In the past days, the Central government’s new Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules has run into strong headwinds. These rules, which effectively ban the sale of cows and buffaloes for the butcher at animal markets, and are therefore perceived as imposing an indirect beef ban, have been the subject of protests in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. With the Madras High Court on Tuesday staying the rules for four weeks, the battle has quickly moved to the court as well. Apart from the political turmoil, legal and constitutional fault lines have also been reopened, causing much uncertainty about what the result will be.
Beef butcher or slaughter dispute in the Constituent Assembly
The beef slaughter/butcher prohibition dispute has a long history, which goes back to the founding father of our Constitution. During the framing of the Constitution, the subject of cow slay was one of the most controversial topics of debate. Many leaders, framed it as a “civilisational problem from the time of Lord Krishna”, and called for the ban of cow slaughter to be made part of the Constitution’s chapter on fundamental rights. Proponents of a cow slaughter ban advanced a blend of cultural and economic arguments, invoking the “sentiments of thirty crores of the population” on the one side, and the indispensability of cattle in an agrarian economy on the other.
Issues on this controversial subject
Fundamental rights were meant to lie in human beings, not animals. After much dispute, the Constitution’s Drafting Committee agreed upon a compromise: prohibition of cow slaughter would find a place in the Constitution, but not as an enforceable fundamental right. It would be included as a “Directive Principle of State Policy”, which was meant to guide the state in policymaking, but couldn’t be imposed in any court. In its final shape, this Directive Principle (Article 48 of the Constitution) carefully excluded the question of religious sentiments.
Article 48 says the state:
- Shall “organise agriculture and animal husbandry on scientific lines
- Shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and other milch and draught cattle.”
Many leaders are not happy with these back door tactics. Under India’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the government and the Environment Ministry passed a notification effectively disallowing the mass sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets. Demanding an undertaking from sellers that the cattle are only being sold for agricultural purposes and significantly complicating both the paperwork and the process of the sale of cattle meat. This ruling caused an uproar that only grows louder as the weeks go by.
Beef, in particular, has been a controversial issue that has complicated traditional religious and cultural fault-lines. Since the ruling party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with cow protection as a key part of its platform. The fight over beef has never really left the public conversation. Individuals have been targeted in states that have banned or are considering bans against cow slaughter on mere suspicion of beef possession. Armies of religious crusaders referred to as gau-rakshaks or “cow protectors” have both verbally and physically become more comfortable with aggression in the face of beef.
Meat sellers and exporters who have long feared steps towards a complete beef ban have already touted this as one. The central government, however, has clarified on more than one occasion that the implementation of this ruling is still the choice of individual states and that this is not an outright beef ban, but a restriction on the slay of agricultural cattle. While legally this might be true, as a Kerala high court observed, in practice, the lines are not clear.
Leading the protest against this notification was the state of Kerala where some of the earliest so-called beef fests were held in defiance of the govt. Matching Kerala’s eagerness is West Bengal, whose Chief Minister called the legislation undemocratic and unconstitutional. Both the states’ leaders have also indicated that in addition to being targeted at particular communities and food cultures, this also serves as an attempt to take power away from state units in the federal system. Bihar backed this line of thought, declaring that states hadn’t been taken into confidence, and a high court in Tamil Nadu even placed a four-week stay on the notification.
While the southern states have been more demonstrative in their protests, the northeastern states, where beef is a significant part of the cuisine, have been quite upset too. States have either completely disregarded the notification as inapplicable or expressed much discomfort with it. A BJP district president in Meghalaya even quit the party after calling the move an ideological imposition. In Goa, BJP’s national spokesperson had to tackle a clamor of questions regarding the ban and abruptly left the press conference.
Within a week of the declaration, the central government clarified that it was open to suggestions made by groups opposing it and was reviewing petitions. Though, a response from the central government against the mass agitation within states has taken two directions. The first is to clarify and call it a “non ban,” without providing any kind of reassurance that a full ban will not be sought. It is hard to forget in this perspective that the right-wing elements have reiterated at several points its call for a national ban on cow slaughter. The second is clearing that states still had leeway over implementation, without exactly going into how center-state power-sharing would work out in such a situation. The BJP’s grave assurances that this wasn’t aimed at targeting any individual group never once contend with the fact that a number of minority communities closely work with cattle meat. The protests against this notification have been the sites of polarity and discord.
Support for prohibition of Cow butcher:
Cattle, the main source of livelihood for farmers, shouldn’t have such a painful end. There must be an acknowledgment of the role of livestock in our economy and society. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. With the number of indigenous cows declining and the disappearance of local breeds, prohibit on cow butcher is requisite. There is a great demand for cattle products, especially desi breeds, because of the growing popularity of Ayurveda and organic farming. Cows of Indian breed or desi cows have high medicinal value as compared to foreign breeds. With the importance being given to organic farming, desi cow dung can be used to make organic fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, and insecticides
Cry against the prohibition of cow slaughter:
There was no ban on cow slaughter in our ancient religious texts, so even a ban on cow slaughter on religious grounds was unreasonable. This is only a political decision, instead of a ban, there must be strict regulation. Due to advances in agricultural and cattle breeding technologies, farmers find it uneconomical to keep animals that are unproductive. A large section of the population below the poverty line has beef as a staple. The government doesn’t appear to be looking at the problem of insolvency that the leather industry might face. Nutritionists say that animal protein yields better height, stronger muscles, a fact often suggested as a solution to answer India’s malnutrition problems. Beef is a source of inexpensive protein.
As cattle get older, slaughtering is a safe way of managing them, or else they are generally abandoned. Europe withdraws slaughter after medical science proved that cutting jugular veins and carotid arteries with a sharp knife are not painful. The number of cattle reared for agricultural activities like ploughing. A cattle grazing is one of the main reasons for the degradation of forests. The ban will render cattle rearing unviable. Beef remains a preferred food item of tribals, Dalits, some minorities, the OBCs as well as the younger generation. If the ‘sale-to-slaughterhouse’ option is prohibited, farmers will gradually give up rearing cattle & may end up endangering their numbers in the long run.
Why can’t a secular state that guarantees religious freedom for all ensure that citizens are allowed their own choice of food?
First, today’s government doesn’t seem to have a scheme for providing alternative job opportunities for those involved in this practice — slaughtering meat markets, etc. Second, Indian agriculture has restricted involvement of animals in different agricultural activities.
The new generation doesn’t have a place for animals. A decade ago, feeding animals was a ritual. Today, no one bothers about this. Abandoned cows mostly look for the garbage and ingesting plastic waste. Implementing restrictions on consuming meats of any kind is pointless unless there is a total ban on slaughter. The government has no rights to enter the kitchen of a citizen and advise him on what he should or should not eat. If it is the idea of the government that vegetarianism should be promoted on health grounds, then it should ban selling meat and fish.
The beef ban appears to be nothing but an attempt to promote a right-wing agenda. For the poor, beef is the only affordable red meat. The ban is unfortunate and politically motivated and will annihilate the economy of thousands of families who depend on it for their livelihood. Before taking any decision on cow banning government need discussion with all interest group. It is not only a religious issue but connected with social, economical, cultural, and livelihood issues. So, there shouldn’t be any hasty decision but keeping in mind all people who affected by this legislation. So, there is need for more consensuses and consent and then arrive on the outcome that protects all people's interests keeping in mind the national interest and economic and developmental issues related to this contentious issue.