Beef Ban – A Progressive or Regressive Move

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Beef Ban – A progressive or regressive move... “If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson, 1781 The rekindled controversy about the beef ban legislation in the states of Maharashtra and the tabled bill in Haryana has raised a few brows amongst the public who try to unscramble the rationale behind such an audacious move. Raging voracious debates with passionate champions of both the ends have put forth moot points who in their own presumed polymath and solomonic knowledge believe it to be irrefutable. Innumerable questions arise in the minds of public making them ponder whether such a move is beneficial or detrimental to the society. Furthermore, the questions such as- Does the state have power to impose such ban? Should the state adjudge the dietary habits of its citizens? , is it a right of an individual to choose what he wants to eat? Is it a move vested with hegemonic interests and thereby suppressing the voices of minorities? Would the beef ban actually help the cattle? Questions such as these are inevitable to rise and forces one to introspect about the recent developments in our legislations. To answer these questions, it would be just to enlighten the reader of the current status of cattle in India. The 19th livestock census reveals that population of cows has increased by 3.5 per cent though the number of bullocks has decreased by 16 percent. The livestock sector plays a quintessential role in the Indian economy in terms of employment, income and foreign exchange earnings. Currently, India has established itself as the largest buffalo meat (carabeef) exporting country. Buffalo meat alone accounts for over 75% of the total exports of Indian meat sector. Indian buffalo meat exports have grown at an illustrious rate l in the last two years, as a result of which India now stands as the fourth country in the world to export more than 1 million tonne of bovine meat annually. The above data indubitably paints a glossy and rosy image of the potential meat industry, but then why impose an absolute ban with such stringent punishment? Referring back to the first question which arises – If the state has power to implement such bans? The answer to such a question would be in affirmative as it is expressly provided in the Indian Constitution Schedule 7, List II Entry 15[1], and under Part IV, Article 48[2]. In consonance with such provisions several northern States in 1950s had enacted a blanket ban on slaughter, similar to the ones enacted by Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The constitutionality of these laws was challenged before the Apex Court in the case of Mohd. Hanif Quareshi & Others vs The State Of Bihar[3] in 1958, in which it was contended that these laws violated their fundamental rights to property, trade and profession, and religion. The apex Court rejected claims vested in religious practice, holding through its own interpretation of the Holy Quran that cow sacrifice was not a mandatory ritual for Muslims. However, it found that it was unreasonable to impose an absolute ban on cow slaughter as it did not necessarily lead to “preserve and improve the breed”. The petitioners were successful in establishing that cows could be slaughtered by virtue of its age and if it became uneconomic and proved to be a burdensome for its maintenance. This precedent was reversed in the case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jammat and ors[4], the court acknowledged the Gujarat government’s version comparing the dung of a cow to a “Kohinoor diamond” and it upheld the absolute ban of the Gujarat government thereby diverging from its 1958 verdict that useless cattle could be slaughtered. ` The validity of the ban can be technically upheld though the rationale behind such bans is often misleading. To justify the above statement it would be ideal to refer to the questions 2 and 3 raised in the beginning, should the state decide the dietary habits of its citizens? Is it a right of an individual to choose what he wants to eat? The solution to both the questions is juxtaposed in such a way that the answer to one directly leads to the implied understanding of the other. Freedom to choose is the hallmark of any democracy; we have been given the right to choose our profession, our place of residence and what not. These rights though can be restricted on the grounds of reasonability and justness. Freedom to choose what one eats and curtailment of beef consumption definitely seems unreasonable especially when beef is assumed to be a part of staple diet globally. The moment state decides your menu and dietary habits, it ceases to be democratic. As a sign of dissent, ample public interest litigations have been filed by activists and advocates to lift this present blank ban. Right to choose what one eats is assumed to be part and parcel of Right to life. Furthermore, Beef serves as a poor man’s source of protein. With the soaring prices of its substitutes, the indigents and not so fortunate ones depend on beef to supplement their daily diet in the hope of making it a well