Sacred cow

Print edition : February 24, 2012

The Madhya Pradesh government beefs up its saffron agenda with a draconian law.

in Bhopal

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan garlanding a cow at a function in Bhopal. He has allocated huge sums of money to establish state-run gaushalas'.-A.M. FARUQUI

IT is a contest between the two. The holy by-lanes of old Bhopal, which houses two of the largest mosques in Asia, the Taj-ul-Masjid and the Jama Masjid, were under attack from the holy cow, said an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), in a tone which he thought was in good humour, when asked about his reaction to the implementation of the Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Vidheyak, or the Madhya Pradesh Prohibition of Slaughter of Cow-progeny (Amendment) Bill, by the State government. He had the haughty air of a victor as he said the President's assent for the Bill was the result of a long-drawn-out struggle by the Sangh Parivar to protect the cow, which was an integral part of Hindu culture.

The arenas for the contest, as he said, were old Bhopal and other townships in Madhya Pradesh where Muslims have been staying in ghettos since Independence. The ghettoisation of Muslims, according to many analysts, has increased dramatically after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to power twice in the State in the past eight years.

Ever since the BJP came into power in Madhya Pradesh in 2003, ostensibly on an anti-corruption and development agenda, it has been soft-pedalling its aggressive Hindutva agenda and instead pushing, through its various cultural and student organisations, soft programmes that seek to Hinduise gradually the language of governance and administration in the State.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is said to have the unstinted support of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Other Sangh Parivar outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the ABVP, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with saffron leanings complement his government's efforts. The recently approved Bill needs to be looked at in this context.

Genesis of the Bill

The amendment Bill was passed in the Assembly in 2010 to strengthen the existing Madhya Pradesh Gauvansh Pratishedh Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Bovine Prohibition Act, 2004), which was passed during the tenure of another BJP Chief Minister, Uma Bharati. The Bill was forwarded to the Union Home Ministry on September 3, 2010. It got presidential assent on December 22, 2011, and was published in the Madhya Pradesh Gazette (extraordinary) on December 31, 2011. The Act will soon come into force through an official notification even as anti-communalism and human rights activists term the law as draconian.

Madhya Pradesh is the first State where the consumption of beef has been made illegal. Keshubhai Patel of the BJP, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat (1998 to 2001), had issued an official order making the consumption of beef illegal but withdrew the notification on the advice of the Vajpayee government at the Centre.

The amended Act in Madhya Pradesh puts the onus of proving the prosecution wrong on the accused in a case of cow slaughter. A person found guilty of cow slaughter is liable to imprisonment up to seven years, as against three years at present, and a minimum fine of Rs.5,000. The Act provides that no person shall slaughter or cause to slaughter or offer for slaughter any cow progeny by any means. Besides this, unprecedented powers have been given to a policeman in the rank of head constable to arrest a person consuming beef or slaughtering a cow. The arrest could also be made on mere suspicion.

A police constable or anyone authorised by a competent authority shall have the power of entry, inspection, search and seizure and to present the case in court. According to the law, no person, including a transporter, shall transport or offer to transport or cause to be transported any cow progeny, either by himself or through an agent, servant or any other person acting on his behalf, within the State or outside it, with the knowledge that the calf would be or was likely to be slaughtered.

Other BJP-ruled States such as Gujarat have banned cow slaughter and the sale, purchase and transportation of beef, but its consumption is not illegal. The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010, has still not got the governor's clearance. That Bill, too, includes the search-and-seizure clause, but the powers for it lie with a policeman above the rank of sub-inspector. Maharashtra, too, bans the slaughter of cows, but bullocks, buffaloes and calves can be slaughtered, for which a fit-for-slaughter certificate is required.

It is for this reason that the Madhya Pradesh Act has attracted huge attention from legal experts. The whole burden-of-proof clause goes against the fundamental tenet of criminal law, that is, you are innocent until proven guilty, Vijay Hiremath, a Mumbai-based lawyer with the Centre for Access to Rights, was quoted as saying in a national daily. He further said that in criminal law, the onus was on the state to prove the accused guilty and that the Madhya Pradesh cow slaughter law put the accused on a par with the accused under anti-terror laws.

This is a draconian law. What was the need to give such sweeping, unbridled powers to a head constable? A local constable of any police chowki can now enter your house, restaurant, kitchen or hotel on the basis of mere suspicion, said S. Japhet of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, to a newspaper about the Act's long-lasting impact and its probable misuse.

However, the State government claims that the animal traffickers' lobby has been trying to sabotage the stringent anti-cow slaughter law. Even before the new law has come into force, there is propaganda about its possible misuse in the State at the behest of bovine traffickers, Minister for Animal Husbandry Ajay Vishnoi said in a statement. Vishnoi, who belongs to the RSS cadre, has been instrumental in bringing the amended Bill in the Assembly.

Chouhan and his aides have been saying that the anti-cow slaughter Act was necessary to boost the agrarian economy that is hugely dependent on cattle. His government has stepped up its efforts to set up a 200-hectare gaushala (cow pen) the first of its kind in the country to conserve desi cow progeny. This is in accordance with the Chief Minister's proclamation in 2006 of the cow as a holy animal. Also, Chouhan has allocated huge sums of money to establish state-run gaushalas.

The Congress, as the principal opposition, has been lackadaisical in its resistance to the government's actions, considering the large Hindu vote as against the little over 6 per cent Muslim vote in the State.

