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Deceit As State Policy : Conundrum Called Cow

Deceit As State Policy : Conundrum Called Cow

Deceit is unacceptable, even if it is the government which indulges in it. One of the first acts of the Narendra Modi government was to promulgate an ordinance to make acquisition of land by the corporates easier. Having got a large majority in Parliament, it could have tabled a Bill and got it passed but it knew that the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP did not have a majority would not oblige.

So it resorted to what was called Ordinance Raj. The founding fathers of the Constitution had the wisdom to foresee that governments like Modi’s would avoid the parliamentary route if they could rule through ordinances. The Constitution makes it clear that an ordinance can survive only for six months before which it has to be replaced by an Act of Parliament.

The Modi government tried to re-promulgate the ordinance to keep it alive till it realised that it would have to pay a heavy political price for it. Initially, it was not very fond of the Aadhar card when the previous UPA government introduced it but once it was voted to power, it became a strong votary of the card as if India would become a super power like the US if every Indian had a 12-digit number.

It faced a problem. The Supreme Court was not ready to accept the government plan to make the Aadhar card compulsory even for traveling by train. It also wanted all income-tax payers to link their PAN numbers with their Aadhar card numbers. The government also feared that the Rajya Sabha might not accept the move.

That is when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had the brain wave to introduce the government’s Aadhar plan as part of the Finance Bill and thus circumvent the Rajya Sabha. It was a clever stratagem and it worked. Having tasted blood, the government can think only of short-cuts like the thief who enters a house only by breaking open the window even when the door is open.

Take the case of the cow. The ruling party believes that the cow is holy and it should be protected at any cost. However, it does not have the guts to say so. When the Constitution was drafted, there was a demand that the cow should be declared a national animal and its slaughter banned. There was also stiff resistance to the proposal on the ground that the cow was like a buffalo or a goat that also yielded milk.

To elevate it to the level of a national animal was to make one religious belief the predominant belief of the country. A compromise was made. A provision was made in the Directive Principles: “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.”

Directive principles are not legally enforceable. One must carefully read the provision to realise that there is no mention about the holiness of the cow. Mark the words, the purpose is to “organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines”. One must also realise that in 1950 when the Constitution came into being bullocks, buffaloes, horses and camels were used extensively for agricultural operations and for transport of goods. In fact, the animals together produced more power than the installed power capacity of the nation.

Today bullock-carts exist only in Phanishwar Nath Renu’s stories like   Panchlight  (Petromax). Recently, the Modi government gave clearance to 10 nuclear power stations to meet the burgeoning demands of electric power. Even small farmers use tractors and tillers. Bullocks and buffaloes have been edged out of farming. There is no point crying over it. It is a natural process. One may call it development or one may call it expropriation.

The Rig Veda says that the “woods belong to the birds”. During their exile in the forests, the Pandava princess of the Mahabharata dwell too long in one wood and decimate the animal species. In a dream, Yudhishtira, the eldest, had the few surviving animals come to him to lament that if they too are destroyed their various species will become extinct. Since these beautiful forms too have a right to exist, Yudhishtira decides to move from the wood”.

The Pandava leader did not ask his brothers not to eat meat. Instead, he asked them to keep moving from place to place so that animals can replenish. There was no one to advise the French when they reached the island of Mauritius where they found a bird which could not fly. They found quickly that its meat tasted better than chicken. They began devouring them giving the English language the idiom “as dead as a dodo”. Now Dodo exists only in the memories of those dead and gone! Such a fate will never befall the cow which has survived for millennia.

The Hindu Maha Sabha, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and the BJP had, from time to time, been demanding a total ban on cow slaughter. Those parties did not have a pan-Indian presence and their demand did not make much difference. True, among those who viewed the cow as holy were also Congressmen. Small wonder that it was the Congress which introduced cow protection laws in state after state.

It may appear curious that the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir was one of the first to ban cow slaughter. The Muslims are not cow-eaters per se. In West Asia, also called the Middle East, where Islam originated, there was no cow. The seafaring Arabs never tasted it except, perhaps, during their business trips to Asia and Europe. 

It is a myth that Muslims cannot live without eating beef. Today except for the Northeastern states, Kerala and West Bengal, cow slaughter is banned in the country. Though the slaughter was officially banned, Hindu farmers would sell old cows and bullocks to the butchers on the sly. One of my colleagues told me recently that her uncle appeared sad one day. She asked him why. He told her that he was forced to sell his cow to a butcher.

Of course, he got Rs 15,000 for the cow. In Kerala, it would have fetched him Rs 25,000. Now the question: How many kilograms of tomato he will have to sell to earn that Rs 15,000? At least 2000 kgs of tomato. Can the Indian farmer afford to lose that money? The farmers were not feeling the pinch of the ban on cow slaughter until Narendra Modi arrived in New Delhi.

Suddenly those in the party  who felt that the cow was more important than development on which slogan the BJP won the election in 2014, began to assert themselves. For instance, the Haryana government felt a sudden urge to increase the punishment for those who slaughter the bovines. Maharashtra and Gujarat have also followed suit. In Gujarat, it is life imprisonment if a cow is slaughtered. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh wants capital punishment for those who slaughter the animal.

Significantly, the Haryana law mentions the cow as a holy animal worthy of worship. In short, cow protection is no longer couched in modern, scientific terminology. It has been made into a religious issue. Reams have been written about how cows were slaughtered for food during the Vedic period. There is no point in stating the obvious.

