The Maharashra #BeefBan Is Unconstitutional
21 March, 2015: As if the 1976 Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act banning the slaughter of cows, including the male and female calf of the cow, enacted by the Shankarrao Chavan-led Congress government during the Emergency was not enough, the Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government is elated that the 1995 Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, enacted by a previous BJP-Sena led by Manohar Joshi, that extends the ban to include slaughter of bulls and bullocks, has now received presidential assent. Despite the BJP’s claims justifying the ban on agro-economic grounds, among others, the driving force behind the prohibition is the ideology of Hindutva, presented as “a way of life” rooted in the central beliefs of neo-Vedantic Hinduism, of which cow slaughter and beef eating are supposedly anathema.
All such anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by state governments in independent India claim to derive their inspiration from Article 48 of the Indian Constitution, but this Directive Principle of State Policy includes only those bovines presently or potentially capable of yielding milk or doing work as draught cattle, and does not extend to cattle which may have been milch or draught cattle but have since ceased to be so. The Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) holds that extending the ban to non-milch and non-draught cattle leads to resource waste (e.g., of cattle feed, etc that preservation of useless cattle entails, besides their being left to a slow death) and deprives many people of their livelihood and staple food. The loss of livelihood extends to those who are engaged in the animal husbandry business, including trade and commerce thereof, as also butchers and other workers at the abattoirs, those who skin the carcasses of cattle (mainly dalits), hide merchants, workers and owners of cold storages stocking and restaurants serving beef, etc. Moreover, the ban will deprive many Hindus (i.e., mainly the so-called lower castes), dalits, tribals, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others of the little animal protein food that is within their means to consume once or twice a week.
The BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, besides mentioning Hindu religious faith, justified the ban in terms of adherence to the Gandhian principle of ahiṃsā (non-violence) and of supporting the state’s agro-economy. The fact however remains that as far as the gowalas and other practitioners of agriculture and animal husbandry, mostly Hindus, are concerned, as soon as the cow goes dry or the bullock is no longer able to act as a draught animal, and is consequently uneconomical to maintain, they sell it and it invariably lands in an abattoir for slaughter. And, as regards ahiṃsā, doesn’t this principle apply to all living beings, and therefore, logically, why only to cows and bulls? And, of course, killing human beings in revenge for having killed cows or bulls is no sign of ahiṃsā. So, while the cow supposedly engenders ahiṃsā, violence is unleashed against the Other in the guise of the holy cow’s protection.
What makes the cow and the bull sacred to the highest degree? In his book The Myth of the Holy Cow (New York: Verso, 2002), the eminent historian D J Jha documents in copious detail — from the Vedas among other sources — the fact that in ancient India, “Hindus” ate beef. Babasaheb Ambedkar in his Riddles of Hinduism variously established that not only Hindus but Brahmins themselves ate cow meat. The historian D.D. Kosambi writes in his work The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India (1964), “A modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism, whereas Vedic Brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef.” The Hindutvavadins have, however, been spreading the falsehood that it was only with the Muslim conquest that cows were first slaughtered in India. But, as Professor Jha puts it: “Self-styled custodians of non-existent ‘monolithic’ Hinduism assert that eating of beef was first introduced in India by the followers of Islam who came from outside and are foreigners in this country, little realizing that their Vedic ancestors were also foreigners who ate the flesh of the cow and various other animals” (page 20).
The CPDR holds that the Maharashtra Animal Protection (Amendment) Act, 1995 is not in consonance with Article 48 when this is viewed in conjunction with the fundamental rights of citizens under the Constitution. This Act is not even based on Hindu religious faith. Contrary to Hinduism, which is a conglomerate of beliefs and faiths aimed at achieving spiritual salvation, the ideology of the majority in the Maharashtra Assembly that enacted this law in 1995 is that of Hindutva, which is aimed at attaining political power, and is the Indian variant of Nazism. The Act is aimed at depriving the Other of her livelihood and way of life, which must be condemned by all those who stand for pluralism, secularism and democratic rights.
Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.