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Beef With The Tiger

A radical BJP leader in Assam has demanded an end to feeding beef to zoo tigers. The party says not our view.

Beef With The Tiger
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For the tiger, the king of the Indian jungles, life in a zoo enclosure is a living hell, a magnificent animal condemned to a life in captivity. But when politics and religion cross path with the zoo tiger, things can get quite peculiar. And funny too. Earlier this week, a group of BJP workers owing allegiance to a leader known for his radical views stopped a vehicle transporting beef for tigers and lions at the Guwahati zoo. The political activists were demanding that the tigers be given any other meat but the cow, considered “holy” by millions of Hindus.

The no-cow-meat-for-tiger activists were quickly dispersed by police and the big cats had their full course for lunch—followed probably by their customary afternoon siesta—but the incident did open up a huge debate in Assam where controversies over religious issues have divided the people ahead of assembly polls next year. Satya Ranjan Das, the BJP leader, said instead of beef, the zoo authorities should use sambar (deer) to feed the tigers and lions.

“Let the zoo authorities breed and use sambars as food for zoo animals. It should be a natural process,” said Bora, who was a former vice president of the state’s BJP Kisan Morcha. “We (Hindu society) always want protection of the holy cow, but the animal is killed to feed the zoo carnivores. Why is only beef being fed to zoo animals when we can give them the meat of sambar or pig?” Bora asked. The zoo—the biggest in the Northeast—has eight tigers and three lions. They are fed beef once a week. There are also 26 leopards and smaller cats, including the elusive leopard cat and jungle cat. Bora, however, hasn’t found much support, even from the BJP-led state government. “We have lions and tigers in our zoo and as per guidelines of the Central Zoo Authority we provide them food. We can’t change their diet as per our wish. We can’t feed them Britannia biscuits if we wish to…For their health, beef and buffalo meat is a must,” state forest minister Parimal Suklabaidiya says. It is essential for wild animals to maintain their food habits as per their nutritional needs, he asserts. The zoo authorities asked the protesters to forward their demands to the Central Zoo Authority.

The state BJP dismissed Bora’s comments as not that of the party’s. “Bora is not an office-bearer of any of the state BJP committees...He may be a general member of the party. His remarks can never be BJP’s,” Pabitra Margherita, a spokesperson and in-charge of the state BJP’s IT cell, tells Outlook.

Bora is known for making inflammatory remarks and was in the news recently when he and his supporters were stopped by people from entering a village for a meeting. That led to a clash between the two sides, following which police resorted to lathicharge and opened fire. No one was injured. He was trolled on social media over what most people called a “stupid stunt”. A Twitter user asked: “(Now) we know about the tiger’s religion. But what about the caste? Will it be given the sacred thread?....”

By Abdul Gani in Guwahati

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