The last to join the debate was a High Court judge, Justice Mahesh Chand Sharma of the Rajasthan High Court, who minutes before his retirement on May 31, 2017, ruled that the cow should be declared a national animal in place of the tiger. He claimed that his judgment was the language of his soul. However ridiculous and foolish his judgement is, he should be commended for his honesty. He did not try to couch his argument in scientific terms. May the holy cow bless him for his judgement!

That was not the case with the Modi government. Forget honesty, it used a subterfuge to achieve what it wanted to achieve. Last week, the ministry of environment notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules 2017, tightening trade in livestock and transport of cattle to ensure their welfare at animal markets and also to prevent smuggling. The rules included buffaloes in their definition of cattle, raising concerns that they would jeopardise the buffalo meat export business as the supply chain of buffaloes would be disrupted.

Given the fact that export of meat, a multi-billion business owned and controlled by businessmen belonging to the majority community, there is no doubt that the poor buffalo would be excluded from the order, sooner than later. They are busy putting pressure on the government. The arguments touted in favour of the new Rules are all bogus.

The government says the new Rules are aimed at preventing unhealthy meat from reaching the market. There are stringent rules regarding slaughter of animals.

Before being slaughtered, an animal has to be certified that it is healthy. In fact, a stamp by the authority concerned is put on the meat. It has to be kept till the last piece of meat is sold. It is a different matter that few people check the seal before buying meat. Nonetheless, the onus of keeping it intact is on the meat seller.

An impression has been created that the Rules have been framed on the orders of the Supreme Court. Nothing can be farther from the truth than this. In July 2016 the Himachal Pradesh High Court asked the Central government to “enact the law prohibiting slaughtering of cow/calf, selling of beef or beef product, in its wisdom, at national level”. This was stayed by the Supreme Court, just as the latest order was stayed by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court.

This was not the only Supreme Court order. There have been at least three judgements saying that cow slaughter or slaughter of all kinds of bovine animals could not banned. The court had also ruled that it was the fundamental right of a large number of butchers, who happen to be from the Qureshi community, to carry on the trade of a butcher’s business.

The court had also opined that while slaughter of cows and calves, milch cattle, could be banned, a total ban on the slaughter of all kinds of buffaloes, bulls and bullocks could not be enforced. Seen against this backdrop, the new Rules are clearly anti-Constitutional and cannot stand the test of judicial scrutiny. 

Even those who want a ban on cow slaughter are not clear on which all animals should not be slaughtered. Is a foreign cow a gaumata? Ask a devout North Indian Hindu, he would say, “no it is not”? Are bullocks holy? “No, they are not?” In that case, can they be slaughtered?

There is utter confusion even among the BJP-ruled states. For instance, in some BJP-ruled states buffaloes can be slaughtered but not in some other BJP-ruled states. What logic is that a buffalo meant for slaughter cannot be sold in an animal fair like Sonepur in Bihar but it can be sold to a slaughter house? The Rules are an infringement of the rights of the states to have their own laws in this regard.

More important they constitute an assault on the farmer’s right to his property. What should a farmer do with his cows which have outlived their utility? One Hindu leader Pandit Thakur Dass Bhargava argued in the Constituent Assembly, “A cow, whether it be a milch cow or not, is a moving manure factory, and so, as far as cow is concerned, there can be no question of it being useless or useful. It can never be useless”. 

The member should have lived now to know that the cows wandering in no less a place than New Delhi do not produce any manure as they eat plastic which remains stuck in their stomach. They don’t give any manure and they die of blockage of their digestive system.

On the same day that Pandit Bhargave made the above statement, Rev JJM Nichols Roy from Assam, now Meghalaya, made the following comment in the Constituent Assembly:  

“…Here is a provision regarding the prohibition of cow slaughter. I was wondering whether this provision would mean the prohibition of cow slaughter at all times and of every kind of cows and cattle… it would place a terrible burden on the State.

“Think   of the millions of cows that will float round the country without any fodder, and sickly, and the amount of money that will be spent on them and the terrible burden it would be on any country.  Hundreds of them will die in the fields without being taken care of. It will not be economic at all for any State to prevent the slaughter of cows under all circumstances.

I consider that this article would only prevent the slaughter of cows which are milch cows and draught cattle, which will be of benefit to people. If it be otherwise, I consider that that would be a blot in this Constitution and an oppression also to some of the people, especially to the Hill people of Assam, who eat beef and who keep cattle for the sake of eating.  

It would also be an oppression to the people who slaughter cows in sacrifices like the Moslems: even the Hindu Gurkhas of Assam sacrifice buffaloes at the time of the Durga Puja…” How prophetic were his words!

One of my friends from Himachal Pradesh wrote to me that nowadays there is no one to skin dead cows and they are allowed to rot in the open. How would anyone dare to do so after what the hide-collectors received in Gujarat.

India is an exporter of leather items. The leather industry will suffer a setback if slaughter of cattle is not allowed. The rich will not suffer because they can buy imported leather items from countries like Italy. It is you and I who will have to pay a high price, forget tens of thousands of people employed in the sector losing their jobs.

Modiji is proud of his association with the RSS which has  discarded leather belts for cloth belts and leather shoes for softer canvas shoes because it considers leather as repugnant. Neither New Delhi nor Nagpur would be bothered if the leather industry goes to the dogs. May Gaumata give them the wisdom that cow protection is not possible without cow slaughter unless pushing the unproductive cows to the wilderness and the streets of New Delhi is the alternative.

#(Published on 05th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 23)