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Assam Plans To Regulate Cattle Slaughter: A Debate With History Rooted In Hindutva

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Of late, Assam government tabled a legislation Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021 to protect cattle in the state and regulate their slaughter and consumption and prevent their illegal transportation.

Only cows over fourteen years of age or those permanently incapacitated owing to work, breeding, accident, or deformity will be certified for slaughter. The certified cattle can be slaughtered only at licensed slaughterhouses.

The Bill further proposes to ban the transportation of cattle from outside the state and to restrict their movement within Assam. Such regulations are indeed a forewarning of the shrinking nature of the secular fabric of our country.

History Of The Debate

In the Constituent Assembly banning cow slaughter was debated very vividly in India, mainly by the upper caste Hindu members. Initially there was an attempt to paint the whole issue of cow slaughter a secular colour. Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava built his justifications for banning cow slaughter upon the idea of cow’s economic utility, rather than religion.

Bhargava claimed that in order to sustain human health and to grow enough food to alleviate the food problems of India, there is an urgent need to increase agricultural production, which depended heavily on the improvement of cows and their breed. He also shone light upon the utility of the cow’s manure for agricultural use.

Nevertheless, some upper caste Hindu members of the Constituent Assembly staunchly rejected the secularising attempt of cow slaughter. Seth Govind Das posited that the cow is a holy animal and a motherly figure.

Therefore, Das opined that there is no point to allow the slaughter of cows. He rather stressed upon the necessity to provide religious grounds for the ban of cow slaughter. He went to the extent of highlighting the issue that cow slaughter was not an integral part of Islam.

Representational image.

Thus, after a deep-seated debate, Article 48 was made part of the Constitution as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy.

It reads thus: “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”.

Thus, in its final form Article 48 meticulously avoided the question of religious sentiments. Nor did it require the state to ban cow slaughter outright.

Religion In The Garb Of Economy

Despite the economic logic put forward by members of the Constituent Assembly, it was felt by many that cow protection was pushed forth on religious lines. Granville Austin, the historian of India’s Constitution argued that as various provisions of the Irish Constitution reveal that Ireland is a Roman Catholic nation, likewise Article 48 of Indian Constitution reveals that Hindu sentiment predominated in the Constituent Assembly.

Thus the regulations on cow slaughter are not events that sparked with the rise of the Modi Government. Hindu Nationalism has always been taking a toll on our secular fabric since independence. Congress party which always lauds itself to be the propagator of secular principles has the history of passing bills that regulate cow slaughter.

For instance, The Bihar Preservation and Improvement of Animals Act, 1955; The Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950; The Madhya Pradesh Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act, 1959; The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960; The Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955 are some of the acts passed by Congress governments in various states of India to regulate cow slaughter. 

It is surprising to note that Savarkar, apparently the greatest Hindu nationalist of India and the father of Hindutva never saw the significance of banning cow slaughter. Vaibhav Purandare, the author of “Savarkar: The True Story of The Father of Hindutva” avers that if one deliberately slaughters a cow to vex Hindus then Savarkar would perceive it as a problem. However, it would be fine with Savarkar if the killing is just for the sake of eating.

He was indeed antithetical to religious beliefs such as cow worshipping. For him, cow was only a useful animal. He posited that humans needed to worship something or someone who was super-human or furnished with super-human qualities, not an animal inferior to humankind. 

Nonetheless, the BJP government which is a staunch supporter of Hindutva contradicts Savarkar on the matter of cow slaughter. In recent times, BJP governments in many of the states have introduced laws to make the ban on cow slaughter more stringent. Thus, we can conclude that the Hindutva of BJP contrasts the ideas of Savarkar to some extent. 

In addition to a threat on India’s secular fabric, laws regulating cow slaughter have affected the diversity of our country too. Food habits of different communities of the people in India keep our diversity alive and allow it to prosper. Toleration and acceptance of such differences stiffen the very prospect of creating a country which can proudly project the slogan of “Unity in Diversity”.

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