balanced one. The government has failed to meet with its requirements and in providing nutritious meal .For instance in the state of Maharashtra calorie and protein consumption has stagnated or declined since 1993. For example, consumer unit of daily calorie consumption in urban areas dropped between 1993 and 2004-05 by over 170 calories, from 2432 to 2261[5]. Such an atrocious move to ban amounts not only restricts the right to choose but forces one to render his rights to live in a dignified way with optimal and adequate levels of nutrition infructuous. If the predicaments for the nutrition demand and the excess supply of cattle coexist, why ban? To answer this question it is necessary to analyze the third question raised at the beginning- Is it a move vested with hegemonic interests and thereby suppressing the voices of minorities? The politics of beef are portrayed as cultural, but the reality is shaped by economics. Not only Muslims, but many Hindus and Christians consume beef as part of their daily diet. The ban in many ways seems to be motivated by religious fringe elements. Mohammad Saadullah, then chief minister of Assam, had accurately reminded the Constituent Assembly that Muslim farmers were as reluctant as their brother Hindu farmers to send off the economically productive cows to slaughter, and that the majority of cows which were killed and sold to abattoirs were by the fellow Hindus. Cow has been considered holy and equated to the likes of Gods, killing of the same was considered to be a taboo amongst many. The presence of carcass of a cow too was considered valuable and the person who touches or is in midst of such a scene is considered untouchables. If that is the case, would it be possible for Hindus themselves to have eaten cow in the past? Dr. BR Ambedkar’s texts suggested that Hindus were indeed a beef-eating community and that the ousting of beef from the Hindu diet was a result of the attempt at hegemony by the Brahmins over the Buddhists. Ambedkar was of the opinion that it was originally the Buddhists who were vehemently opposing the slaughtering of animals, these ideas were beginning to be acclaimed amongst the commoners, the Hindu lot responded by imitating and earmarking certain aspects of Buddhism. It needs to be noted that cows were acknowledged a sanctimonious position in the Hindu system and it occupied a profoundly hallowed position. And so, despite the Hindus' supposed predilection for beef, the slaughter of the same became a sign of desecration[6]. Referring back to the endorsement of views by the Apex court in the case of Kureshi wherein Supreme Court accepted that cow’s urine could be used as natural pesticides. This ‘conventional wisdom’ has been readily digested by Vinayog Parivar, an animal rights trust based in Mumbai who had lobbied for states to pass tough legislation against cow slaughter claimed that nearly 30-40% of Indian farmers use this urine-neem mix as bio-pesticides. Little did they know that a standing committee of Parliament suggested that bio-pesticides only makes up 16% of all the pesticides used with no special mention of the proportion which composes from cattle wastes. Dr Kirit Somaiya, a BJP M.P claimed that infirm cattle could help in agricultural economy by providing for “ Bio-electricity”, but the evidence seems to be pointing on the contrary, in fact States which have liberal laws on cattle slaughter, like Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu - all of which permit conditional slaughter have performed excellently in the field of agriculture. This seems to be a befuddled combination of both inters and intra religious hegemony convoluted with politically vested interest. Considering the contentious issue at present, the beef ban bill in Maharashtra had moped the dust since 1995 and on a landslide victory in both the centre and state, this bill immediately received assent from the President with alacrity. The bill purports itself to be beneficial to the cattle under the ethical purview of animal rights rather than a move politically motivated , but how true is that ? Had beef ban been imposed as it is purported then simple economics reveals that, the demand for beef’s substitutes would increase gradually, that is the demand for chicken and other source of meat. A rise in demand would inject an impetus to increase its supply. Poultry industry has been notoriously known to be violating animal rights[7]. The debates by the champions of the beef ban who have cited animal rights to be the cornerstone for such bans have been contradicting commonsense and economics, at the larger purview this move would act as a trigger for violation of animal rights in a massive scale. A major flaw in this legislation is that this violates not only the rights of other animals but jeopardizes the lives of cows itself. The number of abandoned cattle is on the rise and with the introduction of this move, the numbers may shoot up. The plight of the stray cattle is worse. The UnionEnvironmentMinisterPrakash Javadekar himself said that “At least 30 kilograms ofplasticcan be found from the stomach of everycoworbuffalowhich dies in India”[8]It is