The Beef Ban Is Distracting Us From These Critical Issues India Is Facing

Posted by Ahmed Zuber in Politics, Society
June 12, 2017

Politics is always full of surprises. Particularly in the modern day scenario, bizarre events and peculiar decisions have become quite common. From the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the US to the rise of right-wing hardliner Marine Le Pen in France, the unusual seems to have become the usual nowadays.

And as such, the politics of the world’s largest democracy isn’t aloof from the rapidly rising phenomenon of populism either.

Recently, the hardliner Gorakhpur Member of Parliament Yogi Adityanath, who was until then considered a fringe element in his own party for his extreme right-wing ideology and for his stand against the party line on many occasions, was given the command of the largest state in the country after a landslide win in the elections by the ruling party.

While the decision surprised many, it did anything but startle those who have already become familiar with Narendra Modi’s style of politics – policies aimed towards a populist approach to governance and not on the basis of what’s best, considering the various pros and cons.

Coming to the issue at hand, the environment ministry of the government of India recently proposed and passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Image Credit: Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

While the new set of rules highlight several points related to animal cruelty, the one new regulation which has been in discussion ever since is the prohibition imposed by the government preventing the sale of animals at the animal markets for the purpose of slaughter.

The new set of rules state that a new animal market committee shall be created which shall regulate the cattle markets and make sure that the law is not broken while handling and selling the cattle. Both the sellers and the buyers have to produce a certificate stating that the animal is not being sold or bought for slaughter.

While the new set of rules have left most political analysts and meat lovers dumbfounded, it has become difficult even for the government to defend its actions, citing only environmental and ethical treatment of animals as the reasons, which are unsatisfactory.

The implications of the new rules are widespread. While they are an indirect attack on the autonomy of food eating habits that the Constitution grants the citizens, they are also going to have an immense impact on the agriculture sector and the income of the already aggrieved farmers, particularly the ones who hold only smaller portions of land.

The new sets of rules are absurd in every possible manner. But when one begins scrutinising the decision of the government and the underlying politics, a bigger picture emerges.

The new rules are nothing but another step by the government to achieve what its hardline supporters have been advocating, ever since it came to power, which is, a complete ban on the consumption of beef.

It is an integral part of the greater politics of beef consumption vs non-consumption, a debate which has arisen ever since the BJP led governments in various states have started imposing harsher rules, banning every form of cow slaughter and increasing the punishment of the offenders to stricter and longer terms.

The debate has pitted the opposition against the government and beef lovers against the government’s supporters. While it is quite clear that the cow is considered a deity in most northern states, and as such, the ban on cow slaughter is in accordance with majority sentiments, this is not the case everywhere.

And thus many people, particularly from the north-east and southern states, consider this an attack on their freedom to eat.

While the discussion on whether cow slaughter should be legalised is for another day, the topic at hand is about the new rules on cattle sale, which demands immediate attention and needs to be addressed promptly.

This happens to be so because, with this new law, the government has crossed the line. The new rules impose a de facto ban on cattle slaughter throughout the country as the majority of cattle procured for slaughter are through the animal markets. The ban is not simply confined to the northern states. And the government’s definition of cattle, apart from including the cow, involves another livestock species – the buffalo.

Unlike the rules regulating the sale, transport and slaughter of cows, buffaloes, in most cases, have been exempt from such rules, even in the Hindi heartland states. Until the enacting and imposition of these new rules, the slaughter of buffaloes and the consumption of their meat, with the exception of a few states, have been completely legal.

Thus the new rules, apart from being absurd and illogical, are also outrageous. Who gave the government the right to tell its citizens what to eat and what not to eat?

While the ban on cow slaughter has been in effect in many states for a long time, the previous governments have never tried to interfere in the buffalo meat industry. The cow slaughter ban can be explained keeping in mind the importance of public sentiment in a diverse country such as India, and since India proclaims itself to be a secular country, but how does the government justify banning the slaughter of buffaloes? To me, there doesn’t appear to be a single plausible logic or fact which justifies this aggression by the government, and its invasion of the fundamental rights of its subjects in a proud democratic society.

Why the ban is illogical, irrational and unjustifiable needs to be discussed.

First of all, India happens to be the largest exporter of beef in the world. Though it may surprise many, this is in fact true. Beef, in this context, principally refers to buffalo meat. Large scale buffalo slaughter and export of its meat is done by many large slaughter houses run in India, owned by many prominent businessmen.

The animals procured for this purpose are those animals which have become unproductive and thus are sold by their owners.

Moreover, buffalo meat is regularly consumed by the common citizens of India in large numbers, and in many places such as the north-east regions and Kerala, it happens to be a staple diet.

