One thing that has flooded the news channels with debates and discussions these days is the highly controversial ban that was imposed on the slaughter of cows and other cattle that indeed caused a “beef” between the Govt and the public. Much worse is the dangerous manifestation of communal intolerance wherein mobs of religious extremists masqueraded as patriots have resorted to publicly lynching and killing minorities on the allegation of cow slaughter. The impending culpable silence of the Govt was only recently broken when the Prime Minister finally chose to speak up and attempted to rein-in the saffron-clad army saying that “Killing people in the name of ‘gau bhakti’ is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve”. When law and order is reduced to a silent spectator to the unreasonable hatred and mob-violence perpetrated on fellow human beings, justice is condemned to virtual non-existence in our country that had once prided itself for its varied cultures and unity in diversity.
The Constitutional Basis
The Constitution of India indeed contains a provision for the protection of cattle in the Directive Principles of State Policy[i], but it is no way a justification to the viciousness that has been unleashed on the beef-eating communities in India in the recent times. However, with the meat-eating community of India being of a large proportion, it is inappropriate that propaganda is being formulated and implemented against specific communities and minorities. In the light of all the political strife and communal and social unrest, it is important to have a look at the historical track of the “holy” relationship between cow and our Constitution. The story dates back to the earliest Hindu sentiments towards cows, intertwined with the position afforded to the animal in various epics and tales. It is interesting to note that cows even had a role in the unrest amongst the Hindu Sepoys in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 (better known as the First War of Indian Independence), since they were expected to bite off the paper cartridges (made of cow and pig fat) of ammunition that was provided to them. The Muslim counterparts also protested (biting off the paper made of pig fat was against Islamic religious mandates), and the combined effect in turn added fire to the Sepoys’ protest and uprise against the British Command. While history goes that the poor animals unknowingly played a major role in our fight against our oppressors, the current social situation in India is far from being anything justifiable.
The legal basis for the protection commences from the Constitutional Assembly Debates, with members like Seth Govind Das, Pandit Thakurdas, Shibban Lal Saxena, Ram Sahai and Raghu Vira who clandestinely petitioned for the inclusion of cow protection in our Constitutional scheme. The Draft Constitution of India did not contain any such provision, and the current presence of the same is the result of the pressure exercised by the Hindu Fundamentalists on the Assembly. The debate went through phases of rational and religious sentiments unraveling themselves in the course of the discussion, with the rationality resting on the economic advantages of cattle and citing examples of Mughal emperors who did not practice cow slaughter in their reign (religiousness never needed any logical backing up, and stood strong on the silent dominance exercised by the fundamentalist majority upon the minority). And there we have, the cow with a special protection right in our Constitution, while all the other poor animals of the Country are left to fend for themselves.
The Controversial Notification
The catastrophic move came from the Central Govt in the form of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017 (INDIAN KANOON) by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) published on 23rd May 2017, and immediately caused mixed responses from various stakeholders. The Ministry issued a Press Release[ii] later clarifying that prime focus of the regulation is to protect the animals from cruelty and not to regulate the existing trade in cattle for slaughter houses.
However, nothing has so far stopped the cow-vigilantes from exterminating innocent people on the allegations of possession and consumption of beef, as evidenced by the alarming instances that come to light day by day.
- In Assam, on April 20th, 2017, two young men were allegedly killed by a mob of cow vigilantes, after being accused of trying to steal cows for slaughter.
- In Assam on 1st May 2017, two Muslim men were lynched in Nagaon district of Assam on suspicion of stealing cows. Though the police managed to rescue the men, both of them later succumbed to their injuries.
- On June 22, 2017, three men were lynched in Islampur, Uttar Dinajpur for allegedly trying to steal cows.
- On June 23rd, 2017, on the Delhi-Ballabhgarh train, four men were lynched allegedly over rumors of beef eating.
- On June 27th, 2017, in Jharkhand, a 55-year-old dairy owner Usman Ansari was beaten up and his house was set on fire by mobs because a headless carcass of a cow was found near his house and the Police had a tough time rescuing the victim.
- On June 29th, 2017, in Jharkhand, Alimuddin alias Asgar Ansari was beaten to death by mobs for allegedly carrying beef.
The conscience of India has not yet revived from the shock of the young teenage boy Junaid who was beaten to death on a train from Delhi to Mathura just prior to Eid. And the very next week another man was attacked in the name of the holy cow; which the when the Prime Minister chose to express his reproach finally. Though cases have been registered and the Police are apparently trying to curb the situation, it is quite evident that the religious fanatics camouflaging as animal protectors are refusing to stay low easily, and the secularist (more so, pluralist) system that our Country was founded on, is being mocked by these anti-social elements. The line between nationalism and Right-winged fundamentalism has now dangerously blurred, and is threatening the very integrity of India. The religious oppression that is being passed off as animal protection is taking over the social and political spectra, dampening the more serious issues our country is faced with.
Ironically enough, the poor harmless creatures who would prefer to have nothing to do with any bloodshed, do not realize the amount of bloodshed that is being carried out in their name by zealots and political leaders manipulating the system. This, in a country where endangered animals are still hunted and poached and other animals are free to be slaughtered and eaten. On another note, the legislators are lucky enough that animals are not capable of claiming an equal protection of the said law, since one might safely argue that religious worship is really not a basis of reasonable discrimination under Art. 14; and if all the efforts are indeed for the protection of animals, let’s do better than lynching innocent people to death.
[i] Art. 48, Constitution of India: “The State shall endeavor to organize 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“.
[ii] Rules on prevention of cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) to ensure welfare of Animals & Protect Animals from Cruelty: Environment Ministry, Press Information Bureau, on 27-May-2017 18:06 IST
[iii] Source: Wikipedia (News)