Centre's cattle slaughter restrictions: Kerala's protests over 'non-existent' beef ban are counter-intuitive

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's choice of words, for once, was spot on. Tweeting about the slaughter of a calf in public by 16 workers of the Youth Congress in Kannur on Saturday, he wrote: "What happened in Kerala yesterday is thoughtless, barbaric and completely unacceptable to me and the Congress party. I strongly condemn the incident.''

For their protest, the activists received a suspension letter from the party and were booked under IPC Section 428 and Section (ii) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960.

But Rahul may well have been speaking about what the act will do to his party's already dipping political fortunes in India. In that sense, it was indeed "thoughtless'' and "completely unacceptable''. By its repulsive imagery, captured on live cameras, the killing threatened to kill the Hindu vote for Congress.

For many across India, the cow is a revered animal – hailed as gau mata. But for many others, the Kannur incident was an unkind, inhumane way to stage a protest. Either way, the Kannur episode threatens to push away an important segment of the electorate for the Grand Old Party. The Kerala unit of the Congress has committed harakiri.

It would not have been an easy decision for Rahul but it seems that he has decided to save his party in rest of the country, while taking a political risk in Kerala. That is because eating beef is part of the culinary habit for many in Kerala and the act by Youth Congress workers, at least in Kerala, will be seen as a protest against what is seen as Hindutva agenda – to impose some kind of a uniform civil 'diet' code.

 Centres cattle slaughter restrictions: Keralas protests over non-existent beef ban are counter-intuitive

Representational image. Reuters

In fact, on social media, there is widespread support among Malayalees for the Congress activists' actions did. Many of these voices belong to Communists, who have been at the forefront of organising beef festivals in the state.

It is this constituency in Kerala that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is targeting. Vijayan, in a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, called the Gazette notification issued by the Government of India – that imposed restrictions on cattle trade – a violation of the basic principles of the Constitution. And among other points, connected the restrictions on the slaughter of cattle to the month of Ramzan, that started on 28 May.

"The restrictions on the slaughter of cattle during Ramadan may be seen as an attack on the minorities. Common man will not be able to get nutritious food. The gau rakshak committees may unleash violence in the name of prevention of cattle slaughter,'' wrote Vijayan.

Apart from objecting to the lack of consultation with states before issuing the notification, Vijayan sees the ban as an attempt to convert Kerala into 'god's own vegetarian country'.

"May I also remind you that meat is the primary source of protein for millions of poor and ordinary people in this country, particularly the Dalits,'' he wrote. The objections, therefore, are served on a political platter, trying to label the BJP as both anti-Dalit and anti-minorities – both of them an important constituency for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala.

Vijayan, for political reasons, has interpreted the notification as an attempt by Nagpur (RSS headquarters) and Delhi to decide what Malayalees eat. But the government has not banned the eating of beef through its order. All it has done is to make the slaughter of cattle more difficult by regulating the cattle fairs and markets that are held across India.

The cattle identified for slaughter now has to be sent directly from the owners to licensed slaughterhouses so that there is an ownership trail. This will mean that the agencies can better regulate the slaughter process.

Those protesting against the notification would do well to know the history of why it came about in the first place. The Humane Society International in 2013 had moved the Supreme Court to find ways to curb illegal trafficking of cattle from India to Nepal and Bangladesh. A lot of illegal transport takes place under the guise of dairy businesses – since, under the Motor Vehicles Act, transport of milch animals is exempt from tax.

"What the notification will do is to disrupt the conveyor belt that was being fuelled by illegal activity, where even big slaughter houses were buying from cattle fairs,'' says NG Jayasimha, managing director of Humane Society International (India).

"It has empowered the farmer who will now be able to dictate the price unlike earlier when it was a buyer's market. It will make possible the vertical integration of slaughter houses with the farmers," Jayasimha said.

More importantly, the sale chain will now ensure traceability. For instance, if there is an outbreak of bovine foot and mouth disease in a particular area, it will be possible to go back and trace where the animal came from, for necessary quarantine and disease control protocols, unlike now, where the bovine exchanges several hands and the source is virtually untraceable.

What needs to be done is to strictly regulate the conditions under which the slaughter takes place.

Activists point out that hammer slaughter is routine in states like Kerala, which is in complete violation of Slaughter House Rules 2001. Electric shocks are given and animals are killed in each other's presence – which is completely against the rules. Also, no antemortem or postmortem is done on the animal. And this is true of most slaughter houses in India, where rules are violated at will.

The government agencies, and not lumpen gau rakshaks, need to ensure that the law of the land is followed. Cow protection cannot be outsourced by the state to goons in the garb of cow vigilantes, assaulting anyone seen transporting a cow.

Now that Rahul has reacted in quick time, punishing his party men, perhaps it is time for the Right-wing outfits as well to discard those who indulge in 'cow terror'.

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Updated Date: May 29, 2017 17:38:45 IST