Posts by Tess Styles


Human costs of the sacred cow

Tess Styles

Uncategorized | South Asia


India is home to over 200 million cows, more than any other country in the world. They roam freely on the streets, unfazed by the surrounding cries of street vendors and incessant tooting of horns as they go about their business. It is not uncommon to find that a cow has caused a traffic jam by wandering into the middle of a busy intersection.

Almost 80 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion human citizens are Hindu. Cows are regarded as sacred in Hinduism, which explains why they seem to have a license to do as they please.

The cow’s gentle nature embodies the religion’s “do no harm” principle and forms part of the reason they are held in such high esteem. Ironically however, it is the humble cow that is at the root of widespread controversy and violence throughout India.

[caption id="attachment_5960" align="alignnone" width="3872"] A small herd of urban-dwelling cows inhabiting a street in Jaisalmer, India[/caption]

Cow slaughter is banned in 24 of 29 Indian states. Following the government’s recent crackdown on butchers in the northern and western states of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, restrictions have tightened further. The butchers are suspected of selling cow meat, instead of the permitted water buffalo meat.

As India’s largest meat-producing state, the beef ban comes at a great cost to many citizens in Uttar Pradesh who rely on the meat trade to make a living.

Since the election of right-wing chief minister Yogi Adityanath last month, hundreds of meat shops and slaughterhouses around the state have been forced to close. Most of the slaughterhouses are owned by Muslims, who make up 14 per cent of India’s population.

Authorities claim that the new restrictions are only aimed at shutting down illegal businesses, however locals believe they are being unfairly targeted. Even small shops selling only goat, sheep and chicken have been closed, despite these meats being legal to trade.

Many in Muslim communities have earnt their livelihoods through the meat trade for decades and do not have any other skills to make money. Already poor before the new restrictions, these families now face even greater hardship and uncertainty.

It is not only Muslims who are being impacted. The resultant meat shortage in the state has also led to Hindu workers employed in legal abattoirs facing the prospect of losing their jobs.

In addition to the crackdown in Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat last week increased the penalty for cow slaughter to life imprisonment. Anyone convicted of even transporting, possessing or selling beef will now also face up to ten years in jail.

Risks of severe legal punishment for cow slaughter are not the only factors sending butchers out of business. Following the new laws, meat shops around the country have been vandalised and set alight, leaving many involved in the meat trade fearing for their lives.

It is not the first time such violence has erupted due to controversy over cow slaughter.

In 2015, a 50-year-old farmer from Uttar Pradesh was violently murdered by a mob after being accused of slaughtering and eating a cow. The man was dragged from his bed and bashed in the head with a sewing machine, before being repeatedly kicked, stabbed and beaten with bricks in front of family members. Police later revealed that the meat the family had been consuming was mutton.

Last year, two Muslim cattle herders aged 15 and 35 were brutally tortured and hanged on their way to a livestock fair. The assailants are believed to be Hindu radicals who strongly opposed cattle trading.

Despite its stringent laws on cow slaughter, India paradoxically remains the world’s largest exporter of beef. The beef industry claims that this is all buffalo meat, which is not prohibited in most states. However, many suspect that at least some cow meat is being smuggled out of the country.

This is certainly the case along the India-Bangladesh border, where the beef ban has indirectly resulted in the establishment of an illegal cattle smuggling trade. The high demand for beef in Bangladesh means that those willing to endanger themselves (and their cows) by navigating the dangerous river crossing fetch a high price on the other side. This is not only resulting in numerous human fatalities, but is also a counterproductive outcome of the laws aimed at protecting cows.

Whether or not they are achieving their purpose, there is no doubt that the newest regulations will impact thousands. And worse, the beef ban disproportionately burdens poor and disadvantaged groups for whom affordability renders beef a dietary staple.

By widening the gulf between Indian communities, the new regulations have inadvertently created a chasm into which humans and cows alike are liable to fall victim.

