“Bade Ka Gosht” means red-meat biryani. It is the favourite meal of Muslims celebrating Bakr Id (Eid Ul-Adha) today in India. This festival commemorates the Biblical story of Abraham who was about to sacrifice his son to God and at the last minute, God substituted a ram. So mutton is on the menu today.
For the past week, the roadside paths and even the central reservations of dual carriageways in Old Delhi between the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid mosque have become temporary homes for thousands of sheep and goats. Prices are sky high. A rare breed with curly horns and a sleek white fleece, such as a Gangapari or a Bamdolia, can cost hundreds of thousands of rupees. The sheep are pampered for their final days. They are groomed to look their best. Their diet can include grain and tender banyan leaves (at £2 a bundle). Although some might not take kindly to being force fed – see photograph below.
Some people buy a baby goat and raise it themselves at home as a pet. Of course, they become emotionally attached to the animal, so when they come to sacrifice it, they feel akin to Abraham sacrificing his son.
For Muslims who cannot afford to sacrifice a sheep, there is the option to buy mutton at £5 per kilo, but this is more than most can afford. Buffalo is cheaper at £2.50 per kilo. However, beef – from cows, bulls, bullocks – is illegal. Although India is a secular state, the cow is sacred. But at half the price of mutton, the temptation is for people to use illegal beef to make their Bade Ka Gosht. Who is going to know?
Some policemen have confiscated biryanis and sent them to a laboratory to determine if it contains cow meat. Other policemen claim to be able to tell by tasting the biryani themselves. It sounds like a great way to get a free meal, quite literally a “biryani takeaway”.
There are some fervent Hindus called cow vigilantes (“gau rakshaks”) who are on the lookout for instances of cows being killed and eaten. In August, some women in Haryana claimed they were raped because the vigilantes thought that they were beef-eaters. Men have been filmed being forced to eat cow dung and the footage uploaded to social media. This is not a new phenomenon. Last March, a 12 year old boy was left hanging from a tree in Jharkhand and there have been other episodes of lynching twelve months ago.
Most of this violence seems to be directed towards lower castes (dalits – the term for untouchables popularised by Dr Ambedkar) and Muslims. If a cow dies, dalits are expected to deal with the carcass after removing the hide. Following attacks by gau rakshaks, some dalits have refused to do this, leaving the rotting corpses stinking in the street.
This morning, so many Muslims went to pray at the local mosque that the authorities had to close the main road. Everyone wears new clothes. People generously give food to those less well off than themselves. It is a joyous, uplifting, spiritual event.