In the name of the cow

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 01, 2017 08:30 hrs
A worker tends to a bullock at the Shree Gopala Goshala north-east of Mumbai, one of about 25,000 cow shelters in India. (AFP IMAGE)

The central government on Friday announced rules to prohibit sale of animals for slaughter or religious sacrifice to livestock markets and animal fairs. These are mainly common in rural areas. The animals that come under this purview are cows, bulls, bullocks, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels.

As reported in the Times of India, the official reasoning for the order is intended to end uncontrolled and unregulated animal trade. The rules won't apply to goats and sheep, often sacrificed during Id.

This move by the government was followed by a public slaughter of a cow by Youth Congress activists in Kerala, who were later booked by the police. The Hindustan Times reported that the activists defended their move saying it was a natural form of protest. This incident drew widespread condemnation.

In response to the incident in Kerala and Rahul Gandhi’s condemnation, Delhi BJP spokesperson claimed that the person who led the protest was Rijil Makkutty, who had been photographed with Rahul Gandhi.

The government defended the ban on slaughter saying the move would remove the scope of “illegal sale and smuggling” of bovine and ensure welfare of the animals in the livestock markets.

Writing an opinion piece for Scroll, Alok Prasanna Kumar argues that this is not a ban, but the introduction of a license raj. He writes –

“Contrary to certain news reports, the Union Government has not banned cow slaughter. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, notified by the Centre on May 23 only regulates the manner in which animal markets are supposed to function, and how the animals brought for trade are to be treated there.”

He goes on to write that there are legitimate concerns for farmers in light of the new move by the government –

“It could very well make it more difficult to dispose of cattle and livestock in animal markets given the harassment and red tape that farmers may have to go through. That may only mean that private sales, where not prohibited under the law, will continue as is and slaughter, where regulated and permitted under the state law, will go on, as is.”

The news did not go over well in Kerala, where around 60% of the total meat consumed is beef as reported in the Hindustan Times. Kerala’s Left Government said the latest news is a “fascist and anti-federal move”. Kerala’s agricultural minister VS Sunil Kumar said “We will not allow the (central) government to enforce fascist policies of the RSS and other fringe outfits. Let it issue many such notifications, we will not follow them.”

The Kerala Chief Minister’s Office also criticized the ban.

For the Scroll, Rohan Venkataramakrishnan writes about how the ban isn’t about animal cruelty. He states

“Is slaughter cruel? Individuals might have many opinions on this, but the government is clear. Indeed, the official position on slaughter – specifically the killing of animals for food – is established in the very Act that these rules are based on.”

“…The law states that killing any animal for food cannot be considered cruelty, unless those actions involve unnecessary suffering.”

Answering the question about whether it is about cruelty, he continues –

“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has been calling for a blanket ban on cow slaughter across the country. Yet this cannot be done at the Centre, because the Constitution gives exclusive powers to the states to make laws regarding livestock.”

In an op-ed for the Hindustan Times, Harsh Mander states how the BJP must not invoke Gandhi to seek death for those who kill a cow. He writes about how the RSS plays a major role in this issue and has been for many years.

“The powerful RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has called for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, describing this as a ‘sacred duty’, BJP MP Subramaniam Swamy has introduced a bill seeking death penalty for those convicted for cow slaughter. It is particularly unfortunate that Swamy invoked Mahatma Gandhi while seeking capital punishment for those who kill a cow in this proposed law. There is no doubt that Gandhi was deeply devoted to the cow. Gandhi said he would ‘defend its worship against the whole world’, that cow worship is central to Hinduism.”

In early April, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat called for a law banning cow slaughter across the country. The Hindu reported Bhagwat saying “We desire that cow slaughter be banned across India. Now law-making is the work of the government. Many State governments — where there are RSS volunteers in government — have brought this law. We desire such a law across India.”

In his op-ed for the Hindustan Times, Harsh Mander continues, about the violence in the name of cows -

“In this environment permissive of hate speech and violence, both the Muslim and the Dalit have been demonized as the cow-killing ‘other’, and vigilante attacks and extortion targeting have become commonplace across the land. With bigotry sanctioned from the top, this placid pastoral animal is being used today to pit one Indian against another. Too much blood has flowed already.”

Export organizations have protested the latest move by the government saying it will affect their business which is “already under strain over the actions of BJP governments that have discouraged the trade.” As reported in the Time of India, Gauri Maulekhi, a trustee at People for Animals welcomed the move in the wake of the Supreme Court's directions for regulation of livestock markets. She said “We commend the ministry for their vision and their efforts to protect the most vulnerable animals, be it animals used as reproductive machines for breeding or animals that are cruelly sold off at unregulated markets.”

The Hindu Editorial questioned the motives behind the move and stated

“The Centre’s move to notify new rules to regulate livestock markets under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA) is either extremely poorly thought out or much too clever for its own good. In a way, it’s both.”

The editorial goes on to state –

“…one wonders whether the objective is to surreptitiously throttle the entire cattle trade in an elaborate ream of red tape. Is the ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets intended to act indirectly as an absolute ban? Is the notification, stripped of its generalities and niceties, really about the BJP government’s pet concern, cows?” Brinda Karat in an op-ed for NDTV writes about the government trying to impose a food code on Indians, particularly by right-wing factions. She states

“The attempts to impose a food code on Indians by the saffron brigade have now been taken forward by the central government in the form of an atrocious amendment to the Rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act”.

She writes about the broader implications of this new rule in the context of cow vigilante groups –

“At a time when there is rampant goondaism in the name of cow protection, this notification will act as a shot in the arm for cow vigilante groups. Now in the name of prevention of cruelty to animals, they will have a license to terrorize. In the frenzied campaign of the bhakts, where man slaughter is justified against cow slaughter, facts are always concealed.”

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