This meat happens to be cheap and is easily available, and as such, is an important food, particularly for those who are poor and less fortunate.

The meat industry, apart from having a large number of workers who work in the slaughterhouses, employs a large number of small-time butchers who slaughter and sell on a daily basis and thus, is a source of employment and livelihood for them. To them, the meat industry is their bread and butter.

For the farmers and thus the agriculture sector, the returns which they get by selling older and unproductive livestock is of utmost importance, particularly in times of insufficient rains and drought. The animal markets provide them with an easy place to sell their animals, wherein they don’t have to spend much on the transport of the cattle.

In fact, the data on agricultural sector economics clearly points towards the importance of livestock economy and its overall contribution to the agricultural sector is greater than that of the food grains. As a matter of fact, the contribution of the livestock to the agricultural economy has been estimated to be up to a whopping 28% and thus to the Indian GDP, 4%.

Moreover, in any possible case, the farmers can’t harbour and feed the animals which have become unproductive, and selling them is their only feasible option.

Thus, in light of all these facts, it’s quite clear that any government with the well-being of its subjects in mind would never resort to such senseless actions. These actions on the one hand directly threaten to the loss of revenue in billions of dollars through the export industry, and at the same time, attacks the freedom of its subjects to eat in accordance with their preferences in a democratic society.

While on one hand, this will simply lead to the loss of jobs in the unorganised sector in an already poor country, this will also crumble the already fractured economy of the agricultural sector.

In a country where hundreds of farmers have been committing suicide due to their inability to repay their loans and their failure to even earn back the capital they expend on their crops by the selling of their produce, does it not show how irresponsible and insensitive the government has become that it has resorted to framing such ignorant policies?

What surprises further is that the government hasn’t put even a single credible argument in defence of its actions which is persuasive or conceivable, and thus has shown itself to be incompetent of defending or proving the rationale of its own actions.

And well, what shall we actually expect the government to say, when the whole decision is devoid of logic and is a populist move on the government’s part to enhance its foothold in its strongholds of the Hindi heartland, keeping in mind the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Further, one cannot deny the simple observation that the government, by trying to entangle the opposition and the masses in debates of what to eat and what not to eat, is, in fact, trying to distract attention from its repeated failure of its policies on both the national and the international front.

Take, for instance, the demonetization drive by the government announced in November last year. It was hailed by the ruling party and the government as a revolutionary step to fight corruption and proclaimed to be a crusade against black money and the funding of the insurgency in Kashmir. Many economists at that time, including former PM Manmohan Singh and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, had warned that the decision was an ill-conceived move on the government’s part and that it would lead to large scale chaos and have severe repercussions.

Well, it led exactly to that. While demonetization failed to provide any significant progress in reducing black money, on the other hand, it slowed down the growth of the Indian economy, which until then had been the fastest growing economy in the world, a claim which now rests with our rival neighbour China. The GDP growth rate fell to 6.1% from 7.1% in the previous quarter, even when the government had employed a different method to calculate the GDP. Otherwise, the fall would have been greater.

The exercise failed to reduce corruption as well, and recently India was ranked as the most corrupt nation in Asia by Forbes. The exercise also wreaked havoc throughout the country with more than a hundred dying due to standing in long queues.

The government’s foreign policy is also not leading us anywhere. While relations with Pakistan are at an all-time low, tensions are running high and the brunt of this is being bored by the soldiers serving at the border.

The government’s repeated attempts to isolate Pakistan at the international forum have failed and India’s longtime ally Russia is also extending hands of friendship to Pakistan.

Neighbours like Nepal, which have always shared pleasant relations with India, are turning towards China.

On the domestic front, the government’s approach and policy towards Kashmir have been a monumental failure. The ruling party’s jingoistic approach towards the Kashmir issue has led to a complete deterioration of the situation in an already volatile and sensitive region.

The valley, which had been peaceful for many years, is now in a state of chaos and widespread unrest, with passions running high and attacks on security forces increasing day by day.

Keeping all this in mind, do we actually need a new law to ban the trade of cattle and indulge ourselves in senseless debates when there are much more significant issues which require the attention of the government as well as citizens alike?

With ever increasing instances of sexual abuse and rapes, police officials are instead busy catching cattle smugglers. Recently, UP police top cop Sulkhan Singh had asked his officers to invoke the National Security Act and the Gangsters Act on cattle smugglers. With these issues occupying the attention of the police, can we actually hope for a society free of lawlessness and where women can actually feel free and safe?

If this is the future of our society and our country, then it is needless to say that we are treading on a very dangerous path, a path which can lead us to inevitable anarchy and destruction, unless we come to our senses within time and start striving to carve our own destinies, and that of the society and the nation which we live in.

We need to realise this sooner than later. Otherwise, it may be too late!