Ajay Singh, Leader of the Opposition, though, has been opposing the move in the Assembly. This is a regressive Act meant to employ an intimidating mechanism against the minorities. One should ask the government about the amount of money that is going into the gaushalas, and a fact-finding team should inquire into why they are in such a bad shape, Singh told Frontline.

IN A `GAUSHALA' on the outskirts of Bhopal.-M. FARUQUI

Many political leaders in the State have been pointing towards the alleged corruption in gaushalas and the poor condition of the cattle there. A Gau Seva Sadan and a Gau Samvardhan Board have been established in the State, and the gaushalas are run by the NGO Jan Abhiyan Parishad, alleged to be under the control of the State's BJP leaders. Gau Raksha Samitis (cow protection committees) have also mushroomed all over the State under the government's patronage.

The Bill comes 10 years after the Ganj Basoda riots, which played a crucial role in polarising Hindu votes in favour of the BJP and which eventually ensured its victory in the 2003 Assembly elections. Activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) torched Muslim property and households in Ganj Basoda, a small hamlet in Vidisha district, alleging that members of the minority community were slaughtering cows secretly despite a ban. A Muslim trader who transported meat from Sagar district to Ganj Basoda for local consumption was beaten up badly, and this led to communal conflagrations. It was later found out in a laboratory that the contested meat was not beef.

Similar riots have broken out over the last five years in the Burhanpur, Rahatgarh, Raisen, Jhabua and Indore regions. In most cases, Bajrang Dal activists roughed up people from the Muslim community for alleged cow slaughter. Ironically, buffalo slaughter is permitted in the State, and Madhya Pradesh is one of the biggest exporters of buffalo meat in India.

Saffron agenda

Yogesh Diwan of the People's Research Society, an independent research organisation in Bhopal, points out the larger issues involved. The BJP government has gradually been Hinduising the State. It reflects in the names of government schemes, its propaganda in tribal regions, and the extracurricular syllabus in government schools, he said.

His comments are not off the mark. The government issued an official order in February 2006 declaring that government employees had no restriction in joining the RSS as it was purely a cultural organisation. The names of government schemes, such as Laadli-Lakshmi (for the empowerment of the girl child), Jalabhishek (water resource and harvesting programme), and Devputra (for the promotion of education), have connotations of Hindu rituals and ceremonies.

In early 2007, the yogic practice of surya namaskar (paying obeisance to the sun) was made mandatory in government schools. In 2009, the government declared that students would recite a Sanskrit hymn, the Bhojan Mantra, before midday meals. In April 2011, Chouhan announced that Gita saar (essence of the Gita) should be compulsorily taught to all students. When a few organisations contested this in court, a single-member Bench upheld the government's decision.

Cities such as Maheshwar and Ujjain, which figure in Hindu mythology, have been declared pavitra nagars (holy towns). There is a consistent campaign by the government to change the nomenclatures of historical periods from A.D. and B.C. to Bikram Samvat and Shakh Samvat.

Saraswati Vandana and other Hindu hymns and yajnas are compulsorily taught in RSS-run Ekal Vidyalayas. The anti-communal activist L.S. Hardenia in Bhopal told Frontline that the number of such communal institutions had increased dramatically in the past decade. He said that State-run universities had turned into Sangh-Parivar propaganda laboratories, and tribal gods and goddesses were being appropriated into the Hindu pantheon.

Father Anand Muttungal of the Catholic Church told Frontline that there had been systematic violence against Christians in the State in the past eight years of BJP rule. He said the Bhopal police chief had issued a secret circular to all police stations in 2010 directing officers to collect information about Christian institutions in their jurisdiction. The order was withdrawn after it got leaked to the media.

Father Muttungal said Sangh Parivar activists had been misusing the Right to Education Act and unnecessarily keeping a check on all Christian educational institutions in the State. Significantly, the State government is awaiting presidential consent to a stronger anti-conversion law and has been demanding an anti-terror law on the lines of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA.

After the Gau Raksha Abhiyan, which was started in the 1960s as a nationwide programme, was stymied, the Sangh Parivar moved to a much more nuanced and successful political strategy of working slowly in the hinterlands of India.

Anti-cow-slaughter and anti-conversion Acts are, perhaps, a part of that larger political strategy. They function as mechanisms to intimidate the minority communities even if they are not used against them.

Beef-eating in India

Ironically, a report titled Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that the most consumed meat in India is beef. The annual consumption of beef in India is 26 lakh tonnes as compared to six lakh tonnes of mutton and 14 lakh tonnes of pork. According to data by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), India exports 1.28 million tonnes of beef, making it the third largest exporter of beef in the world. In Bhopal alone, two of the biggest slaughterhouses (of buffaloes and goats) are run by members of the Hindu Bania and Jaina communities.

Members of the Qureshi community, which has been traditionally involved in the buffalo and goat meat trade, told Frontline that they feared that they would be unnecessarily harassed and picked up on mere suspicion. The immediate impact of the Act, however, would be on Dalits trading in leather and cow fat. The Dalits, mostly Chamars, get leather and fat from dead cows, and sometimes they, too, slaughter old and abandoned cows to take leather. I have found such cases in my office many times. These incidents have been the pretext for the Sangh Parivar to target the minorities, said Mohammad Ibrahim Qureshi, former Chairman of the Minority Commission in the State.

The cumulative impact of the Act is yet to be seen, but indications are that there will be increasing stigmatisation of the minority communities.

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