Several hundred years later, the puritans in America decided that cats were the familiar animal of the witch, and cats were killed in masses. In fact, it’s kind of amazing how many black cats there still are, considering the genocide on their species.
Now, cats are the world’s number one most popular pet. (Take that, dogs!) However, killing one—while it makes you a bad person—will not get you killed, personally.
My cook is Muslim. She loves our three cats—but that’s something that’s part of Islam as well. The Prophet loved cats, he even had a favourite one called Muezza. Cats are considered cleaner than other animals, and allowed to enter homes, plus food tasted by them is halal. However, my cook extends her compassion to all animals—so much so, that I’m not sure how much of this is her religion and how much is her general love for other beings. The dog downstairs gets bones when she can manage them, and leftover chappatis go to the cows in the cow shed next door.
Which is where the problem steps neatly from being an animal-lover to something that’s polarized by religion. Next door to my house is a temple. It’s a Shiva temple, which basically means the main temple guy (I’m not going to call him a priest, because I’m not sure he is) takes it as an excuse to be stoned and drunk a lot. Entering his maze-like complex, you see several rooms and in front of the rooms a large open yard surrounded by trees; which is also where the cowshed is. There are different families in each room, but it’s still a big enough space that it never looks crowded. And also, everyone seems to have a pet. From Romeo the obese pug, to a small kitten that they asked me for help with because she wasn’t eating, to a white mouse that they kept in a cage. And three cows that occasionally break the boundary wall and walk on through with impunity, knowing that no one can touch them. Occasionally, I’ll be driving past and I’ll see someone tossing “offerings” to the cows, and then standing there, hands folded in front of them. “It’s just a cow,” I want to say, “Four legs, udders, has horns? There is nothing more holy about this animal than any other one.”
I think of Dadri, a teeny tiny town a little outside Delhi, where a man was killed on suspicion of having beef in his fridge. When the meat you eat is tied up to someone else’s holy beliefs, you know there’s a problem. When modern India behaves no differently than ancient Egypt or Puritan America, again, you know you have a problem.
What is it about food and the things we eat? What makes some food such a trigger? Think back to the revolt of 1857, when the final straw for Indian soldiers wasn’t that they were under a foreign rule—oh no, that was totally fine—but that their guns were greased with pig fat. Just that one fact and mass slaughter of the Brits across the country.
But then, just a few short weeks ago, people threw meat in front of Jain temple, irritated that there was a ban on meat sales in slaughterhouses. Goats with their beady little eyes and long cocker spaniel ears are not sacred (also they’re delicious), no one would think of worshipping a chicken (mmm tandoori), even buffalos, the cow’s less attractive cousin, get eaten without much of a fuss.
You would think that we’d have more respect for life if we’re that upset about an animal being killed. A man died. A man was beaten to death, just because there was a rumour that the meat in his fridge was beef. The family begged for mercy. They were the only Muslim family in the village and they asked the mob how they could have smuggled in a cow and killed it without anyone noticing. They swore the meat was mutton. The mob roared in and smashed the skull of Mohammed Akhlaq, a 50-year-old farm worker, who was already asleep in the next room.
They killed a man whose family had been living in that village for generations because he might have eaten a meat they didn’t think should be eaten.