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A Prince in exile: The mystery behind Kim Jong Nam’s assassination

Tess Styles

Society and culture | East Asia


The departure hall was abuzz with the familiar clamour of excited tourists, impatient business-people and frantic parents all hustling to get to the front of the check-in queue. As I dropped off my bags and shuffled through security, I noticed nothing amiss about 13 February at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Little did I know that Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, had been assassinated in the very same room only hours earlier.

Amidst the usual morning airport bustle, two unlikely young women had seized the portly 45-year old from behind, smothering his face with a cloth containing the lethal VX nerve agent, before releasing him and blending seamlessly back into the crowd.

Jong Nam stumbled to the terminal’s help desk and was rushed to hospital soon after. He died in the ambulance en route. Only the next day was his identity and the significance of this very public assassination revealed.

So, who really was Kim Jong Nam, and why was he killed?

Just over a decade ago, Jong Nam was expected to become North Korea’s next Supreme Leader. His father Kim Jong Il, former leader of North Korea, doted on his eldest son and appeared to be grooming him for the leadership. He allegedly once sat the young Jong Nam at his desk and told him: “this is the place where you will one day give orders”.

However, Jong Nam was never fully accepted by his family. The product of an affair between Jong Il and married actress Song Hye Rim, his illegitimate birth was kept secret due to the disapproval of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founding leader of North Korea’s dictatorship. Consequently, Jong Nam spent much of his childhood in solitude and later completed his education in Switzerland.

In his absence, Jong Il bore two other sons – Jong Chul and Jong Un – with his second mistress and acting first lady, Ko Yong Hui. As the distance between Jong Nam and the North Korean regime grew, Jong Un became the father’s favourite of the three (Jong Chul was ‘no good because he is like a little girl’).

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Jong Nam’s extravagant overseas lifestyle and penchant for Macau’s casinos and nightlife earned him a reputation as North Korea’s first international playboy. Any chance of Jong Nam taking up his father’s mantle vanished in 2001, when he was arrested for traveling to Japan (to visit Tokyo Disneyland) with a forged passport under the name Pang Xiong – fat bear.

Effectively exiled after this embarrassing incident, Jong Nam spent the last few years of his life living incognito between residences in Macau, Singapore and Beijing. And then he was assassinated – in the middle of Malaysia’s busiest airport. Naturally, we have questions.

For instance, what motivated the actions of the two women who now face execution if charged with Jong Nam’s murder? Video footage shows Indonesian nightclub hostess Siti Aisyah, 25, celebrating her birthday just the night before Jong Nam’s death. Both she and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, claim they thought they were participating in a harmless reality television prank. New reports even suggest that they are human trafficking victims.

In any case, whoever orchestrated Jong Nam’s death is yet to confess. Perhaps, in a Game of Thrones-esque move, Kim Jong Un decided to do away with the potential threat to his crown. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the dictator has ordered a hit on a family member, nor is it the first time that Jong Nam has been the target.

Furthermore, North Korea is known to stockpile VX, a banned substance used in chemical warfare and considered a weapon of mass destruction. The implications of North Korea possessing such a deadly weapon are evident.

Of course, Kim Jong Un denies allegations that he had anything to do with his brother’s death, initially suggesting that the whole incident was a just hoax by the Malaysian government.

Prior to Jong Nam’s death, Malaysia shared strong diplomatic ties with North Korea, being the only country whose citizens could enter the rogue nation without a visa. However, tensions between the two countries escalated after North Korea expelled Malaysia’s ambassador and then banned all Malaysians in the country from leaving.

So, what does all this mean for the rest of us?

Last week, North Korea’s UN ambassador accused South Korea and the United States of orchestrating the murder ‘to tarnish the North’s image’. He also stated that North Korea would respond by bolstering its defences and capacity to ‘pre-emptive[ly] strike with a nuclear force’.


Let’s hope that like its failed missile launch on Wednesday, North Korea’s explosive threats will simply fizzle out.

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