Can Manohar Parrikar Afford to Ban the Cutlet-Pao in Goa?

If push comes to shove, tourism and allied business interests is what will dictate the BJP’s beef policy – at least in Goa.

Panaji: Should one take seriously the rantings of a sadhvi who hasn’t studied beyond class III? After a statement made in Goa recently, I’ve been compelled to do a Google search on a 22-year-old woman called Sadhvi Saraswati. The Indian Express reports: “In March, 2015, a case was registered under Section 153 (A) against the Sadhvi Saraswati for disturbing communal harmony through her allegedly provocative comments she made at a function in Mangalore… Sadhvi Saraswati is the president of Sanatan Dharma Prachar Seva Samiti. She hails from Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh. She is known for her often provocative speeches at VHP functions where she is often a star speaker. She is reported to have taken ‘sadhvi deeksha’ at the age of 12 after being inspired by her grandfather and her father to narrate stories from Bhagawat Katha and the Ram Katha…..She has reportedly studied only till class III and dropped soon after as school work interfered with her narration of the sermon. The sadhvi’s father was the Vidarbha convenor of the Bajrang Dal and from a young age, she has been associated with the activities of the RSS and the VHP.”

Were Saraswati living in the West, her parents could have been in trouble with child services for keeping her out of school or denying her any form of a regular education. This is, after all, the 21st century, the age of women empowerment, of nurturing girl children and making sure they have a shot at education and equal opportunity. In Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, who happens to be the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, stood up to the Taliban just for the right for girls to go to school. They shot her for it five years ago.

Similar in age – the Nobel laureate the younger by two years – the contrast between Yousafzai and someone like Saraswati couldn’t have been more pronounced. One, a world ambassador and activist for female education and women’s empowerment; the other, a mind moulded by obscurantist views now a tool for fanning virulence and acrimony.

After the national media decided to amplify the retrograde views of an uneducated woman – made at a conference of the ultra-right (the Sanatan Sanstha and its offshoot the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti) that no one in Goa pays much attention to – there have been calls from opposition parties for her arrest for saying that the Centre should publicly hang those who eat beef. Here in Goa where I live, those numbers would stack up to half the state’s population of 1.5 million (25% Catholics, 10% Muslims and quite a few Hindus who also eat beef, though maybe not at home). Would they find that much rope to go around?

Beef of the menu

Beef has been on the menu in Goa for centuries, an outcome no doubt of the Portuguese presence. On an average, 40-50 tonnes (roughly under 45,000 kg) of the meat is sold daily, Lyndon Monteiro, former chairman of the Goa Meat Complex, says. The beef business in Goa is worth about Rs 500 crore a year. Only 20% more chicken is consumed. After Maharashtra imposed a ban, Karnataka has been the only source of beef supply to Goa, which has become erratic after the Centre’s sneaky move to bring in a beef ban through the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules.

Prakash Fernandes, who runs a high-end supermarket in North Goa that sells roughly 250 kg of beef a day, contends that restaurants on Goa’s tourist coast would be hit by a beef ban. This, after all, is the leisure and party destination where the rest of India comes to let their hair down.

A businessman in Panaji says when he first opened his upmarket restaurant, he seriously considered taking beef off the menu, thinking well-off local Hindus might be put off by it. He was shocked to discover that 40% of Saraswat Hindus who dine there with their families order beef as much as anyone else. It is this seamless fusion of tastes and cultures (the biggest supplier of beef in Goa, incidentally, is neither Muslim nor Catholic) that the BJP is so covertly attempting to ruin when it allows the debate to take on a hyper-nationalistic groove.

Apart from saying he hadn’t imposed any restrictions on the transport of cattle into Goa, chief minister Manohar Parrikar has kept a low profile on the matter of the Centre’s May 23 notification. But with seven of the 12 BJP MLAs in the Goa House (Parrikar himself has not yet been elected) from the Catholic community, can the chief minister afford to ban the highly popular cutlet-pao in Goa? The Goa Church too has openly supported the cause of the Muslim beef traders, who would be crushed by the imposition of a ban.

If push comes to shove, tourism and allied business interests is what will dictate the BJP’s beef policy – at least in Goa. No tourist – foreign or Indian – has had to think twice when ordering beef in a restaurant in Goa before. Can the BJP afford to change that? It had taken the high moral ground on shutting down offshore casinos when in the opposition, but did a complete U-turn on them when it came to power. More casinos are anchored on the Mandovi currently than there ever were under a Congress government that allowed them in. The casino lobby is known to have dealt a generous hand to the saffron campaign in the 2012 election in Goa.

King of street food

It’s a snack. But it could also be a whole meal on its own. A hunky slice of beef, well marinated in ginger, garlic, pepper and a touch of toddy vinegar. Pulverised green chilli and the local Bancal sauce are optional. The ingredients for the marinade are a matter of choice and taste. But they can make all the difference between a passable cutlet and a great cutlet (costeleta in Portuguese), as does the quality of the beef. The slice of meat then gets an egg wash before it is dusted in bread crumbs (or semolina) and fried.

The costeleta is definitely of Portuguese origin. But the cutlet-pao, its local adaption, is as Goan as the Agaçaim (a village in South Goa) chourico-pao or the xacuti-omelette. Served with Goan bread, a smattering of gravy and salad, the cutlet-pao (also available in a chicken variant) is currently Goa’s most popular street food. They are dished out by the dozens from street carts in the capital and the crossroads in Saligao, right next to the historic Mae de Deus Church. The way-side carts in Santa Cruz (a village not far from Panaji) that sell cutlet-pao, sausage-bread, pork chops and beef, chicken and pork chilli, among other takeaways, have spawned a food culture that would be hard to beat in quality and price. Besides, they’ve given scores of Goan families a livelihood in a state where work is hard to come by.