The most pressing problem facing this country? Beef consumption.

Manmohan Singh recently commented on the results of a national survey by the Naandi Foundation that found that 42% of the children in this country are malnourished; he called it a national shame (that amounts to one out of every three malnourished children in the world). We’ve also recently learnt that the average Indian schoolkid fares slightly better than a Kyrgyz schoolkid at maths, science and reading. If this is news to you, it turns out you’ve just not been paying attention. The 2001 National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau report says pretty much the same thing. This was a decade ago. Yes, it’s good we’ve finally noticed, but that doesn’t make it news. The NNMB report also says that 37% of the adult population has a body-mass index (BMI) of below 18.5 – the clinical definition of chronic malnourishment. Moreover, the WHO’s definition of famine is that 40% of the population of a region be severely malnourished – Binayak Sen calls us a country living through a state of stable famine.

The above list, while shameful and depressing, isn’t even an exhaustive list of food-security related problems facing this country.

So what do you suppose the people running this country are most up in arms about? If you guessed cow-slaughter and how best to punish people who eat beef, you’re right. You may now award yourself a shameful bow. the people of Madhya Pradesh have given themselves a law banning all sale and possession of beef, with punishment that this country otherwise reserves only for its rapists and murderers. This in addition to Karnataka’s bill banning cow-slaughter which is now sure to also get the President’s assent (with presidents like these…). These laws allow police officers to raid and search premises on the suspicion that an offence may take place:

The Centre felt that raiding premises merely on the assumption that an offence is “likely” could be misused and recommended that such power be limited to cases when an offence had taken place or was taking place. The amended legislation has disregarded the recommendation.

The blatant disregard for minority opinion, civil liberty, and any trace of sense apart, this law affects the poor disproportionately – beef is the cheaper than almost any other meat. Calling this communal legislation is stating the obvious. Calling it legislating taste (a la Bill Maher) is more insightful, although it does nothing to help somebody being harassed by the local police officer for the suspicion of possession of beef.

Beef is now more contraband than a kilogram of ganja or 100 grams of hashish (punishment for possession of < 1kg ganja or < 100gms of hashish : Rs. 10,000 fine or 6 months in prison). Stash your beef away safely.