On March 16th 2015, the Haryana Government unanimously passed Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Bill with main opposition parties INLD and Congress supporting the Bill. The new bill passed by the Haryana Government bans cow slaughter and sale of beef and imposes a punishment of rigorous imprisonment of not less than three years extending up to 10 years and fines ranging from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. one lakh. The Haryana Government’s move comes just days after the President’s assent to Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill 1995 early this month. Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill 1995 not only banned beef but also extended the prohibition to slaughter of bulls and oxen. There was already a ban on slaughter of cows in Maharashtra since 1976. The new amended act imposes a fine of Rs. 10,000 and a maximum prison term of five years for selling or even possessing beef.
What needs to be underlined here is that these bans on cow slaughter are not new; they were in existence in many of the states for many years. For example in Delhi, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, slaughter of cows and calves is totally prohibited. In Goa and Andhra Pradesh, ‘cow’ is defined to include heifer, or a male or female calf of a cow under the Goa, Daman and Diu Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act 1978 and Andhra Pradesh Prohibition of Cow Slaughter and Animal Preservation Act 1977, respectively. In some states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Madhya Pradesh slaughter of bulls, bullocks and adult buffalos is permitted on ‘fit for slaughter’ certificate if the cattle is over 12 or 15 years of age, is not likely to become economical for draught, breeding or milk. Assam and West Bengal provides for slaughter of all cattle which includes bull, bullocks, calves, cows and buffalo on ‘fit for slaughter’ certificate. Meghalaya and Nagaland have no legislation to this effect.
What, however, is new is the increase in quantum of punishment and fines being imposed in the recent legislations passed against slaughter of cows and other animals. Haryana was covered under the Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act 1955 and had a rigorous imprisonment upto five years and a fine upto Rs. 5000 or both. The new Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act increases punishment to rigorous imprisonment of three years to ten years and fines of Rs. 30,000 - Rs. 100,000. In many states like Gujarat, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka the punishment for cow slaughter is a maximum imprisonment of six months or fine upto Rs.1000 or both. The 1976 Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act also provided for similar punishment and fines. What also needs to be underlined is that in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan the burden of proof is on the accused. It shows how much importance has been attached to prevention of cow slaughter so as to have this extraordinary provision in the law. It is so ironical that the women’s movement had to struggle so hard to make this change in law in cases of rape to shift the burden of proof on the accused whereas it finds a place in these state’s laws on cow slaughter without anyone even noticing them.
That prohibition of slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and draught animals finds a place in the Directive Principles of State Policy in our Constitution and that many states in India have a law banning cow slaughter and beef is indicative of a deep seated majoritarian understanding of Indian culture. It shows that the nature of state in India is heavily tilted in a selective understanding of Indian and even Hindu tradition. This questions the whole edifice of secularism and equal respect for all religions in India. The understanding that Hindus stand against cow slaughter or that Hinduism has always shunned and continues to shun beef is a proposition which is deeply contested. It might well be that some castes or groups amongst Hindus revere the cow and find cow slaughter abominable, but this view is not true of all Hindus across India, either today or in the past.
Quite apart from the absurdity of imposing dietary preference of one privileged and powerful group over the rest, there are other compelling reasons to question the ban. The entire meat production industry, from the traditional to the modern, employs and meets livelihood needs of millions of Indians. India’s meat production ranks fifth at 6.3 million tonnes in which share of bovine meat (cow, buffalo, bull) constitutes 62%. Of this, less than a million tonnes is exported. Thus the rest of it goes to meet the dietary needs of millions of Indians. Thus in banning cow slaughter to appease a minority of Hindus, livelihood needs and therefore right to life of millions of Indians has been put at risk. And in the bargain, it also simultaneously removes cheap high protein diet for hundreds of millions of Indians of every denomination.
These bans which are being extended to cover other cattle as well under an expansive definition of ‘beef’ pose many kinds of problems like for poor farmers who cannot take care of an old cow and because of these bans can no longer sell it to an abattoir. It has serious livelihood ramifications for a large number of families directly and indirectly dependent on cattle trade and related industries like leather, gelatin, animal fat soap industry, pharmaceuticals and meat exports.
It is worth noticing that more than fifty percent of people engaged in meat production and related trade of skin, hides, bones etc are Hindus. And they are beef consumers. To PUDR this ban , therefore, is an assault on the right to life which involves livelihood and a diet of their choice, of Hindus, in whose name it has been brought in, as much as the religious minorities. In other words, it limits the dietary preferences of a substantial section of Indian people.
With Haryana and Maharashtra Governments’ pushing cow slaughter ban, not withstanding Goa’s BJP Chief Minister ruling out a cow slaughter ban in Goa, a majoritarian agenda is being promoted. Although, most of the state laws banning cow slaughter were passed by Congress governments, RSS affiliated Hindu right-wing groups are clamoring now for an all India ban on cow slaughter and for the strictest punishment for anyone indulging in it. This opens the door for fanatics to carry out raids, effect arrests and resort to organized violence against Muslims in particular. These laws provide a social and legal sanction to such groups to harass people who transport the cattle for selling, export and other purposes. The Haryana law includes police action against drivers of vehicles transporting beef and the impounding of such vehicles. PUDR’s 2003 report on Dalit Lynching at Dulina (in Jhajjhar district of Haryana) traces the underlying tensions on the issue of cow protection and its threat to some castes traditionally associated with cow slaughter and trading.
In light of all this, PUDR condemns the recent bans on ‘cow’ slaughter, which like many bans/proscriptions on books, literature, scholarship, films can only be understood in the context of right-wing Hindu upsurge in recent times. The ban is an infringement of personal dietary choices with the state having assumed the power to criminalize some of these. It is indeed a cruel irony that the exercise of this basic freedom invites a greater prison term as punishment than a grave criminal offence like rape for which the term is 7 years; or for deaths due to criminal negligence where the prison term is two years.
While it cannot be stressed enough that a democratic strategy is required to contest the upper caste Hindu bias which is reflected in the Constitution with regard to cow slaughter, we acknowledge that issues of cruelty to animals, animal shelters, maintenance of hygienic conditions in abattoirs, effective waste disposal do need attention. The ban is a reminder that we are being served a fait accompli leaving no room for debate/s or reasoned discussion. PUDR therefore denounces the narrow sectarian construction that conceals a much diverse and complex reality.
Megha Bahl, Sharmila Purkayastha