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The Dilemma of Cow Slaughter in India

Posted on January 17, 2012 in Society

By Anshul Kumar Pandey:

“Hindus commit no sin, if they cannot prevent cow slaughter at the hands of Muslims, and they do sin grievously when in order to save the cow, they quarrel with the Muslims.” -Mahatma Gandhi

The Madhya Pradesh government’s recently passed ‘Gau Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Act 2012’ is a ridiculous piece of legislation and should be thoroughly criticized and debunked for its innate communal overtones. As a piece of legislation, it has set up new standards of intellectual and legislative bankruptcy of the political class of Madhya Pradesh and has exposed its obsession with injecting communal poison into the society.

It is not for the first time that such an act has been passed in any state in India. Such poorly conceived but equally ridiculous rules and regulations prohibiting cow slaughter exist in other states too, such as Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand etc. However, it is in the BJP ruled states that an attempt, to give communal policies a legislative facade, is being made. This exposes the larger conspiracy to turn these states into hotspots of communalism inside and under a secular country. Meanwhile, the so called secular parties of the country have chosen to act like mute spectators to this entire drama and have turned a blind eye to this whole issue.

Commenting upon the preposterousness of such an act, Javed Anand, co-editor of the online magazine ‘Communalism Combat’, opined:

“Under its new law, a humble head constable upwards, “any person authorized by a competent authority” has the power to enter, inspect and search any premises “where he has a reason to believe that an offence has been, is being or is likely to be committed and take necessary action.” “

“In a state where as often as not the police functions as the private militia of the Saffron Brotherhood, who is to determine, and on what basis, whether a chunk of meat stored in the fridge or simmering on the burner comes from a Buffalo (not prohibited) or from a cow or its progeny?” (1)

It is clear from the ambiguous and vague wording of this new act that this piece of legislation is not specifically designed and enacted to curb cow slaughter, but is a tool to harass the minority community, particularly the Muslims, and establish Hindu supremacy in the state. It is ironic that for the devotees of a religion that has long held the tradition of ‘bali’ (sacrifice of any animal, even a cow) at the altar of a deity to please it, cow slaughter by members of a different religious community should whip up such public outcry. This not only shows the double standards of those advocating a ban against cow slaughter, but also shows the sheer illogical will in a failure to recognize that beef forms an important part in the food chain of the nature and that constitutionally too, slaughter of a cow cannot be prohibited even under section 256 of the IPC.


For such a ridiculous piece of legislation could have entered the hallowed halls of a state legislature and come out unscathed in the form of a law, points to a strong historical precedent on the whole issue. Indeed, historically, the cow has been upheld as a holy animal and has been worshipped by eminent national leaders from Swami Dayanand Saraswati to Mahatma Gandhi. Apparently, the firebrand Maharatta nationalist and orator, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, got so perturbed by the issue that he bellowed in exasperation to a bewildered crowd “Kill me but spare the cow!”

In his magnum opus on ancient India, “The Wonder That Was India”, the celebrated Indologist, Mr. A.L.Basham, while commenting upon the Political life and thought of the state writes:

“In later times, the lives of many animals were protected by law, especially, that of the cow. The story of the Chola king who ordered the execution of his own son for the accidental killing of the calf is certainly a legend, and we need not believe that Kumarapala (c. 1143-1172), the Jaina king of the Caulukya dynasty of Gujarat, so strictly enforced non violence that heavy fines were inflicted on people who killed fleas, but these stories show the climate of opinion in medieval India. In the later period, the wanton killing of a cow was among the most serious of crimes.” (2)

However, raising some ambiguity over the contention that it was strictly forbidden to slaughter cows in ancient India, Mr. Basham writes:

“The inviobility of the cow was of slow growth. Though, there seems to have been some feeling against the killing of cows even in Vedic times. Ashoka did not forbid the slaughter of cattle, and oxen, at any rate, was killed for food even later. But the ARTHASHASTRA refers to the existence of herds of aged, diseased and sterile cattle and it therefore appears that even before the Christian era they were normally allowed to die a natural death at least in some parts of the country. The same work suggests that those who kill cattle should be put to death but from the context it is clear that this prescription applies only to killers of beasts stolen from the royal herds.” (3)

In modern India, cow slaughter as a political issue first propped up in the early 1880s in the Punjab, where the members of the Kuki tribe tried to extract political dividends by flaring up communal tension in the area. However, violence soon broke out and the British authorities intervened to restore law and order and peace was again established. But cow slaughter as a strong political issue had marked its debut.

Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who, through his Arya Samaj, sought to eradicate the ills of Hinduism by abolishing child marriage, idol worship, polytheism etc., threw his weight behind the cow protection movement by establishing various cow protection committees in various parts of the country which whipped up communal tension between the rival communities and finally culminated in the communal riots of 1893 which started from Mau in Azamgarh, but soon spread over various parts of the country.

Delving further into the politics of Cow Protectionism, Sekhar bandopadhyay, professor at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, in his book “From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India” writes:

“Extremist politics and Hindu revivalism — the impact of cow killing riots in North India, for example — by reinforcing the social fault lines further facilitated Muslim mobilization. The Hindu bhadralok in Bengal often looked down upon the Muslims with contempt. The Hindu ‘jatras’ or rural theatrical performances often indulged in vilification of Muslim historical persona, which was not very lightly taken by the anjumans or the mullahs. The cumulative effect of all these factors was the accumulation of social tension which ultimately culminated in Communal Violence.” (4)

For a Muslim, beef presented a cheap source of nutrition and diet, cheaper than say, goat meat. However, with the growing objections of the Hindu majority, beef not only became a symbolic gesture of asserting independence, but it also took the form of an icon of Muslim cultural identity. It was a tool of rebellion against the oppression perpetrated by the Hindu majority and in it the Muslim community began to see their method of asserting their rights and religious practices.

Throughout the playing out of this communal propaganda, the reaction of the so called secular parties, most importantly The Congress provided an insight into the religious sentimentality associated with the issue of cow slaughter. According to Mr. Bandopadhyay:

“…in its 1888 session, Congress passed a rule that no resolution would be accepted if an overwhelming majority of Hindu or Muslim delegates objected to it….But these symbolic gestures did not remove the apprehension of the Muslims, while the crucial silence of the Congress during the cow killing riots of 1893 added further to such misgivings. Congress was not directly involved in the Cow protection movement, nor did it sympathize with this cause; but by speaking against it, they felt, they might loose the support of the Hindu constituency. Its silence was misinterpreted — for legitimate reasons — as concurrence; and as John McLane has shown, Muslim participation in Congress sessions began to decline rather dramatically after 1893. Yet there was no major congress endeavor to bring the Muslims back into its fold.” (5)

These words would have still rung true had Mr. Bandopadhyay would have been writing about the present policies of secular parties like the Congress in the context of cow slaughter even today. One may even go as far as to add, that the secular parties of the country bear as much responsibility for the communalization of Indian polity as much as the communal forces, because of their inability to properly demonstrate to the Indian public, the dangers of Communalization, right from their very origin.


One can then conclusively argue that the recently passed Madhya Pradesh bill banning cow slaughter is not an isolated act of communal bias, but is a small part in the larger scheme of things to divide the polity of this country on the basis of religion.

The propensity of the hyper religious audience is such that the reason and rationality of a particular argument finds itself in a cul-de-sac surrounded by angry chants of tradition and culture. No debate should take place. Dissent should be quelled. Every logic should be scuttled in the name of faith and belief. Anyone who tries to differ and argue is branded as a heretic and his/her actions are labeled as sacrilegious. An attempt, then, is made to steer the whole discourse into a majority vs. minority issue and to exclude the many in the name of the most. Such reasoning is already expected as this logically crippled and adrenaline pumped audience proceeds to prepare a lethal cocktail of the nationalistic, the religious and the majoritarian. Even nationalism comes to be defined to mean majoritarianism and the domain of ‘we’ is then split into ‘us’ and ‘they’. Religion is then used more as an instrument of hatred and propaganda, rather than a positive force of tolerance and compassion. Faith vanishes and the only purpose of religion remains to act like a torchbearer of majoritarian identity in order to gain a share in the spoils collected through vitiating the political spectrum. This is the religious right’s ideal nation. This is their dream come true.

But while this may be a dream for a considerably large proportion of the country, it can only be humbly described as a terrible nightmare which would serve as a precursor to doom for secular bhadralok scattered throughout the country. The need of the moment is to rise up to the occasion and make the people of the country aware about such perfidious legislation being passed by the ultra religious forces and to combat the scourge of communalism. The time is over when we could have chucked such laws out of the window labeling them as acts of insanity. Aggressive secularism is the way forward.

(1) Javed Anand, “Using the Cow”, Indian Express, January 5, 2012
(2) A.L.Basham, The State: Political Life and Thought in “The Wonder that was India”, Picador India, pp. 120
(3) A.L.Basham, Op.Cit. pp.196
(4) Sekhar Bandopadhyay, Early Nationalism in “From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India”, Orient Blackswan, pp.269
(5) Sekhar Bandopadhyay, Op.Cit. pp.234