often these stray cattle which are transported illegally to states which permit slaughter. These cows suffer excruciating physical and mental stress during such transportation. It has been reported that cow’s tail snaps and are forced to endure starvation and thirst. The cramped up place adds misery thereby making them prone to diseases. Illegal transportation of the cattle between the borders could be generating Rs 14,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore per annum[9]. This legislation may increase the illegal abattoirs in the State. This legislation though novel is far from pragmatism. The true object of this legislation can be attained when adequate shelter and care is provided for the abandoned cattle. The government has proposed the concept of gaushalas, which are the organizations that take care of abandoned/ stray cattle. The state of these gaushalas is summarized by N Surabhi who is an animal rights advocate. She says “I have visited many gaushalas. I have found that often the upkeep of these animals is dismal, either because of lack of funds and infrastructure to provide adequate care or because of apathy towards to the plight of these animals”. When such are the solution, it would not be ironic to say that the legislation which is supposedly to be the asylum turns out to be more precarious and perilous. It is of no doubt that this ban restricts the individual’s choice to consume desired food. Unfortunately, this is just a microscopic problem. At a larger scale this would adversely affect the livelihood of people who are involved in this industry. In Maharashtra alone it is expected to affect the lives of over 20, 00,000 individuals[10]. The ludicrous proposition of punishments under the amendment of Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act 1995 reveals that offense would be cognizable and non-bailable with a liability of fine up to Rs. 10,000 or/with the risk of imprisonment upto 5 years. Meanwhile, the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Bill 2015, passed by the assembly unanimously, bans sale of all kinds of beef with an even stricter and stringent punishments. It proposes the following punishments,
  • Cow slaughter: 3-10 years jail, fine of Rs 30,000 to Rs 1 lakh
  • Export of cows for slaughter: 3-7 years, fine of Rs 30,000 to 70,000
  • Sale of beef: 3-5 years, fine of Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000.
Punishments such as these seem to be absurd and highly disproportionate for the offences committed. It is revealed that these prescribed punishments are biased, prejudicial and inclined towards the beliefs of one’s faith and religion. It is political move such as these which masquerades itself to be beneficial but in reality is a menace and threat to the very establishment of democracy. In order to give effect to these legislation both in spirit and letters, it is essential that effective rehabilitation be provided for the stakeholders namely the farmers, the leather industry, middlemen, workers at slaughterhouses and retailers associated with the business, adequate care and surety be provided to infirm and unproductive cattle so that the numbers of stray cattle may reduce, Stringent actions to curb illegal and illegitimate trade, transport and slaughter of cattle. The author is of the view that absolute ban on slaughter itself is redundant and would impose burden on other animals it is suggested that a conditional slaughter be implemented under the supervision of a trained veterinary and finally to realize that animal welfare is much more than mere rescue and worship, it must encompass the notion of sustenance that is derived from the very environment which includes animals. In a broader view, the present hollow ban on beef does very little for the cattle; it hurts more than it helps. This seems to be a result of regressive politics and religious hegemony over the interests of the stake holders. If the interests of cattle are indeed our concern, it requires a comprehensive introspection of the systems that govern industries that depend on cattle. The issue needs to dealt with empathy and not apathy, it needs to be both an individual and collective effort...
[1] “Preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases; veterinary training and practice” [2] “Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry The State shall endeavour to organise 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” [3] AIR 1958 SC 731 [4] AIR 2006 SC 212 [5] NSSO (National Sample Survey Organization) (1996)Nutritional Intake in India,NSS 50thround, July 1993-June 1994, Fifth Quinquennial Survey on Consumer Expenditure, Report No. 405, Government of India.NSSO (2001)Nutritional Intake in India, 1999-2000, NSS 55thround, July 1999-June 2000, Report No. 471 (55/1.0/9), Government of India. NSSO (2007)Nutritional Intake in India, 2004-05, NSS 61stround, July 2004-June 2005, Report No. 513 (61/1.0/6), Government of India. [6] Paraphrase of 'Untouchability, The Dead Cow And The Brahmin - Dr. BR Ambedkar [7] [8] [9] Animal Welfare Board Newsletter March 2010 ( NL.pdf) [10]
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