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Nationwide ban on cow slaughter mooted

The National Commission for Cattle (NCC) in India has proposed a constitutional amendment which would allow for a ban on cow slaughter nationwide. At present slaughter of cow is banned only in some, mostly northern, states of India which are called the "cow belt".

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was recently presented with the Commission’s report here by the acting chairman of the NCC, Ghuman Mal Lodha. The report, in four volumes containing 1,500 pages, is being considered as “one of the biggest in the history of reports on speechless, deaf and dumb cattle.”

Lodha, who headed a 16-member commission, is a former high court judge and a former member of Parliament representing the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now ruling at the centre at the head of the National Democratic Alliance.

Talking to mediapersons, Lodha said, “We have come to the conclusion that unless cow protection is made a fundamental right and there is central legislation to enforce this right with a Central Rapid Protection Force, cow slaughter will never be controlled.”

According to Lodha, 51 recommendations have found place in the report. Some of the important recommendations include amending Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to detain gangs who smuggle cows, prohibit cross-breeding from imported cattle, scrapping the subsidy on tractors and mechanical appliances for agriculture and encouraging the use of bullocks, constitution of a permanent National Development Commission on Cows, widely advertising of the firmans (royal decrees) issued by the Mughal emperors which prohibited cow slaughter, and introduction of “ panchgavya therapy” which is an old Hindu “ healing” practice that uses cow urine and dung as orally-taken medicine. It also advocates the urine and excreta for tropical use. The present science minister is a great advocate of this therapy.

Prime Minister Vajpayee was forced to constitute the NCC 11 months ago when a Hindu high priest, Shankaracharya of Kanchi, threatened a fast unto death over what he said was “ neglect” of the country’ s cow population. Hindus worship cow as “ sacred mother.” 

Slaughter of cows is perceived to be an emotive issue. Cow, for the majority Hindus is an object of veneration, whereas, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and some sections of Hindus, tribals and Dalits are known for relishing beef.

Only in two states -- the eastern state of West Bengal and the southwest state of Kerala -- slaughtering of cows is legal.

Mughal emperors like Babar, Akbar, Jahangir and Aurangzeb imposed a selective ban on cow slaughter during their reign in order to accommodate the Jain or Brahmanical feeling of respect for and veneration of the cow.

However, with the passage of time, the cow has become an instrument of politics. The issue of cow slaughter provoked a series of serious communal Hindu-Muslim riots in the 1880s and 1890s. In 1893, in Azamgarh district of northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh anti-Muslim riots broke out on the issue of cow slaughter. More than 100 people were killed in different parts of the country. 

In 1912-1913, the Hindu temple town of Ayodhya where Babri Masjid stood and was later demolished in 1992 by Hindu zealots, communal riots broke out on the same pretext. Again, in 1917 Shahabad district of Uttar Pradesh was engulfed in communal fury on the same issue. North India is dubbed as "cow-belt" as people here are liable to get agitated over the cow.

Undoubtedly, the cow has become a subject of religious strife in the country today. But, at the same time, the section of Muslim-bashing Hindus cannot deny the fact that their forefathers were themselves beef-eaters and passionately indulged in cow slaughter. The Hindu religious texts particularly Vedas are replete with verses which tell how the Brahmins indulged in cow slaughter and beef-eating.

The Hindu religious scripture Rigveda, supposed to be of divine origin, presents a textual evidence of beef-eating by ancient Hindus. Quoting from Rigveda, historian HH Wilson, wrote, “ the sacrifice of the horse or of the cow, the asvamedha or gomedha, appears to have been common in the earliest periods of the Hindu ritual.” 

The early Aryans, who came to India from outside, indulged in animal sacrifices. In the agnadheya, which was a preparatory rite preceding all public sacrifices, a cow was required to be killed.

Brahmanical religious texts such as Grhyasutras and Dharmasutras state that the killing of animals and eating of beef was very much de rigeur. The ceremony of guest reception (known as arghya in the Rigveda but generally as madhuparka in subsequent texts) consisted not only of a meal of a mixture of curds and honey but also of the flesh of a cow or bull.

Followers of Jain religion and a sect of Buddhists are known to propagate the teachings of non-violence and strictly avoid eating meat. But, the fact is that even their founders are said to have consumed meat. Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhist religion, is known to have eaten beef and pork. Vardhmana Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, is said to have consumed the meat of a cockerel.

In the state of Kerala, even today 72 communities among Hindus prefer beef to the expensive mutton. The lower caste Hindus such as Dalits and Scheduled Castes consume beef and indulge in cow slaughter. The upper caste Hindus shunned the practice to counter the spread of Buddhists, Christians and Muslims in the country.

Agricultural revolution in India came with the introduction and subsequent use of modern agricultural implements such as tractors and water pump sets. The use of fertilisers and pesticides ensured that there was a good harvest and people saved from starvation. NCC’ s suggestion to encourage the use of bullocks, instead of tractors and other related agricultural appliances is at best retrogressive and is aimed to undo whatever good has so far been achieved by the nation in the agricultural field.

Proposed ban on cow slaughter strictly contradicts the secular vision of the Constitution. This only portrays the revivalist and backward looking mindset of the present-day rulers.

¯ Danish A Khan

See also:

Lord Mahavira was not a meat-eater
Jains and meat-eating — apology and clarification
Mr Bal Patil's rejoinder

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