In 2020, Karnataka Bans Cattle Slaughter. In 2600 BC, the Indus Valley Civilisation Ate Plenty of Beef

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In 2020, Karnataka Bans Cattle Slaughter. In 2600 BC, the Indus Valley Civilisation Ate Plenty of Beef

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Eating beef in India is a much-politicised issue in the present day. Stories of men being lynched by roving gangs of cow vigilantes have made it to national news on multiple occasions, and several states have passed laws banning cow slaughter. Politicians often cite traditional values to defend their anti-beef stance, but a new study shows that inhabitants of Indus Valley Civilisation, India’s earliest settlers, relied on beef and indeed many other sources of meat for protein in their diet. The study has been led by Aksheta Suryanarayan, as part of her PhD thesis at the University of Cambridge. By studying lipid residues (fats and oils) that had been absorbed into ancient ceramic vessels, the study was able to ascertain the food habits of the population of the ancient civilisation.

During the course of the study, researchers examined 172 pottery fragments from five sites spread across Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which flourished as sizable cities between 2600 and 1900 BC. The study says, “Out of domestic animals, cattle/buffalo are the most abundant, averaging between 50% and 60% of the animal bones found, with sheep/goat accounting for 10% animal remains. The high proportions of cattle bones may suggest a cultural preference for beef consumption across Indus populations, supplemented by consumption of mutton/lamb.” Along with domestic animals like cattle, pigs, and goats, the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation also supplemented their diet with wild animals, riverine fish, and molluscs.

This new study shows that our ancestors were far more open-minded than modern Indians when it came to freedom of food choices. On December 9, the Karnataka state assembly passed a strict new Bill banning all forms of cattle slaughter, including buffaloes, bulls, and older animals, which was earlier permitted. The state opposition parties, including the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), loudly opposed the Bill, claiming it was trampling on people’s freedom to choose what to eat, and hurting farmers involved in animal husbandry.

Our politicians talk often of restoring India’s glorious past. Respecting our country’s diverse food traditions could be a good starting point.

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