uddhav Thackeray whose government had forbidden the Muslim community from the same at Eid al-Adha during the two Covid epidemics in order to prevent public gatherings. The idea is to make Muslims who have been charmed by Uddhav Thackeray resentful of his refusal to appease them but that will work only if the Maharashtra government allows the sacrifices during Eid al-Adha the coming year with an even hand.

Or, if it believes sauce for the goose is really not sauce for the gander and continues with its denial policies towards minorities, it could be held up as hypocritical. But the party has been brazen about its duplicities in the past and may not find that too difficult. 

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