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Cow slaughter ban fuelled by religious reasons, but unless we stop our hypocrisy, problems will persist

As the Yogi administration in Uttar Pradesh continues to clampdown on abattoirs, the Gujarat government has prescribed life imprisonment as punishment for the slaughter of cows. Not one to be left behind is Chattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, who is making headlines with his call for the death penalty instead. Cow slaughter (or a ban on it) has once again taken political centre stage in India.

From the time that the Constitution of India was drafted until today, several riots, numerous court cases and many elections later, the slaughter of cows continues to be a highly controversial, volatile and a critically sensitive issue. Every time it comes up, the debate around cow slaughter inevitably pits Hindu religious sentiments and practices attached to the cow against the interests of those who slaughter it as a matter of livelihood, religion or even otherwise.

Sculpture of Kamadhenu at the Batu Caves, Malaysia. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Sculpture of Kamadhenu at the Batu Caves, Malaysia. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

However, oddly enough, the religious bases of the protection of cows have not been acknowledged by lawmakers, governments or even the courts, when faced with this subject. No wonder then, that the legal framework underpinning cow protection is ambiguous, unreasonable and detached from realities on the ground, and thus, even a leveller as great as the law has not been able to decisively settle the matter.

No One Wants To Talk Religion

When the issue of cow slaughter came before the Constituent Assembly, the arguments of the members in favour of banning it mainly centred around the economic usefulness of the cow rather than religious sentiments. It was asserted that the cow, which was also known as kamdhenu (one who fulfills desire) could never be useless. Statistics of deficient milk supply and requirement of manure were put forward to justify such a prohibition, but no one spoke of the cow's position in Hindu religion.

In this context, Syed Muhammad Sa’adulla made a very crucial observation. He made it clear that if religious sentiment was the actual reason behind prohibiting cow slaughter, then that should be clearly stated, rather than masking it with apparent economic motives. He also argued that in context of the usefulness of the cow, both Hindus and Muslims had similar ethical relationships and that there were Muslim farmers, to whom it was as much a capital asset as it was to the Hindus. Yet, political compulsions had the members bound, and Article 48A was inserted into the Constitution, based solely on economic considerations.

Even state laws at present tell a similar story. Except for five (Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland), all states have some law prohibiting and/or restricting the slaughter of the cow and its progeny. Not one of these legislations, nor their preparatory discussions or records, acknowledge religious sentiments as a basis for this protection.

Surprisingly, the Supreme Court, the great upholder of truth and justice, has also refused to record religious considerations in upholding various states' laws on cow slaughter. In the landmark case of Mohammad Hanif Quareshi versus State of Bihar in 1958, while agreeing that an absolute prohibition (on slaughter) devoid of any test for the usefulness or age of cattle was an ‘excessive restriction’ on the right to carry on trade, the court still upheld a total ban on the slaughter of ‘cows of all ages, and calves of cows’, but not of other cattle. The distinction, obviously created on grounds of religion, was couched in some economic rationale that defied all logic.

This trend of vague judicial reasoning under societal influence, and which fails to acknowledge the true merits of a decision, is in blatant disregard of basic judicial values and ethics. Unfortunately, it continues even today.

It thus seems as if the entire legal context around cow slaughter is premised on deceit, which continues to give primacy to dominant Hindu beliefs through the backdoor, at the expense of the very idea of constitutional secularism. Consequently, it will not be wrong to criticise such slaughter prohibition laws insofar as, technically, they are based on irrelevant and incorrect assumptions.

It is high time our lawmakers and judges break free of their political compulsions, stand up and acknowledge the religious foundations of cow protection, so that an open, honest and transparent debate may make way for a comprehensive legal framework that will best balance the real concerns and considerations of all parties, once and for all.

Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 08:39 AM

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