The issue revolving around the beef ban first came to light on a national level when the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq took place in Dadri by a strong mob of rowdy right wing elements. After the incident, it seemed that the investigating agencies were more interested in carrying out a forensic investigation of not the lynching incident, but whether the meat in the fridge of Akhlaq, was a goat or cow. This led to people questioning the government’s intentions as instead of probing the death of a man, they made efforts to make him look like the culprit.
Many such attacks then took place, majorly by people masquerading as gau rakshaks, reportedly hailing from Hindutva extremists organisations. Only recently bowing down to the sentiments of the larger public, Narendra Modi broke his silence on gau terrorism (cow terrorism) and pronounced that killing people in the name of ‘Gau Bhakti’ is not acceptable. Modi’s message came a day after India saw nationwide #NotInMyName protests condemning the lynching of 16-year-old Junaid Khan and reacting to other mob lynchings over the last few months.
An important thing to understand is the difference between cow and beef. The difference arises in state to state basis like in Maharashtra cows (includes a heifer or male or female calf of a cow) and their slaughter is prohibited, whereas In UP The law defines “beef” as the flesh of cow and of such bull or bullock whose slaughter is banned.
A report by The Indian Express explains in detail, the status of the beef ban in different states. The report shows how the ruling party has contradictory policies in their states. In UP, foreigners can eat beef but the residents can’t; similarly in Madhya Pradesh, one can kill the buffalo but not a cow. Almost every Indian state ruled by BJP, except Goa and the North Eastern states, have blanket bans on beef. To mock the dichotomy showed by BJP, people made the slogan “UP mein mummy and Goa mei yummy” which went viral on social media, embarrassing the ruling party.
We are a secular country. That means that the Government has no religion and it cannot get biased towards practices and eating habits of any religion. But, through all such examples, it seems as the real purpose of the beef ban is to force the religious beliefs of the majority community to gain votes.
Sreepraksh who was a BJP candidate for parliamentary by- election announced on April 2, 2017, that if he won he would guarantee safe, clean beef from air-conditioned slaughter houses. Similarly, Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs on May 28, 2015, said that “I eat beef, I’m from Arunachal Pradesh, can somebody stop me? So let us not be touchy about somebody’s practices.” Later he said, “I was misquoted”. Maybe it is not only the citizens who are facing the intolerance, but BJP Leaders who eat beef are also in the same boat.
It is therefore evident, how the issue of cow and beef is more of a political propaganda and lacks religious or economic ground. Recently, the government also brought in the legislation blanket banning beef and cow slaughter across the nation, bringing criticism from many liberal states. Not only does this hamper federal structures, but also, the order was challenged in court where Madras high court stayed it. Later, the Supreme Court also said that the Madras High Court’s interim order, which lapsed on July 8, 2017, would continue and will remain in force across the country. Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar said in his order that “the livelihood of people should not be affected by this”.
The legal argument given by people in support of this ban is that it is prescribed in Constitution. Quoting Article 48, Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry,“The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”. The argument is factually misleading as Article 48 is from Part IV deals with Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP). These are guiding principles and not enforceable by law. Also, there is no religious protection for the cow or any other cattle under the Constitution and the issue of cow slaughter in the DPSP is tied to agriculture and the interests of animal husbandry.
As recently as January 2017, the Bombay High Court held that while cow slaughter could be prohibited, the act of, say, eating beef itself could not be criminalised since that it is a violation of the Right to Life, a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution.
Many say that the ban could end up hurting some $4bn in annual beef exports and millions of jobs. There are about 180 million cattle in India, and millions get disposed either by natural death or through slaughtering every year. This ban makes it impossible for farmers to get rid of unproductive cattle and or ones who do not give milk. In these conditions, the question that arises is, who would buy their unproductive cattle if not for slaughter?
In a way, this ban justifies itself by speaking of diseased or sick cattle, but it does not say anything in respect to other meat giving animals like goat, chicken or sheep slaughter. If this is the case, then the wise step could be proper health checks keeping in mind the fitness of cattle and maintenance of slaughter houses with better storage for raw meat instead of blanket banning.
India accounted for the registered beef export value of US$3,680 million of the world’s total output (US$19,886 million), according to data from Export Genius, in 2016.
We already have the Transport of Animals Rules, 1978, which has an entire chapter (Chapter IV) dedicated to the transport of cattle. This law already carries forward handling guidelines, something that the government wanted to bring through slaughter ban law. The problem lies in implementation with the previous law and not in the law itself.
While working in Uttarakhand, I observed that the slaughter of beef is part of customary practices of people from Hindu communities living in the mountains. Therefore, the assumption that the ban is on religious grounds also holds no basis whatsoever. This is only one example of many instances where these customs are followed by different Hindu community all across the country.
This debate of the blanket ban also echoed in our constituent assembly, but a consensus emerged that instead of any national statute banning the slaughter of a cow or beef across the country, it would be included under directive principles of state policy. Our law still does not get biased towards any religion. If this would have been the case, it will open a plethora of demands for a ban on things, like the Jain demanding banning of onion or garlic, etc.
People come out with different arguments supporting the ban and how urine and cow dung are used for medical purposes. This still needs to be substantiated through clinical trials. Recently, Time Magazine published an article on how cows can help fight HIV. This study also required further research and clinical trials to understand the feasibility of replication in humans. Till this doesn’t happen, the issue of cow slaughter is not going to die. Very soon it will emerge during the elections, in a bid to polarise votes and take political gain by saffronizing the issue. We as citizens should uphold the brotherhood and not get brainwashed by wrong elements. India needs to look at this debate in more logical, legal and factual context rather merely by flared up emotions.
At last, I will quote the father of our nation M.K. Gandhi when asked by people on his opinions of the ban;
“How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here.”