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Madras High Court stays order on cattle slaughter, but what's the Opposition's beef?

Animal fairs began to thrive in India many centuries before Christ. The biggest of them all is the one held every year at Sonepur, 25 kilometres from Patna. Chandragupta Maurya, whose empire (321-298 BC) spanned most of the Indian subcontinent, bought elephants and horses from the Sonepur fair, as did many kings of Central Asia who travelled there every year.

But Narendra Modi is no Chandragupta Maurya. Modi has no intention to patronise animal fairs. Instead, he is in a mood to regulate them, because these badly need regulation. If the cruelty that is now meted out to animals before, during and after their sale at the Sonepur fair existed in his time, even the benevolent Emperor Maurya would perhaps have done the same, no doubt on advice from Chanakya.

Over time, the Sonepur fair turned into a ghastly affair with the trade in buffaloes, cows, camels, goats, elephants, horses, dogs and even birds on the list of endangered species, violating the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act – 1960 and Wildlife Act – 1972.

 Madras High Court stays order on cattle slaughter, but whats the Oppositions beef?

Representational image. AFP

The treatment meted out to animals at periodic shandies held across India is no less cruel. The animals are starved, packed into tiny spaces, and when sold, transported in most deplorable conditions, or are smuggled to other countries.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules – 2017, notified on 25 May by the Modi government, attempts to stop precisely such brutalities perpetrated on animals. While insisting that no animal is kept in a pen or a cage that is too small for its size, the rules prohibit such ghastly and cruel practices as sealing the teats of the animal with adhesives and muzzling calves to stop suckling and decorating the animals on sale.

A long legal battle ahead

Meanwhile, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday stayed the new rules, and asked the state and central government to reply to a PIL petition filed before it in four weeks.

While the issue is likely to be the subject of a protracted legal battle and it’s too early for the Opposition to claim victory, the fundamental questions as to why the Modi government issued the notification and why some parties are set against it will continue to be debated.

The Modi government’s notification bans the sale of cattle “for slaughter” at live animal markets. It doesn’t stop individuals and farms from selling animals for slaughter and food with appropriate documentation. It is neither a move against cow slaughter nor a ban on beef. India’s beef-eaters can still satisfy their palates as long as the animals are sourced from individuals or farms and not from livestock markets.

Nor is the new cattle order a sudden brainwave that struck Modi one fine morning when he got up from bed at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg. It’s the result of a writ petition filed in the Supreme Court in 2014 by animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi.

Beef politics of Pinarayi Vijayan and Mamata Banerjee

The ruckus being raised on the alleged ground that the Modi government is interfering in the eating habits of Indians, especially minorities, is evidently surcharged with politics, more than any grave concern for human rights or democratic conventions.

It’s not a coincidence that the most vocal opposition to the new cattle sale rules comes from non-BJP ruled states. While Kerala’s CPM Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has taken the lead in writing letters to not only Modi but also other chief ministers to protest against the notification, the Congress-ruled Karnataka is contemplating legal action against it.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanaswamy of the Congress have said they will not implement the new rules. Narayanaswamy’s grouse that beef is an integral part of the French cuisine in the former French colony of Puducherry is as irrelevant as it is silly.

Among the others who are kicking up a furore against the rules are the leaders of DMK in Tamil Nadu and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, parties which have no love lost for Modi.

Starved of issues to fight Modi, the likes of Mamata and Vijayan have seized the cattle notification as a god-send chance to consolidate their support among minorities whose votes are crucial to them. With the desperateness of a drowning man in the sea clutching at the floating straw, they have grabbed the cattle issue for their political survival.

Vijayan’s outrage over the “people of north telling the people of south” what to eat lacks credibility and reeks of mischievous intent. Kerala is not the worst-affected state by the new notification. The biggest and the worst animal melas are held in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

And the saviours of human rights who are holding the obnoxious “beef-fests” to protest against the notification are either ignorant of the new rules or are willfully misinterpreting the government’s move as interference in people’s food choices.

The Congress hooligans in Kerala, who publicly slaughtered a calf on Saturday ostensibly to register their protest, are as perverse in their behaviour as some Sangh Parivar elements who go on the rampage to slaughter humans for protecting cows. Both deserve the harshest punishment that the law permits for bestiality.

Has Modi gone beyond SC’s brief?

At the same time, the new rules must be subjected to close legal scrutiny to find if the Modi government has gone beyond the Supreme Court’s brief following the 2014 petition. There is also the tricky legal question of whether the rules can be valid unless the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – 1960 is amended. The Act does not ban sale of cattle for slaughter at animal fairs, but the rules framed under it do.

The states objecting to the notification must feel free to move the Supreme Court against it and get redressal instead of trying to make political points on the streets.

The onus is also on the Modi government to assure the people, whose emotions Mamata and Vijayan are trying to arouse for political benefit, that the new law does not infringe on their freedom to choose their diet and that the rules are not a subterfuge to introduce a complete ban on beef.

Crack down on cow vigilantes

While ensuring that these rules do not deliver a death blow to the country’s thriving meat and livestock industry, the government must also crack down on the so-called cow vigilantes who are on the rampage to lynch anyone transporting a cow.

Prevention of cruelty to animals and respect for animal rights are non-negotiable and are beyond any debate, political or otherwise. This should be accompanied by a respect for the right of the humans to decide what they want to eat.

Author tweets @sprasadindia

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Updated Date: May 30, 2017 17:43:18 IST

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